Here's what Allison L. LiCalsi has to say about directing
Macbeth-The Comedy and other things

On reinterpreting Macbeth

On casting Macbeth as a woman

On the time and place setting

On the writing process for "M-TC"

On Lady Macbeth

On shooting in the snow

On her love of film

On her decision to become a filmmaker

On the new character Lord Kilmarnock
Click here to read the Asbury Park Press profile of Allison

 

On reinterpreting Macbeth:
To me Macbeth was always a comedy. All of Shakespeare's tragedies are, and that's what I love about them. Tragedy is inherently funny. I find myself laughing again and again at the tragedies, not only because of the one-liners, but because of the situations. Anyone could see what's coming and should be able to say, "If I take these steps, it will not come to good." Yet Shakespeare's characters always take those steps. Either they don't realize that it all will end in tears, or they do realize it and do it anyway. Which is something I find interesting about human nature. And funny. And to get back to the question about why Macbeth, it's really because it's my favorite of all of his plays and probably my favorite play period. And that may be because I've always been fascinated by the Weird Sisters. When you go to see a production of Macbeth or when you see it on film, one of the things you're wondering, or at least I'm wondering, is, "What are they going to do with the Weird Sisters?" And that's because you don't get that anywhere else. Hamlet has a ghost, but that's hardly the same thing. (back to top)

 

On casting Macbeth as a woman:
Erika Burke (Macbeth) is a friend of mine. We met when she auditioned for me and I cast her in a reading of one of my scripts. We had been talking about different projects we wanted to do together. We were trying to raise money to shoot one of my scripts on film and we were getting very frustrated. So when I came up with the idea to rewrite Macbeth, I immediately thought to cast Erika in the title role. It was just my first instinct. And now I can only think of Macbeth as a woman. So that opens up new interpretations. Macbeth starts off "butch," but after she becomes king she becomes more traditionally feminine. We don't see her wear a dress at all before she becomes king. Up until the coronation, her clothing and manner are a bit more masculine. Until she becomes king she's in a man's world. Once she's on top, she is free to be whatever she wants to be. It's no longer a man's world-- it's her world. If she wants to walk around wearing a tartan minidress, she's free to do so. (back to top)

 

On the time and place setting:
Obviously I couldn't set it in 1040. I don't really think Shakespeare actually set it in 1040 either. And I thought that because what I'm doing is so completely out of the realm of what one would normally expect from Macbeth, why don't I make it timeless? It was easy to achieve that because I used both Elizabethan and contemporary English. I think some people might be thrown off a little bit when they see Lady Macbeth (Juliet Furness) wearing a dress which looks approximately out of the 15th or 16th century while she's listening to the answering machine, but I know many who saw the humor in it immediately. Some will notice right away that this is partially within the tradition of Monty Python and firmly within the tradition of Blackadder. While they had the resources to pay for all the sets and costumes to create the look of certain periods, Blackadder is full of anachronisms. And I always liked that. And because I know Blackadder so well, I think this came naturally to me. (back to top)

 

On the writing process:
I generally kept the verse where it was very understandable, except in certain cases where it helps set up the joke. The Bloody Captain's (Matt Daniels) speech would be an example of where I used the verse for comic effect. There are times where I kept half of a speech and cut out the rest. Still, there are some lines which a person unfamiliar with Shakespeare would probably not understand, but the follow up line makes a difficult phrase more understandable. For example, when Lady Macbeth says, "...I feel now the future in the instant," Macbeth responds, "I thought you might." Some people might think that line is only to serve the comedy, but it actually conveys to the viewer that Macbeth knows what she's dealing with when it comes to her wife. And I think that line and the way it's said serves to clarify what Lady Macbeth has just said. (back to top)

 

On the new character Lord Kilmarnock:
He came about because Gary Brownlee, the actor who plays him, came in and auditioned for the Weird Sisters...brilliantly. However, his interpretation didn't fit in at all with what I was going for. Hysterically funny but very creepy. I ended up casting him as an unnamed lord in one scene. But Gary is so good that I wrote him into a few other scenes and gave him a name - Kilmarnock, which is in Scotland and is the hometown of one of my favorite bands, The Trashcan Sinatras. He actually became a character that Shakespeare, with all due respect, should have written in to Macbeth. Kilmarnock has Macbeth's number from the get-go. We sense that he understands her ambition. One of the problems I've always had with the play, and I'm not saying this as an indictment - I know that Shakespeare wrote these plays rather quickly - is that all of a sudden everyone is on to Macbeth. So I think it's helpful to have a character like Kilmarnock who knows this woman in a deeper sense than all of the others do. In the end, I think Gary is a great actor and he's very funny, but adding Kilmarnock also helped the story. (back to top)

 

On Lady Macbeth:
The thing about Juliet Furness (Lady Macbeth) is that she's very good at broad comedy, and she didn't even know she had this talent until Macbeth. I had told her right before we started shooting the "unsex me here" scene that there have been productions where Lady Macbeth writhes orgasmically on the bed during her speech. It has almost become standard to hyper-sexualize her in that scene. I asked Juliet if she could parody that for me. She did it perfectly. I attribute this to the fact that she's a native of New Zealand and she grew up watching a lot of broad comedy which you just don't get in the U.S. You especially don't get women doing it here. You have women doing broad comedy all the time in Britain. Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders come to mind immediately, as does Patricia Routledge, who is a wonderful comedian. So, I think Juliet was able to do what I wanted instinctively. And I'm very glad that she grew up watching that kind of thing because it made my job a lot easier. (back to top)

 

On shooting in the snow:
It wasn't the snow that was brutal, it was the temperature and the wind. When you're out in locations like we used, it's windy anyway. The first day of shooting was very windy and in the low 20's. Anneliese Paull, the cinematographer, almost passed out after we shot the Birnam Wood scene. And our generator broke on the first day. I thought I was going to have to have my toes amputated. And of course we all were thinking about the Macbeth curse while this was going on. We're out in the woods, freezing cold, and I was wondering, "Is anyone else thinking about this?" I mean, it was brutal, and I keep using that word because it's so appropriate. But the snow did add to the comedy in a couple of scenes. (back to top)

 

On her love of film:
Well, I liked movies for as long as I can remember. I remember going to the drive-in and I thought that was fun. My brother and I would look forward to it all day and we'd bring blankets and pillows. I remember my father going to get popcorn and it always seemed to take forever for him to get back. Those are my first memories. I remember the actual event of going to the drive-in more than any of the movies I saw. But then when I was in college, and I'll never forget this, things changed. My friend and I went to the Rutgers student center to see Woody Allen's Manhattan. The sound track was about two seconds out of sync, but I was still able to watch it. To me it was still more watchable than any of the movies I had seen. I remember being blown away by this and thinking, "This is what movies should be like." I loved it. And after that I remember trying to get a hold of any Woody Allen movie that I could. And then it was through Woody Allen that I started to rent Ingmar Bergman movies and again, I was really amazed. So if not for Woody Allen, I wouldn't be sitting here having this discussion today. I really mean that. There's no way. And I think you can also see the Woody Allen influence in Macbeth. (back to top)

 

On her decision to become a filmmaker:
I was in graduate school studying Art History. I passed my doctoral exam and I hit a very bad patch. I was feeling lost, because I was realizing that I was on the wrong path. There I was, so close to a PhD, and I didn't want to be an art historian. So Patrick (Murray, the producer of Macbeth-The Comedy) asked me one day, "If you could do anything in the world that you wanted to do, what would it be?" And I said, "I'd write and direct films like Woody Allen." But up until Patrick asked me that question I had never even had that thought. It didn't seem possible. And for good reason. It's extremely difficult to raise the amount of money required to do a 35mm feature. Fortunately, we're now in the digital age, and even though I much prefer film to video, it is possible. You don't have to raise a million dollars any more in order to make a feature.(back to top)

 

 

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From Macbeth - The Comedy: "A sailor's wife had chestnuts in her lap, And munched and munched and munched . . . . And let me tell you honey, it's not as if she needed them."