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HOLIDAY SNEAKS | The Libertine

Landscapes, foreign and familiar

Mudslinging is only to be expected

November 06, 2005|Susan King

"THE Libertine," which opens Nov. 23 for a one-week Academy Award-qualifying engagement, may be the muddiest movie ever made. Case in point: Even the company that supplied the muck and the mire receives screen credit.

"The people who were most busy on the film were the people who had to, literally, lay tons and tons of mud," says director Laurence Dunmore. "I had this wonderful production designer, Ben Van Os, who did 'Girl With a Pearl Earring,' and my brief to him was ... 'I just want mud wherever we are.' "

The mud was needed to re-create the streets of 17th century Restoration England for the period drama starring Johnny Depp as the 2nd Earl of Rochester, a notorious rogue and poet. Adapted by Stephen Jeffreys from his play of the same name, "The Libertine" also stars John Malkovich (who produced the film) as Rochester's confidant and Samantha Morton as Elizabeth Barry, the theater protegee whom Rochester grooms to be the biggest star on the English stage.

Despite the setting, Dunmore doesn't envision "The Libertine" as a period piece. "It is a story about one man's betrayal of his talents and abilities, and the betrayal of his trust and love of the people around him. It's a very modern tale, and it's a very modern film."

On the set, muck-raking was just one of the dirty jobs to be done, said Dunmore, who makes his feature debut with "The Libertine." The former music video and commercial director also enlisted rat wranglers to handle the rodents that are seen scurrying in the streets.

"But one of the biggest jobs was lighting candles," Dunmore said, especially for one scene in which Depp's character is rehearsing onstage with Elizabeth. "They had two big chandeliers on the stage," Dunmore said. "You can imagine between each take replacing those candles and relighting them. We had several people to light candles. It became the most feared and loathed job on the shoot."

Dunmore and Malkovich immediately thought of Depp when they read the script.

"Johnny, to both of us, was the one who could realize the character that is Rochester," Dunmore said. "It was so important for me that the character have the breadth and the presence with the audience that he could both shock and confront as well as charm and seduce. Johnny has this incredible ability."

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