Macbeth: Directed by Justin Kurzel

macbeth_posterThe Weinstein Company will release Macbeth, an extremely well acted version of Shakespeare’s popular play, in late fall.

Justin Kurzel first came to Cannes as a young filmmaker, fresh out of college, with his short film Blue Tongue.  After that, his work was mostly in theater production design and music videos.

Kurzel, who is 40 and lives in London, returned to Cannes in 2011 with his first feature, The Snowtown Murders, a  drama based on the serial killings near his Australian hometown, which won a special jury prize in Critics’ Week.


This year, he’s back with his first competition title, a violent epic adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard.

Being in Cannes in Competition
macbeth_4_cotillard_fassbenderIt’s extraordinary to be in that group, among those other directors. The first time I went to Cannes, Gus Van Sant was in competition with Last Days. It’s something I never thought would happen.

Directing Macbeth
I was in London working on another project, which didn’t go well. I was approached by producer Iain Canning about Macbeth, with Michael Fassbender in the lead. And I immediately said, “Yes, absolutely.” It was the combination. In reading the script, I could see how cinematic it was. It embraced the landscape and world much less like a play and much more like cinema, and this got me excited and curious.

Michael Fassbender

Michael and I had met in London about one year before I even knew about Macbeth. We were mutually interested in finding a project to work on. He was a fan of Snowtown, and he’s someone I really, really wanted to work with. So it was kind of the perfect storm with the timing of it all. I’ve been a designer, and I had designed Macbeth and other Shakespeare plays, so I had a connection to Shakespeare’s work, but there was something really fresh about this.

Angle on Macbeth

macbeth_3To me, it’s a Western. We shot it all outside. We were able to explore the madness in these brutal and unforgiving and beautiful landscapes in Scotland. It gave it a whole new shade. There’s a simplicity in the storytelling that I think is unlike any of his other plays, and it fit in that Western structure quite effortlessly. It was at a time where kings were killed, and it was a place where you’d be at war for years.  The idea of Macbeth being a product of that and having to carry what it means to be a warrior and the things that he’d seen and the things that he’d done. There’s something very interesting about the post-trauma of those events.

Interest in Shakespeare
The Bard wrote some of the greatest stories ever written, which is why they’re repeated as models of screenwriting and playwriting. The themes are universal but very human. It feels contemporary because he’s dealing with human nature in a visceral way. I’d just come off Snowtown, and I’d been in this world of serial killers, focused on someone who turns toward the darkness and can never find his way back. Through researching that, there were some interesting parallels in terms of gravitating toward darkness and madness and guilt.

Attraction to Dark Stories
macbeth_2I actually gravitate toward comedy when it comes to what I’m watching, but maybe that’s because I’ve been on such dark work the last four years. Macbeth was a play that I’ve always gotten so much out of. My wife played Lady Macbeth in a play, and I designed it. There are things in there that are extraordinary.

Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth
Marion is one of the most extraordinary actresses in the world. There’s something so unusual about Marion and so cinematic. There’s an aura about Marion that is very powerful that I really wanted in the film. That freshness and that tension of her doing it for the first time brought a new quality to Lady Macbeth and a kind of empathy for that character.

Working with Fassbender and Cotillard again on Assassin’s Creed.
macbeth_1_cotillard_fassbenderMichael was attached as a producer, and he talked to me about it when we finished Macbeth. It’s a really fascinating project, and we wanted to work together again. Michael and I thought it would be fantastic if Marion wanted to do it. It’s amazing to continue those relationships and work on something completely different. You see that in a lot of directors and actors who form partnerships if they enjoy working together.