By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist February 28, 2012 at 1:03PM
Even his detractors must admit that there's a glorious unpredictability in watching the career of Jonathan Demme. In the last decade alone, he's directed two remakes of 1960s classics, documentaries on Neil Young, Haitian activist Jean Dominique and former President Jimmy Carter, indie drama "Rachel Getting Married," episodes of TV series "A Gifted Man" and "Enlightened," and, on the way, an animated adaptation of Dave Eggers' "Zeitoun" and Stephen King time-travel thriller "11/22/63." But his next film? It's something even more unexpected.
The New York Times reports that Demme is teaming up with theater legends Wallace Shawn and André Gregory, who each starred in Louis Malle's "My Dinner With André" and "Vanya On 42nd Street" (the latter of which Gregory co-directed), on a new film entitled "Wally And André Shoot Ibsen," which will shoot in New York in the spring.
Like 'Vanya,' which detailed the workshop rehearsals of a production of Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya," this will be based on a theatrical work, in this case a new version of Henrik Ibsen's "The Master Builder," adapted by Shawn (who's best known for roles in "The Princess Bride" and "Toy Story," but has a long career as a playwright) and directed by Gregory. Shawn will take the lead role of architect Solness, with Julie Hagerty ("Airplane!," "Lost In America") as his wife, Lisa Joyce ("The Messenger," "Boardwalk Empire") as Hilde, a girl he knew as a child, and Gregory as Brovik, his employee.
With Malle having passed in 1995, Shawn and Gregory have turned to Demme to film the production, although DoP Declan Quinn, who worked on 'Vanya' before going on to team with Demme on many movies, will return, and it seems that the film is intended very much as a successor to that project. This film, budgeted at less than $1 million, will be shot on a single location, but Demme describes it with the intriguing sentence "It's like a Hitchcock movie with a vein of humor running through it."
Given their previous reputation, and that they're taking on Ibsen's least accessible play, this was never going to be a crowd pleaser -- although "Community"'s recent episode paying homage to "My Dinner With Andre" might at least help introduce the pair to a new generation of fans. It's exciting news, regardless, as Shawn and Gregory's previous pairings have been fascinating, and Demme's never made an uninteresting film in his life, even if home runs are rarer. With filming set to get underway in the next few weeks, hopefully we'll see this on the festival circuit in early 2013.