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Stewart, Halmi take ‘Lear’ to 1840s Texas

Harden, Holly, Scheider in supporting roles

NEW YORK — TNT is lavishing $11 million on “King of Texas,” an epic Western starring Patrick Stewart that transplants Shakespeare’s “King Lear” to Texas during the 1840s.

Stewart will co-exec produce the telepic with his wife, Wendy, and Robert Halmi Sr.

In a phone interview from Minneapolis, where he’s starring in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” at the Guthrie Theater, Stewart said the two-hour pic will go on location to various sites in Mexico starting April 19.

Stewart says he got the idea of a wild West version of “Lear” two years ago, while he was working with Halmi on an adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” for TNT. Concept clicked when Halmi brought in the TV writer Stephen Harrigan, “who’s something of an historian of the days when Texas was an independent nation,” said Stewart, who will play the title role in the Hallmark production.

When Harrigan completed the script, Halmi and Stewart hired the veteran Uli Edel to direct. Among the cast, Marcia Gay Harden and Lauren Holly have signed to play the equivalents of Regan and Goneril, Julie Cox is Cordelia, Roy Scheider plays Gloucester and David Alan Grier is the Fool.

The Fool as slave

Stewart said it was his idea to make the Fool a slave who is constantly criticizing Lear because “the slave was one of two black men who survived the Alamo when the Mexicans released them.” Having cheated death, the Fool is willing to incur the wrath of Lear because he has nothing more to lose.

“King of Texas” becomes another example of Shakespeare plays updated and adapted to new surroundings. Two previous Lear-based movies were Akira Kurosawa’s “Ran” and Jocelyn Moorhouse’s “A Thousand Acres.”

“The Tempest” has yielded the sci-fi movie “Forbidden Planet” and Paul Mazursky’s “Tempest.” Two “Macbeth” variations are Kurosawa’s “Throne of Blood” and Ken Hughes’ “Joe Macbeth.”

The two most famous “Othello” updatings are George Cukor’s “A Double Life,” with Ronald Colman, and Delmer Daves’ “Jubal,” with Glenn Ford.

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