Hollywood A-lister Timothee Chalamet admits he was intimidated by the prospect of playing the title role in a new film version of Shakespeare’s Henry V, but then he also likes a challenge.
“To do Shakespeare and be an American playing an English king is properly intimidating,” said Chalamet, in Korea to promote The King at the 24th Busan International Film Festival. “But I try to work on things that are challenging, things that are scary.”
The 23-year-old American was Oscar-nominated for his breakout turn in Call Me by Your Name (2017) and said in some ways he could relate to the tale of the English king who was thrown into the adult world at an early age.
“Even right now there’s a room full of adults and I’m the young person here,” said Chalamet.
“It can feel some version of not normal to be young and to deal with adults in a professional manner.”
Chalamet was joined on stage Tuesday by The King director David Michod and fellow Australian and co-star Joel Edgerton.
Also making the trip to South Korea were producers Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner from the Oscar-winning production house Plan B, which is co-owned by Brad Pitt.
“I have so far worked on material that is very different to this,” Chalamet said, “but I leapt at this opportunity. Traveling around the world with a film like this is the kind of thing that when you are a kid you dream about. It’s a wild ride.”
The visit has brought a touch of Tinseltown to Asia’s largest film festival, with hundreds of fans camping outside the Busan Cinema Centre in preparation for a red carpet walk from the stars before an evening outdoor screening.
“I did not expect this kind of welcome in Korea,” said Chalamet. “It’s deeply gratifying.”
Among those to have played King Henry V in the past are acclaimed British actors Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh, while more recently Tom Hiddleson tackled the role in the BBC’s award-winning “The Hollow Crown” series in 2012.
The New York-raised Chalamet said he had called up the services of an English speech coach in order to nail the accent, but had been more concerned with working “through the lens of the 15th century”.
“I went to a drama high school and one of the things the teachers there wanted us to learn was to choose the roles that are daunting rather than the roles that are in your wheel house, or that you are more comfortable with,” said Chalamet.
He said Henry was “universally relatable” for youngsters who “don’t have the skill set, mentally or socially, to deal with the circumstances”.
“I am excited that a new generation can see his kind of material,” he said. “It’s just a great opportunity and I had to jump at it.”
Australian Michod, previously acclaimed for his gritty crime world drama “Animal Kingdom” (2010), said when writing the screenplay with Edgerton they had turned to the work of Shakespeare as a “starting point”, but then had created a story of their own.
“Very early we decided to build a story of our own, taking some pieces from Shakespeare, taking stuff from the deep research that we did, but also just making stuff up,” said Michod.
“But it is testament to the power of his writing that even though it is so old it still feels relevant today.”
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