The pursuit of ‘Libertine’

August 2, 2005 – The Hollywood Reporter – Stephen Galloway – He was one of the more curious and eccentric characters in a country replete with them. A sybarite whose lavish lifestyle left him dead from syphilis in 1680 at age 33, a profligate whose excesses would draw the wrath of no less a moralist than Samuel Johnson a century later. He was John Wilmot, the second Earl of Rochester who’s ability to offend has continued unabated for four centuries…

In 1992, Jeffreys began to turn Rochester’s life into “The Libertine,” a play that would make its debut at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre two years later. Another two years would follow before the work was optioned by Mr. Mudd, the production company set up by actor John Malkovich and his business partners, Russell Smith and Lianne Halfon (named after Malkovich’s driver on 1984’s “The Killing Fields”).

In all, it has taken a decade for Malkovich, Smith and Halfon to bring “Libertine” to the screen, with the film set for a September release through Miramax. During the 10 years since Malkovich and Smith first became involved (Malkovich played Rochester onstage in Chicago), the project found financing and lost it, landed Johnny Depp and Nicole Kidman, only to lose them, landed Depp again and drew within weeks of principal photography, only to have the U.K. unexpectedly change its tax laws, essentially obliterating a large portion of the movie’s financing.

Indeed, “Libertine” had the kind of early luck that producers dream about. More funding fell into place, coming largely from the U.K.’s Granada Films. The project was officially unveiled at the 1998 Festival de Cannes, with a start date planned for the fall.

Which is precisely when things began to go wrong. First, Depp announced that he was dropping out for personal reasons. “Johnny was about to become a father,” Jeffreys says. “He wanted to be around when the child was born. Once you lose that window for doing the movie, you go right back to the start…”

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