ROMEO + JULIET
Total Film|October 2021
Back in October 1996, Baz Luhrmann presented his latest film to journalists – an audacious, modern take on Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Filmed in Mexico during extreme weather (and with crew kidnappings!), it starred 22-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio and a teenage Claire Danes as the titular star-crossed lovers, and had yet to be seen, let alone embraced, by audiences. As it celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, Total Film looks back to the eve of its premiere (just as DiCaprio began work on Titanic) when the trio discussed language, love and lots of water...
ADAM TANSWELL
ON THE GENESIS OF THE FILM

Baz Lurhmann: The idea was to play the play in contemporary images. My thing about Shakespeare is this incredible pretense and this mentality about the rule book, about the way in which it is correct to do Shakespeare. Most of those ideas are 19th-century interpretations – very little to do with the Elizabethan stage. So I went to the studio and I told them the idea. [They said] “It’s really great, but just one thing; can you take the language out?”

ON CASTING ROMEO AND JULIET

BL: Leonardo DiCaprio was always going to be Romeo. I just thought, ‘He’s Romeo,’ and I rang up his agent. We met and I said, ‘Look, don’t say yes or no, but come down to Sydney, go diving on the Barrier Reef and we’ll work for a week. If you like it, we’ll talk more…’ So he came down for a week. He worked. I asked Don McAlpine, who I didn’t know and who was one of the highest paid DPs in the world, to get a video camera, and we shot three large sections of the film with actors and my little team, with everything we could get, and we made this little video. Once [the studio] saw just how clear a lot of the telling of the story could be, then there was a sense of ‘it might work’.

Leonardo DiCaprio: We interviewed a lot of girls for Juliet, because we wanted to get a powerful Juliet instead of one that’s sort of really dreamy. We wanted someone that could be intense with the emotion, and once I met Claire, I said, “Wow, this girl’s powerful. She knows what she’s doing!” and Baz agreed with me, and then we hired her.

BL: Leo’s in this fortunate/unfortunate position of being a young movie star in Hollywood, but actually he’s a remarkable young man. He’s an enormously funny guy and I have to say that he has been kind of a partner in this project. If he hadn’t done it, it possibly wouldn’t have gone ahead. He’s now doing Titanic, his first big picture. My hope for him is that when you are talented like that and when you are in that position, that it doesn’t swamp you – that he continues to grow because he isn’t just another personality actor. He’s an actor.

LD: I’m not that famous. I’m not, like, huge to the point where I can’t walk the streets. We’ll see how it goes, but right now I’ve been completely comfortable with it.

ON FILMING IN MEXICO

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