VENICE, Italy (AP) — There aren’t many directors who would be happy about a film taking nearly seven years to get off the ground, but that’s precisely the case with David Michôd’s “The King.” The long development process, delays and studio changes for his and Joel Edgerton’s vision for a Henry V film had a silver lining. By the time they were ready to go, an exciting new talent had emerged: Timothée Chalamet.
“It was a beautifully fortuitous thing that it took us that long to get made,” Michôd said last month after its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival . He looked over at his young star and laughed. Had the film been made when he and Edgerton wrote it, not only would Chalamet not have been on their radar, he also would have been only 12 years old.
“The King” opens in select theaters Friday before landing on Netflix on Nov. 1.
Still, it wasn’t even a given that Chalamet and Michôd would cross paths. But a friend suggested that he see “Call Me By Your Name,” thinking maybe the “kid in it” would be good for the part of Hal, the reluctant heir to the throne who will become King Henry V. Michôd went in a little skeptical — people are always making suggestions to him and most don’t result in anything — but he had a bit of a revelation watching the tender, sun-soaked Italian romance.
“THAT’s the version of ‘The King’ I want to make,” he said. “I loved the idea of taking that kid from that movie and starting ‘The King’ with him and turning him into something else — hardening him and making him almost tyrannical … (But) I never thought I’d be casting a 22-year-old New Yorker to play Henry V.”
Chalamet had been doing mostly present day or recent past films and liked the notion of being in something completely different. He also latched on to the “allegory” about Elio, his “Call Me By Your Name” character. So he said yes, days before he’d find out he’d gotten his first Oscar nomination for that film.
“There felt like a beautiful irony and challenge in that I was a young American playing a historical British figure, directed by and working with a bunch of Australians,” Chalamet said.
Or, Michôd chimed in, a “recipe for disaster.”
The film is an ambitious melding of historical fact and fiction, loosely inspired by Shakespeare’s “Henry V” and “Henry IV” parts one and two, following Hal from his drunken days in Eastcheap to his early days as King of England, a position he never wanted and takes reluctantly when his tyrannical father, Henry IV (Ben Mendelsohn), dies.
“I thought, ‘Oh wow this could be really done in a way that’s true to the plays and true to the history,'” Chalamet said. “People wielding these positions of power often were unusually young.”
The “swords and horses” genre was a bit of a departure for Michôd too. He made his name with the Australian crime drama “Animal Kingdom” and has never been drawn to fantasy endeavors like “Game of Thrones” or “Lord of the Rings.”
“It’s not because I hate it, it’s just because I don’t understand how I’m supposed to engage with it. This is not that, but it lends itself to tropes that are very similar,” Michôd said. “We actually know so little about the Middle Ages. We have a lot of documentary fact, but I don’t know what it would be like to be a person in the Middle Ages and that almost makes it a kind of fantasy. But that’s what makes it exciting too: How do we go about turning this into something that feels real?”
He and his longtime friend and collaborator Edgerton, who also plays a humorous Falstaff in the film, set off to make something as grounded as they could. That meant sporting heavy armor and suffering through the Hungarian heat for the two and a half weeks it would take to shoot the Battle of Agincourt.
The intensity of the battle was a new experience for Chalamet.
“There’s an amazing thing that happens,” Chalamet said. “Sometimes with long takes in movies, when there’s a lot of physicality required, any sense of acting goes out the window.”
In other words, the struggle you see on screen as he’s huffing and puffing his way through the mud in armor with a sword is pretty real. Was it at all fun though dressing up and play fighting?
“Watching it was fun,” Chalamet said, laughing.
He also had to cut his hair into a more period-specific bowl cut, which had Chalamet’s large and vocal internet fan base in a tizzy when he started making public appearances without his signature locks.
“David was adamant, and so right,” Chalamet said. “It would have felt like a cheat if there wasn’t the appropriate hairstyle. It sounds silly but I hope people don’t judge it. It is just hair at the end of the day.”
Michôd chimed in: “It’s just hair but it was important. It felt really important for the character and for Timmy as an actor to have a transformation, to go from that kid from ‘Call Me By Your Name’ and become something else.”
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