Matthew Vaughn’s first movie since his breakthrough Layer Cake — and after pulling out of 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand — is a striking departure from the contemporary underworld he’s used to portraying on film. We’re talking sword-fighting heroes, evil witches, and a cross-dressing gay pirate named Captain Shakespeare played by…Robert De Niro?
Welcome to the bizarre universe of Stardust, a $70 million-plus adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel about an Englishman (Charlie Cox) on a quest to retrieve a fallen star (Claire Danes — and yes, she plays an actual celestial object). As they make their way back to Cox’s village, the duo fend off attacks from a youth-obsessed witch (Michelle Pfeiffer) and get makeovers from De Niro’s swashbuckler. You try selling that to a studio. ”Once you get your head around the fact that Claire Danes is a fallen star and that she’s not going to be wearing a star costume, you’re set,” laughs Cox (Casanova). Vaughn, for one, isn’t worried about audiences finding the film. ”Yeah, this is a marketing challenge,” says the director. ”But I have a feeling in three months’ time the public are going to be sick of sequels.”
Luckily the director already has experience with a tough sell: Pfeiffer took awhile to come around herself. The Academy Award-nominated actress hasn’t appeared on screen since 2002’s White Oleander, having more or less removed herself from the public eye to raise her two children with husband David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal) in Northern California. ”I had to fly to San Francisco and meet her,” remembers Vaughn, who brought along storyboards for a show-and-tell. The visit worked magic on the 48-year-old actress, who quickly signed on. For Danes, the project’s lure was more immediate. ”I totally got to realize my fantasy of being in a flowy dress and riding a unicorn,” she laughs. ”But I really scared Matthew during rehearsals because he asked me how I was going to approach the role and I said, ‘Well, I thought I would occasionally flash some jazz hands. Completely subtle — just for emphasis.’ And his face just dropped.” (August 10)