As I was trying desperately not to nod off during the eighth or ninth musical number in My Fair Lady, directed by George Cukor in 1964, my mind kept wandering back to the 1938 film version of George Bernard Shaw's 1913 Pygmalion that I had seen the week before. Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller had great chemistry and gave fantastic performances as Professor Higgins and Eliza Doolittle. Could that same magic be captured today with contemporary actors? I am not talking about a modern-day version of Pygmalion with a 2005 twist. We have all seen the 1990 movie Pretty Woman, directed by Garry Marshall, more than enough times. If Hollywood were to remake the 1938 version of Pygmalion today, I would challenge them to come up with a more interesting cast than I have.
Eliza Doolittle needs to be played by someone that can not only pull off the physical transformation of Eliza throughout the story but can also transform herself from Higgins' lab rat to an independent woman. That is why I chose Angelina Jolie for the role of Eliza. Her role in the 1999 film Girl Interrupted, directed by James Mangold, which earned her a Golden Globe and an Academy Award, shows how diverse of an actress she really is. She had a convincing British accent in both Tomb Raider films, one directed in 2001 by Simon West and the other in 2003 by Jan de Bont, and would probably have no problems with the Cockney accent. As for her physical appearance as Eliza, the films Gia, directed in 1998 by Michael Cristofer, as well as Girl Interrupted, show how Angelina can be made to look plain and, in some instances, downright ugly. Granted Ms. Jolie just turned thirty; however, Wendy Hiller was twenty-six when she played Eliza; so I do not believe her age to be a problem.
For the role of Professor Higgins I decided on Liam Neeson. I think anyone that can go from portraying Oskar Schindler in 1993 in Schindler's List, directed by Steven Spielberg, to playing a Jedi Knight in Star Wars: Episode I-The Phantom Menace, directed in 1999 by George Lucas, has a pretty broad range as far as acting goes. While I have not seen him in a role similar to Professor Higgins, I think it would be fun for an audience to see him in such a role; and he seems to be the type of actor that would be up to the challenge of trying something new. I also believe that at age fifty-three he would make Angelina Jolie seem a bit younger.
I did not even hesitate to cast Michael Caine in the role of Colonel Pickering, instead of Scott Sunderland. Caine's role in the 1988 film Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, directed by Frank Oz, has always been a favorite of mine. A big part of that film showed him teaching Steve Martin's character how to act like a perfect gentleman. Pickering needs to be played by someone who can pull off being a civilized foil to Higgins, and Michael Caine would do an excellent job filling that role.
Some of the other roles could be played a number of people. I could see Robbie Coletrane, who plays Hagrid in
the Harry Potter films, the first and second ones directed by Chris Columbus in 2001 and 2003, the third directed by Alfonso Cuarón in 2004 and the fourth directed by Mike Newell in 2005, as Alfred Doolittle instead of Wilfred Lawson. Perhaps Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Higgins and Ioan Gruffudd as Freddy, instead of Everley Gregg and David Tree, could round out the cast. All in all, I believe my cast for the 2005 version of Pygmalion would ultimately make moviegoers pleasantly surprised. And I would have another version of Shaw's story to watch in which, thankfully, no one sings a single note.