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Thursday, 21 September, 2000, 10:47 GMT 11:47 UK
Downey Jr becomes Hamlet
Mel Gibson
Gibson last directed the movie Braveheart
Actor Mel Gibson is to direct troubled star Robert Downey Jr in the role of Shakespeare's Hamlet on the Los Angeles stage.

The production is scheduled to begin in January, although a theatre is yet to be decided upon, with auditions to complete the rest of the cast beginning on 30 September.

Gibson and Downey Jr have been friends since they worked together on the movie Air America in 1990.

But they only decided on the Hamlet venture after recent discussions, reports trade paper Variety.

The project will be something of a coup for both actors. It will be 46-year-old Gibson's first directing effort since he won an Oscar for Braveheart, in which he also starred.

Robert Downey Jr
Downey Jr has not played Shakespeare on stage before

For Downey Jr, 35, the role will mark his stage debut in a Shakespeare play.

It will also be another high-profile but unexpected step back on the acting ladder after his recent release from prison.

Downey Jr was released from jail in August after serving a sentence for violating his probation for drugs offences. Days later, he was offered a part in hit US series Ally McBeal.

In demand

Downey Jr was jailed in 1997 following a series of drug and drink-related misdemeanours which led to him being arrested three times in 1996.

The actor, who was Oscar-nominated for his physically demanding title role in Chaplin, accepted a guest part in Ally McBeal.

He played McBeal's love interest in the first eight shows of a new series.

The producers have said they would like him to extend his run - even become a regular - on the show.

Feasibly, Downey Jr could combine filming the odd episode of the series with his work in Hamlet.

For Gibson, the role of the tormented Danish prince Hamlet is one he knows well.

He played the part himself onscreen when he starred in Franco Zeffirelli's movie version in 1991.

Gibson's stage play with Downey Jr is being produced by his Icon company, which also made Braveheart.

See also:

01 Jul 00 | Entertainment
Hollywood's patriotic battle
11 Aug 00 | Entertainment
Downey Jr lands McBeal role
04 Aug 00 | Entertainment
Downey checks into drug centre
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