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Too few starlets to claim Mary's screen throne

Category: Burns News
Article Date: November 21, 2004 | Publication: Scotland on Sunday | Author:

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Scots actresses fail to land the big roles

THEY are young, beautiful and talented but unfortunately Scottish. The countryís actresses have been rejected for leading parts in two major new films about Scotland after Hollywood moguls admitted they are not well known on the international stage.

Instead, Mary Queen of Scots will be played by an American actress in the long-awaited movie about one of the most famous characters in Scottish history.

Another young American will also take the role of Jean Armour, the wife of Robert Burns, in a steamy new feature about the life of the Scottish Bard.

Despite the international success of Scotlandís actors, such as Ewan McGregor and Dougray Scott, producers say the country has no actresses who are big enough stars to sell major films to financiers, distributors and the public worldwide.

Mary Queen of Scots will be played by Bryce Dallas Howard, star of The Village, and Armour will be portrayed on the big screen by Julia Stiles, who has several major Hollywood blockbusters under her belt.

Burns producer Andrew Boswell said: "There is plenty of talent in Scotland, but this is about recognition. Scottish actresses are just not as well known."

His views are echoed by Catherine Aitken, executive producer of Mary Queen of Scots. She spent years trying to get the film made before Warner Brothers came on board and took over casting.

She said: "A film like that needs a name that can be sold, and unfortunately there are not many British actresses of the right age who can do that."

The £5m budget for Burns is being raised partly on the strength of the cast. The title role will be played by Gerard Butler, who was recently named number one eligible bachelor in Scotland on Sunday. He appeared opposite Angelina Jolie in the Tomb Raider sequel and stars in the film of The Phantom of the Opera, which opens next month. Boswell admitted he could have raised finance on the strength of several Scottish actors.

The producers also considered dozens of Scottish actresses. "We looked long and hard," he said. But the producers concluded none was sufficiently well-known for the female leads. Some were also simply too old. For Jean Armour, and for Mary Queen of Scots, the producers needed actresses in their early 20s.

Tilda Swinton, one of Scotlandís better-known film actresses, is 44. Shirley Henderson, whose credits include Harry Potter and Bridget Jones, is 38.

Kelly Macdonald, who burst on to the scene as schoolgirl Diane in Trainspotting, and Laura Fraser, who played opposite Leonardo di Caprio in The Man In The Iron Mask, are Scotlandís best-known Ďyoungí film actresses. But they are now in their late 20s and have found it difficult to build on early successes.

Several younger Scottish actresses screen-tested with Butler, and the film-makers were particularly impressed with Kathleen McDermott, the Glasgow hairdresser who was discovered while shopping and given a lead role in the drama Morvern Callar.

But Boswell said: "She has made one movie, which, while critically very well received, did absolutely no box office, and the man in the street couldnít tell you what it was called."

She has been given the supporting role of Jenny Clow, one of Burnsís lovers.

They were also impressed by Shauna Macdonald, the Edinburgh actress who has a regular role in the television drama series Spooks. She also had a starring role in the romantic drama The Rocket Post, which shot on Taransay in the Hebrides, but it was not even released in Britain. The producers may offer her a supporting role too.

In contrast, Stiles is the same age, 23, and has already appeared in more than 20 feature films and major television shows, including The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy. "Sheís widely regarded as one of Americaís hottest, up-and-coming actresses," said Boswell. "She will get the film a much better chance of securing a release in the US, which is the Holy Grail for any non-American film."

There is widespread concern within the Scottish film industry about the dearth of genuine Scottish female film stars.

Celia Stevenson, a spokeswoman for Scottish Screen, said: "Unfortunately most of our good actresses havenít had starring parts in international movies."

Boswell said he thought it was tougher for Scottish actresses from the outset. "Thereís not the drama school tradition that there is in the south-east of England and London," he said.

Possibly the only major international female film star to come from Scotland is Deborah Kerr, and she headed for Hollywood at an early stage, going on to co-star with Burt Lancaster in From Here to Eternity.

Kahleen Crawford, a Glasgow-based casting director, suggested there may also be proportionately more roles for young actors and actresses in America. "Perhaps they make more movies for a younger audience," she said. "We have fantastic childrenís output, and maybe thereís just a gap in the middle, where cool teens and 20s drama could be built upon more."

By contrast, there was no shortage of early opportunities for Howard, who is 23. She is the daughter of Happy Days actor and Oscar-winning director Ron Howard, who gave her small roles in Parenthood and Apollo 13.

For Stiles however it has been a long, hard slog to establish herself as a "hot new actress". She attended stage school in New York, has been on television since she was 12 and appeared in several big Hollywood films as a teenager.

Scotlandís surfeit of bankable male stars, such as McGregor and Scott, has only emerged in the past decade with an increase in the number of films shooting in Scotland.

Aitken suggests it would be easier for Scots actresses to get more roles in international films if there were more opportunities for them in British films.

"Theyíre in a Catch-22 situation," said Stevenson. "If you havenít got the recognition, you will not get an international role. If you donít get an international role, you wonít get the recognition."

Forced to chase dream down south

FORMER Emmerdale actress Elspeth Brodie was given her lucky break three years ago when she was talent-spotted for the soap in a national competition.

The 22-year old, from Musselburgh, East Lothian, fought off huge competition to win a place on a TV show called Soapstars, which offered five aspiring actors the chance to become regulars in the soap opera.

But once her role as Lucy Calder on the soap had finished, the George Watsonís College former pupil said going to London was her only real option to carry on her career.

Brodie, who is finishing her first term of a three-year course at the Drama Centre in London, said: "I did audition at RSAMD [Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, in Glasgow] but to be honest, the best place to be is really in London.

"You almost shoot yourself in the foot for not studying in London, just because pretty much all the agents casting directors and theatres are here. There are a lot of actors in Scotland and very, very little work.

"That is a real shame, and I wish it was more spread out, but you have to accept that London is the best place to be."


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