Djimon Hounsou goes for it with ‘Tempest’ role

By Marilyn Beck and Stacy Jenel Smith When Touchstone unveils Julie Taymor’s “The Tempest” Dec. 10, filmgoers will not only see Helen Mirren at the peak of her formidable powers playing the sorceress Prospera, they’ll also witness Djimon Hounsou in a gorgeously intense performance as Caliban, her slave. The actor went through grueling physical stress to make that performance work — starting with “five to five-and-a-half hours a day of makeup, standing up.

“It was quite awful,” he admits, “standing there every morning being painted, having things glued to the body, you know, and you also have to be naked for the most part. No matter how wonderful the day was, no matter how you felt when you began, after five hours of this, you’d end up eventually just being in a bad mood. I came out ready to explode, to blow up at something or someone. So, given the nature of this character, I used it for the part.”

In Taymor’s dream-like interpretation of the island-set tale of magic and revenge — which cast member Tom Conti calls “Shakespeare’s ‘Lost’”– Caliban is nature personified. Hounsou took weeks of lessons in Butoh, an ancient form of Japanese dance that represents nature, to help himself prepare. He moves around like an animal, muscles tensed, in the film that shot in remote volcanic locations in Hawaii.

“You couldn’t give Caliban any limitations. He’s a creature of his environment. He was born wild on this island and he’s still wild, basically,” says Hounsou — an Oscar nominee for “In America” and “Blood Diamond,” who certainly warrants Academy attention again this year. As for Caliban’s attempted rape of Prospera’s daughter, Miranda (Felicity Jones) that led to his enslavement, the actor feels, “He saw a woman and he attempted to acquire the woman for himself. He didn’t feel limitations. In that sense, he’s absolutely raw. I don’t know how to better put it.”

The magical aspect of “Tempest” felt familiar to Hounsou, “being from Africa, a country like Benin, which is the source of voodoo and all of those things.” It helped him define in his mind Caliban’s mother, a witch, and his “half nature, half human aspect, his life and the look he has. All of that was pretty powerful.”

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Image courtesy of Touchstone


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