Stewart & McKellen Planning 'Merchant Of Vegas'

By Christian
August 9, 2005 - 2:38 PM

Next Generation star Patrick Stewart (Jean-Luc Picard) is in talks to bring a re-imagined version of William Shakespeare's The Merchant Of Venice to the big screen, starring both himself and fellow British thesp Sir Ian McKellen.

According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, the $35 million movie would shift the action from medieval Italy to the Venetian Resort, Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The film would feature Shakespeare's original dialogue, but otherwise be completely modern in tone, similar to what Baz Luhrman did with his Romeo + Juliet. Stewart plans to explore the homosexual undertones in the relationship between the play's hero Antonio and his young protégé Basanio, and hopes to make use of the Las Vegas gay scene for that.

Stewart will both produce the play and star in it. As he's still believed to be negotiating terms with the owners of the Venetian resort, he refused to comment on the project to the Telegraph, but he will likely play the role of Shylock, which he has already taken on several times on the stage. The openly gay McKellen would presumably play Antony. "Patrick has approached me about the role and I am very interested," McKellen told the Telegraph.

Although the British paper described the project as a "labor of love" for Stewart, not everyone in Hollywood seems equally enthusiastic. "I think the idea of the Las Vegas setting is a step too far," one insider said, after reading an early version of the script. "I think it's an example of taking a simple idea and hitting it with a sledgehammer." However, Stewart already has some experience with updated versions of the Bard's work, having produced and starred in the 2002 TV movie King of Texas, a re-telling of King Lear set in the Old West.

Stewart and McKellen have previously appeared on screen together in the two X-Men movies, to which they're currently filming another sequel. But they were friends long before that, and share a deep appreciation of the world of Shakespeare -- last month, the Royal Shakespeare Company announced that both actors would be taking part in the Complete Shakespeare Festival, a year-long marathon during which the RSC will bring every single Shakespeare play back to the stage (story).

For the original Telegraph report, please follow this link.

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