William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has been resurrected for another film adaptation in an effort to introduce the classic play to a new generation. But unlike the previous version directed by Baz Luhrmann, which modernized Shakespeare’s work and added a boisterous soundtrack to it, this effort, directed by Italian filmmaker Carlo Carlei, brings the play back to its more traditional, romantic version.
At a recent press conference for Romeo and Juliet, held in Los Angeles, we had the chance to hear Douglas Booth, Hailee Steinfeld, Carlo Carlei and writer Julian Fellowes chat about the film. Among the many things they discussed were how the actors wrapped their heads around the dialogue, how Booth and Steinfeld kept the chemistry going on set, what challenges the adaptation presented and more.
Check out the interview below and enjoy!
Regarding the sword fighting in the movie, did you have to learn to swordfight in that fashion and were there any injuries?
Douglas Booth: Yeah we did. There were quite a lot of rehearsals. You have to get that thing right because otherwise you can really do some damage, but it was great fun. What kind of young 21-year-old or 17-year-old wouldn’t want to run around sword fighting on the weekends? There were a few cut knuckles maybe.
Hailee, how would you compare this to your breakout role in True Grit as far as the dialogue goes? What was the easier one to wrap your head around?
Hailee Steinfeld: They definitely added to the list of challenges with both of the roles. I think with True Grit the language was very specific as is Shakespeare and you couldn’t really improvise and nor did you ever really have to. I never felt like I needed to because it was written so beautifully and it was all right there. With Shakespeare it was definitely a process learning that text and going through it and translating each thing. My script was filled with like little itty bitty writing and the translation on every line. They were both I would say equally as difficult.
Carlo and Julian, one of the great aspects of this film is that you really raise the whole cinematic feel that the play itself has. What were some of your considerations in creating the script and celebrating visual expansiveness in removing the claustrophobia from a stage play?
Julian Fellowes: Well I think that it’s always a challenge to adapt something from one medium to another; a novel into a film or play into a movie or whatever. So you’re quite right, that’s part of it. But we also were dealing with a different entertainment experience. In Shakespeare’s day the play would run for 3 ½ hours, or in Hamlet’s case for 4 ½ hours, and during that time you wandered around, talked, you got your food, you ate and you were silent for some of the good bits, you know? It was a different way of looking at the play but we don’t have that now.
We have this very reverential thing where we sit in the dark, we concentrate and so we need our stories to be told in a shorter period. Instead of 3 ½ hour play it goes down to 100 minutes, and also we were very keen to appeal to an audience beyond that of Shakespeare’s scholars. We didn’t want to present a story that you needed to be a student of Shakespeare to understand. We wanted to keep the feeling there of Shakespeare’s intention and keep his language. 80% of the movie is Shakespeare. We had this kind of double agenda which was to bring the story to be enjoyed by an audience who might not go to a Shakespeare play every Friday night of the week, but at the same time to be true to the play. The great advantage of a movie in when you’re trying to do that is that you can stay with the visual narrative. You are not having to go get into Shakespeare, you are following his definition. You’re in the Capulet’s house, you’re in the Prince’s Palace, you’re in the market square or wherever it is. He chooses his locations like a movie maker because for him you stick one tree on the back of the stage and you’re in the park or you stick a throne in the back and you’re in the throne room. It’s not like a modern play where you’re trying to get away from that sitting room with the sofa and two chairs that makes you want to cut your throat when the curtain goes up. So that was an advantage that, for me, Carlo really took with both hands and opened it up by staying with Shakespeare’s choice of location but making them real.
Carlo Carlei: When I was given the script it took me an hour and a half to read it, very fast reading. I was in tears so many times and by the end I called the writer right away and said I wanted to do this because this is the most beautiful script I have ever read in my life. The trick that this gentleman used was that he used very little description. He captured my intention in my heart only through his incredibly beautiful adaptation or re-iteration of the dialogue. It was mesmerizing, it was relentless, and sometimes it takes a lot of description to describe an action scene that you lose focus. You get bored by the description. This was like an action movie and you were absolutely blown away by it only by the dialogue. I suggested one thing to both Julian and Ileen Maisel (one of the movie’s producers): to push back the story 100 years and set it during the Renaissance instead of the edge of the dark ages like in the Zeffirelli movie to take advantage of the beautiful buildings and the colorful palette of the Renaissance.