Most of us know the story of Romeo & Juliet. We study it in high school and it’s been put into many versions via film and TV. It’s the classic Shakespeare tale of boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl are torn apart by their families, both meet a tragic ending.
The latest version of this tale hits the big screen today and we joined the stars of the film, Hailee Steinfeld & Douglas Booth in a press conference to talk about the challenges of bringing these iconic roles to life and why it was time to bring this story to the big screen again.
There’s always a danger when it comes to remaking a play, book or a film. Everyone has an opinion on casting. “Is he right for the part?” “She doesn’t seem like a good Juliet.” So were Douglas and Hailee filled with excitement or scared to take on these iconic roles?
“It’s a bit of both,” Douglas shared. “You’re sort of terrified but excited. I live for challenges and in my career all I want to do is challenge myself and bring a varied career. This is something I hadn’t done before. I’ve taken on Boy George so I wasn’t scared of iconic type characters. It’s more of excitement than fear.”
Hailee added, “I think in the beginning it’s a little bit of everything. There’s a bunch of different people saying a bunch of different things. I think it comes down to loving the project and being passionate about it. I read this and was so beyond honored to even be considered.”
She then went on to say something we love, which is why we think it’s the perfect time for this movie to be adapted. “I remember our table read, one of the first times, it was most of the cast and we were in Italy,” she shared. “Before we started, Julian had said to us, something that has stuck with me ever since he said it, “This generation deserves their own Romeo & Juliet” and I really believe that’s true. That’s kind of what I’ve been thinking about ever since is the excitement of introducing this to a new generation. I think everybody deserves to discover and rediscover this story.”
“I think that’s the point really,” writer Julian Fellowes added. “There are certain stories that won’t die and they just continually get re-invented. Some are kind of generic but this is a play written by a guy that sat down at a table to write a play for the company of actors he was directing and he touched something that every generation wants to see it or reinvent it. We keep going back to it and I think the reason we go back to it is it touches something at our very core which is why it seemed right to give this generation their own Romeo & Kuliet. Also to make it for once the romantic story and give them the romantic, lyrical Romeo & Juliet. That hadn’t been done in a long time.”
This version of the film is beautifully done and there’s no denying the chemistry of Hailee & Douglas really carries the film. So how did they prep for that?
“We filmed the balcony first,” Douglas said. “We never shoot a film in order so for us we had a couple of weeks in Italy before we started shooting to get to know each other. It was a really valuable time for us so when we got going we were on. We had to jump right into it.”
Hailee added that having great chemistry was very important. “We were comfortable with each other at that point. I think as actors, we had great chemistry which was really important for us to have in order for this story to be impactful and believable.”
Douglas continued, “It takes work beforehand to make sure you know your arc or journey so wherever you’re jumping into it, you know exactly where you’re supposed to be. You have to make sure you know how to maintain that connection for a whole 3 month period.”
Another thing that’s unique is this is one of the few times where the actors are close in age to their characters, which makes them more relatable. “What I love so much about Juliet is how youthful and how innocent she is,” Hailee told us. “It was really interesting sort of exploring her emotions myself at that age. I definitely explored a side of vulnerability and innocence I had never really done before. She’s also very strong and independent. I think what’s so beautiful about the story is she doesn’t really know what she wants until she doesn’t have it which is like most of us in situations.”
During that time, Hailee also happened to be studying “Romeo & Juliet” in school. Talk about the ultimate way to learn a play. “I actually read the book a little over a year ago around the same time we were filming the movie. I was reading it in school which was convenient. I would consider this whole production my introduction to Shakespeare and the story.”
Kodi Smit-McPhee, who plays Benvolio, also added that filming the movie was really his introduction into the world of Shakespeare. “I actually am not really proud of it. I was more of a cliche teen that wrote off Shakespeare. When I got the opportunity to read the script and watch the movies, I got a new appreciation for it all.”
So what about Douglas? “We grew up in England with Shakespeare. It’s part of our culture and he’s one of our best playwrights. Not until I sort of put all the work into this film did I truly fall in love with his text. Now having done this, I really do love it. Since doing it I’ve seen so many more of Shakespeare’s plays on stage.”
Romeo & Juliet is a beautiful production that features standout performances from Douglas and Hailee and the entire cast. The film is open in theaters now. For more interviews with the cast, be sure to check out our premiere coverage here.