Should Angelina Jolie Really Play Cleopatra?
If this sounds like a familiar story, it’s probably because you heard it a few years ago. Before the infamous “Sony Hack” incident, Angelina Jolie was firmly attached to a “Cleopatra” project to be produced by Scott Rudin. However, disputes over the script and who would direct held the project up, and when a rift between Jolie and Rudin was revealed by the hack everything seemed to go off the rails.
Now, however, a report by Deadline indicates that the film is back on the slate at Sony. Jolie will get to do her passion project after all, though the script is being re-worked and it’ll likely be a while before we see the film’s release. In the meantime, it’s worth asking: should Angelina Jolie really be the one to play the Egyptian queen? There’s no correct answer of course, but your view on the matter might depend on how, exactly, you view this very real character from history.
On the one hand, we have the most modern interpretations of Cleopatra, which seem to be where the idea of casting Jolie probably comes from. The only real “appearance” of the character in 21st century entertainment or pop culture is a game featured at Gala’s bingo platform. One of several themed jackpots sprinkled in among the bingo rooms, the game depicts the Egyptian queen as a striking figure with piercing, smoky eyes. Indeed, the game’s description even calls her “the seductive Cleopatra” and warns that she’ll “keep you spellbound.” It almost looks as if it was designed with Angelina Jolie in mind.
The most recent film bringing Cleopatra to life, meanwhile, was the 1963 project that starred the beautiful Elizabeth Taylor in the role. The film went with a similar image to that of the modern game, portraying Cleopatra as the picture of beauty and glamor. Again, this fits with a lot of moviegoers’ impressions of Angelina Jolie, and indeed Jolie has even sometimes been described as something of a modern day Taylor. For her part, for what it’s worth, Jolie was quoted in The Hollywood Reporter as saying her Cleopatra performance would never be as lovely as Taylor’s was.
But lovely or not, are takes like these missing the point about Cleopatra? As you may have heard before if you have an interest in ancient history, there’s actually quite a bit of evidence to suggest that the real Cleopatra wasn’t known for her beauty. Granted, beauty is subjective, and it’s no one’s job to compare the looks of a modern actress to an ancient queen. But if accuracy is a concern for the studio (and it’s usually not with regard to historical epics), someone a little less exotic might actually be a better fit.
A post by Pattaya Today actually delved into this topic some time ago and pointed to even more examples of Cleopatra depictions that were likely inaccurate. The article notes that archaeological evidence suggests Cleopatra was a less beautiful figure by conventional standards; coins that were in circulation during her reign show here with a hooked nose, for instance. Furthermore, the queen actually had Greek lineage rather than Egyptian. That doesn’t impact how beautiful one might imagine her to be, but the smoky eyes and pen-thin eyebrows etc. tend to go with our stereotypical image of the exotic ancient Egyptian.
There’s also the argument that perhaps it doesn’t particularly matter. A figure like Cleopatra is almost more like a character from literature than one from history at this point, as she’s been written about, depicted, and generally fictionalized so many times. The main goal from the studio’s perspective is to make this an entertaining (and profitable) film. And if Jolie has passion for the project, who could blame her? Any prominent modern actress would probably kill for the chance to take on an Elizabeth Taylor role, let alone a biopic for one of history’s most famous women.
Ultimately, where accuracy is concerned this looks like another ancient world misstep for Hollywood. But that’s not to say it can’t wind up being a good film.