Doctor Zhivago at IMDb
Site established July 2003
This site is not endorsed by Hans Matheson or any person or organisation connected to Hans. It's just a fansite. All information on this site has been gathered from resources in the public domain and proper credit is attributed to the copyright holders where ever possible. Contact me if you find your material has been used without permission.
Newcomers to star in Zhivago remake
TV version of Russian classic will bank on surprise
Matt Wells, media correspondent
Two virtually unknown actors have been chosen to play the roles immortalised by Omar Sharif and Julie Christie in a television remake of the 1965 classic Dr Zhivago.
After a long search, it has been decided that Hans Matheson, a 26-year-old actor from the Hebrides, will take the title role in the adaptation of Boris Pasternak's novel of love and political intrigue during the Bolshevik revolution.
The object of Zhivago's desire, Lara, will be taken by another little known player, Keira Knightly, 16. Her main claim to fame so far is a minor part in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.
Much of the casting budget for Dr Zhivago has been taken up by Sam Neill, who will play Komarovsky, the lecherous lover of Lara's mother played by Rod Steiger in the David Lean version.
The pair of newcomers will be less of a financial drain, and their presence also represents a break from the habit of casting inappropriate stars in order to pull in viewers. TV executives have been criticised for imposing former soap stars and other familiar actors on drama projects simply because they are on exclusive deals.
Finding someone to match the charisma and allure of Sharif was a hard task for the producers. The Welsh actor Ioan Gruffud was first ear marked for the role, but a deal with him could not be reached. It is thought he was too expensive.
Matheson was finally chosen because of his unusual looks: one profile describes him as an "androgynous waif". He has appeared in a number of short and low budget films in recent years - including Mojo and Stella Does Tricks - and had a walk-on part in The Bill. But Dr Zhivago will be his first lead role in a big production.
Andy Harries, head of drama at Granada, said: "Hans has a darkness about him. He could be Russian, he's very hand some, but doesn't look like he has stepped out of the pages of Arena. He has a real air of mystery about him.
"He's also a very interesting guy - he won't fly, always travels by train, and takes his guitar everywhere with him."
Knightly, whose role in the latest Star Wars movie ensured her a growing internet following among cultish fans of the series, is also a risk for the producers, who also considered the Irish singer Andrea Corr.
Mr Harries said Knightly had the potential to become a big star. "When I first saw her she blew me away. She has incredible inner passion and a great look about her - modern and really interesting. She's dramatically beautiful."
The script, by Andrew Davies is said to inject a sense of sexual control into Lara. "She really understands the sexual power she has," Mr Harries said.
Filming of the £7m production begins soon in Prague, and the result will be shown on ITV1 towards the end of the year.
Despite the downturn in advertising revenues, ITV drama executives are still keen to produce high-profile set pieces. The latest, Bloody Sunday, will be screened in two weeks. A remake of The Forsyte Saga is also in preparation.
While BBC1 inched ahead of ITV1 in the total ratings for last year, ITV maintained a lead in drama. Nine out of the top 10 non-soap dramas were produced for ITV.
Nick Elliot, ITV's controller of drama, said: "We have to correct the notion that everything we do is disastrous and that we are on a slide. There have been some experiments that didn't work out, but we are fighting fit."
The Guardian, January9, 2002 Back to Doctor Zhivago page.