McKellen’s ‘Richard III’ to be filmed

Vet classical thesp Sir Ian McKellen is set to star in a film version of Shakespeare’s “Richard III.”

Project, based on McKellen’s National Theatre staging — which won wide acclaim when it toured the U.S., including a stint at UCLA’s Royce Hall — will be produced by First Look Pictures, the packaging and development arm of Overseas Film Group.

An initial budget of $ 5 million has been set, and McKellen said Tuesday in Cannes that he hopes to sign Dame Maggie Smith and Sir Anthony Hopkins as co-stars.

The production, adapted by McKellen and stage director Richard Eyre, will be set in 1930s England and will be shot mostly on locations in and around London. Although cast, director and producer are yet to be signed, First Look is hoping for a fall start. McKellen said he would not direct the film himself.

McKellen dismissed the idea of an “international cast” as artificial, but added that one of the roles — Queen Elizabeth, mother of the princes who are murdered in the Tower — would be suitable for an American actress. He mentioned Glenn Close and Meryl Streep among the actresses he would like to approach.

The project is part of a shift in McKellen’s acting career from stage to screen. For the past six months, he has been busy in Hollywood working on “Last Action Hero,””The Ballad of Little Joe,””And the Band Played On” and “Six Degrees of Separation.”

“Small parts (in movies) are good,” McKellen noted in Cannes, “but big parts are better. They don’t come any bigger than Richard III.”

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