Orlando is just the kind of adventurous project that appealed to the actress, the story of an androgynously beautiful young aristocrat named Orlando who is lover to Queen Elizabeth I. “Do not fade. Do not wither. Do not grow old,” commands the Queen, and he obeys, remaining unchanged over four centuries. Or almost unchanged. One morning some hundred years later, the lad looks into the mirror while dressing and realizes he has transformed into a woman. “Same person, no difference at all,” she muses. “Just a different sex.”
British filmmaker Sally Potter, who came from experimental films and documentaries, had made only one feature before tackling this project. She wrote her first treatment in the 1980s, initially setting it aside when she was told that it would be too difficult to realize, then returning to tackle that challenge head on. Orlando became a true multinational production. Five producers from five different countries came together to make the film, which was still small by studio standards (the final budget was about $5 million); the preparations, from raising money to scouting locations, went on for four years before production could begin. After long negotiations, a deal was made to shoot the film in Russia, where their production dollar would stretch farther. The production was able to recreate centuries of cultural history, from Orlando’s lavish manor to the frozen Thames of 17th century London to 18th century Constantinople, on location in Leningrad and, later, in Uzbekistan. Very little was shot in the studio, and most of that involved special effects sequences.
Plays Monday September 3 on Turner Classic Movies