William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, a classic tale of young love, family feuds, and making sure plans are agreed on in advance, gets the modern treatment in Baz Luhrmann’s ultra stylish re-telling Romeo + Juliet. Though the dialogue itself stays the same as the 1597 original play, we move from fair Verona to Verona Beach instead, where warring business empires make battle with acidic wit and high caliber pistols and everything looks a bit like it belongs on MTV. The odd mixture of old and new worked well enough for audiences to flock to cinemas, with the film earning $151 million on a $14.5 million budget. A young Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes play the star crossed lovers with Harold Perrineau and the late Pete Postlethwaite almost stealing the show as Mercutio and Father Laurence respectively — the show is, however, stolen by a sequence featuring a children’s choir singing a cover of Prince’s When Doves Cry. It’s great.
But did you know…
1) Natalie Portman originally had the role of Juliet, but was forced to drop out after studio execs at 20th Century Fox feared she looked too young when paired with DiCaprio. According to Portman it was during rehearsals where she had to kiss Leonardo DiCaprio’s Romeo that they said, “it looked like Leonardo DiCaprio was molesting me when we kissed.” The role went to Claire Danes instead.
2) Luhrmann, who had found prior success with the surprise hit Strictly Ballroom, had a first-look deal with Fox. He got a small budget from them to film test footage in Australia (DiCaprio paid for himself to fly out) and when exec’s saw the footage, finally seeing what Luhrmann was going for, they agreed to finance the film.
3) Luhrmann’s intent with the film was to make it the way Shakespeare himself may have if he was a modern director. “How would he make it? We don’t know a lot about Shakespeare, but we do know he would make a ‘movie’ movie.”