EXCLUSIVE: Ray Winstone Cast As Caesar In Cleopatra Musical, Soderbergh Calls It ‘Viva Las Vegas Meets Tommy’

I just get giddy at the very thought of this film because it’s so insane on so many levels. And if it were virtually anyone besides Steven Soderbergh behind it, that giddiniess would probably be replaced by repulsion, but really how can you be turned off by the notion of “Cleo”?

It is: (A) A retelling of the Cleopatra story, (B) A rock musical with music courtesy of members of Guided by Voices, (C) Shooting in 3D or (D) All of the above.

All of the above, baby! I spoke at length with Soderbergh this afternoon and he revealed quite a bit about his next film, including who will round out the leading trio of performers in the film. We knew about Catherine Zeta-Jones playing Cleopatra and Hugh Jackman as Mark Antony (Soderbergh said he’s waiting by the phone for the official yes from the sexiest man alive). So who is the singing Julius Caesar? It’s Beowulf himself, Ray Winstone, MTV can report straight from Soderbergh’s lips.

The director also refured reports that the film is set in the 1920s, saying it’s a period story all the way. So does that mean a trip to Egypt is in order? Nope, it’s all going to be done on backlots, he told me.

Soderbergh explained at length how this bizarre sounding project ended up on his plate: “I’ve always wanted to do a musical. All the ones that were coming along just weren’t for me. I wanted to do a real rock n roll musical like ’Tommy.’ During my research it appeared that most were female driven. So I started thinking about female protagonists. I was thinking about Catherine. It doesn’t take too long to think about Catherine and famous female historical figures to get to get to Cleopatra.”

That’s all well and good, but how does the influential indie band Guided by Voices figure into all of this? Soderbergh said he’d been thinking about using frontman Robert Pollard’s music for his long-gestating musical, when a conversation with former GBV member James Greer led to Greer writing the script in just six weeks. “He went away for like six weeks and wrote this great script! It’s like an Elvis musical in a way. It’s not serious. I mean it’s historically pretty accurate but its sort of like ’Viva Las Vegas’ meets ’Tommy.'”

Soderbergh added that it’s the very next film on his docket. He’s set to begin shooting in APril, he said. “I’m totally psyched,” he gushed.

He’s psyched! But are you? What do you think of this bizarre concoction?