HOLLYWOOD — When you’ve murdered your brother, married your half-brother and witnessed the beheading of your sister, you’re probably more than ready for Hollywood.
But is Hollywood ready for another Cleopatra?
Despite the lessons of history, Warner Bros. is betting big on the Egyptian queen, last week hiring A-list screenwriting team Chris Wilkinson and Steve Rivele to adapt the Karen Essex book “Kleopatra” for the princely sum of $1.2 million against $1.5 million.
True, Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1963 “Cleopatra” very nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox, resulting in the forced sale of its backlot to create today’s Century City.
Its $44 million budget was epic for the times, and costs ballooned when original director Rouben Mamoulian was fired and replaced by Mankiewicz, expensive sets were destroyed in an accident, and Taylor was sidelined during shooting with an illness. The budget for Taylor’s 65 costumes alone was $194,800.
But that’s all in the past, say the scribes, who’ve also tackled such historical heavyweights as Richard Nixon (for Oliver Stone) and Muhammad Ali (for Michael Mann.)
“Mankiewicz always intended to make two movies out of her, so it’s unfair to judge ‘Cleopatra’ too harshly,” says Wilkinson.
Their updated ‘Kleopatra’ — spelled thusly as an acknowledgement of the Greek influence on the queen, who was born a Macedonian but ruled Egypt from 51 to 30 B.C. — will focus on her relationships as a girl, woman, wife, mother, queen and later, reincarnated goddess.
These relationships, says Rivele, are more compelling than focusing solely on the political context, which marked the end of Egypt’s autonomy and the shift of Rome from a republic to an empire. Producer Adam Schroeder hasn’t figured out his cast, but as Mankiewicz’s epic featured a Elizabeth Taylor– Richard Burton romance during an actual Taylor-and-Burton romance, perhaps he’ll want to look to modern-day couples based at Warners.
Schroeder has two of them just a golf cart’s glide across the lot: Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston‘s shingle is based at Warners, as is Michael Douglas‘ Furthur Films.
Queen Zeta-Jones? Pharoah Brad?