London, Dec. 31: Shekhar Kapur has revived speculation about his on-off project to make a film about Nelson Mandela by announcing — yet again — that the Hollywood veteran Morgan Freeman would play the South African leader.
His latest announcement was made yesterday in Rome where Kapur was attending the Capri-Hollywood film festival.
Confirming that Freeman, 65, would play 84-year-old Mandela in a film based on the latter’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Kapur said: “He is a spiritual hero like Gandhi. He does not need to fight a bloody battle in order to win.”
Two actors may be needed to portray Mandela, who was a young man when he began what would prove to be a 27-year stretch in prison. Many of those years of being held by the apartheid regime were spent in solitary confinement on Robben Island until his release in 1990. Although he stepped down as President in 1999, he ranks across the world as the conscience of Africa.
Kapur realised the many problems associated with making a film about a living person, when he directed Bandit Queen based on the life of the then very much alive and exceedingly awkward Phoolan Devi. To bring Mandela to life on the screen when the subject was still a dominant force on the African scene would be an even more daunting task, he has often confessed to friends.
At one stage, Kapur said a script had been written but it was unsatisfactory. As far back as 1998, he disclosed: “We are seriously considering Morgan Freeman to play the older Mandela. And we are looking for a younger actor, possibly a newcomer.”
It was suggested that the producer of the $50-million film would be a South Africa-based Indian, Anant Singh, but a Hollyood studio would be brought in as a partner.
It is no secret that Kapur’s relationship with Hollywood, while making his latest film, The Four Feathers, has not always been harmonious. The film has performed only modestly in the United States and has yet to be released in Britain.
In July, 2000, Freeman, who is one of America’s most distinguished actors, was asked whether he had met Mandela.
He replied: “Yes, I have and Mr Mandela and I have a pact that whenever we are within a thousand miles of each other that we will get together because I need to spend as much quality time with him before I play him on film. I need to know him very well, and he understands that and so we get together as often as we can. We just had dinner in Washington DC about a month ago.”
On the question of what he felt about portraying Mandela, Morgan added: “Oh, I’m honoured and terrified that I won’t live up to the job of really presenting this man. Ben Kingsley as Gandhi sort of benchmarked that for us. If you don’t do at least that good, maybe you should stay at home. So, it’s a serious challenge, but I am really looking forward to it. One of the best directors around is going to direct it, Shekhar Kapur, so I think we’re going to come out of that all right.”
The French African actor, Djimon Houson, who has a big role in The Four Feathers, has been tested for the role of the young Mandela.
“That’s how I met Shekhar the director,” he said two years ago. “I tested for him for that role. That’s how I know him. But the film didn’t happen and it was pushed back. I was supposed to play a younger Mandela and Morgan Freeman would have played the older Mandela.”
He, too, may be back in contention.