It was perhaps the one Shakespeare play that we didn’t complain too much about having to study at school, and it was also one of our very favourite romantic movies of the entire 1990s.
William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (usually referred to as Romeo + Juliet) made Shakespeare cool again, giving us one of the most exciting cinema going experiences of our youth. But as you’ll see if you read on, things behind the scenes weren’t always as lovey-dovey as the relationship between the two star crossed lovers.
Below are 20 things you probably didn’t know about Baz Luhrmann’s masterpiece, and we would love to hear your thoughts and memories about the movie, so please do let us know what they are by posting a comment.
20. Leonardo DiCaprio paid for his own flight to Australia to be a part of the film
Whilst Romeo + Juliet was being developed in Australia, director Luhrmann was given funding by Fox to to do a workshop and produce some teaser footage.
The footage was set to be shot in Australia, but the budget for the production was low, meaning there weren’t enough funds to fly the whole cast over.
Leonardo DiCaprio was so desperate to be part of the project that he went to extreme measures.
The young actor actually paid for his own travel down under out of his own pocket.
DiCaprio also fought hard to get the movie made, with Luhrmann saying “he did a video workshop so we could persuade the studio to do it. He was extremely passionate about it.”
19. Natalie Portman was originally cast as Juliet
Natalie Portman, who was only 14 years old at the time, was originally cast as Juliet.
However, Baz Luhrmann immediately worried that she was far too young for the role.
That fear proved to be correct when it was felt that rehearsal footage made it look like DiCaprio was ‘molesting’ her.
DiCaprio was 21 years old at the time, and six-feet-tall, meaning the age difference between the pair was apparent.
‘It was really disappointing,’ Portman later explained in an interview. ‘But I wouldn’t have wanted to be in the movie and have it look wrong’.
18. Leonardo DiCaprio was impressed by Clare Danes because she wouldn’t flirt with him
Sarah Michelle Gellar was second choice for the role of Juliet, but had to turn it down due to scheduling conflicts.
Claire Danes also auditioned for the role, and seriously impressed her fellow cast members.
Aged just sixteen at the time, Danes wasn’t shy of her rather intimidating co-star.
After her audition, Leonardo DiCaprio was keen for Claire Danes to be cast.
Not only was she the only actress to look him in the eye when delivering her lines, but she also never tired to impress him by acting flirtatious!
17. Marlon Brando almost starred
If you remember, the role of Father Laurence was played brilliantly by the English actor Pete Postlethwaite.
However, another legendary method actor very nearly took on the role.
Marlon Brando apparently sent Baz Luhrmann letters about the part, expressing interest in the film.
He had experience acting in films based on Shakespeare’s plays, having previously starred in Julius Caesar (1953).
Sadly, he ultimately decided to pull out due to family issues after his son was arrested for murder.
16. Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio did not get on during filming
They may have been filming one of the most romantic stories of all time, but there were reports of trouble on set.
Apparently, Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes fought constantly, and the atmosphere on set was tense.
Apparently, Danes considered DiCaprio to be extremely immature and difficult to work with.
Meanwhile, DiCaprio believed that she was far too professional and uptight. Well, they do say that opposites attract!
The pair would reportedly completely avoid one another until they needed to film a scene together.
15. The movie’s hairstylist was captured and held for ransom during the shoot
If you thought movie sets were all glitz and glamour, then you thought wrong!
Shockingly, the movie’s hairstylist, Aldo Signoretti, was kidnapped and held for ransom during the movie’s shoot.
Baz Luhrmann confirmed this by saying that “the bandidos rang up and said, ‘For $300 you can have him back'”.
“So Maurizio goes down clutching the money outside the hotel, holds it up, chucks them the bag and they threw Aldo out of the car and broke his leg.”
Signoretti was rushed to hospital where he received emergency medical care for his injury, and thankfully made a full recovery.
14. The stormy clouds in the background were genuine
You may remember some rather ominous looking thundery skies in the background during the “a plague on both your houses” scene.
But you may not have realised that no special effects were involved whatsoever!
Yes, they decided to shoot during the beginning of a real hurricane in Mexico, after which the sets they were filming on were completely destroyed.
They only had time to get two shots in before things started to become too dangerous.
‘All the crew had goggles on’, explained Luhrrmann. ‘And the guys had stinging sand in their eyes’.
13. All of the writing displayed on-screen is a Shakespearean quote
If you’re a self-confessed English Literature aficionado, you may have noticed something peculiar in the signs used in the film.
Believe it or not, the text on every single sign, poster and piece of paper in the movie is a quote from Shakespeare.
For example, the slogan for Phoenix Gas is “add more fuel to your fire,” a quote from King Henry VI Part 3.
We also see a newspaper headline that reads “a rash fierce blaze of riot,” which comes from Richard II.
As well as this, there is a gun advertisement with the catchphrase ‘shoot forth thunder’ which is taken from King Henry VI Part 2.
12. It had an extremely small budget for such an epic movie
Not only did it star possibly the biggest actor on the planet at the time, but the production was seriously impressive.
Bearing this in mind, you may be surprised to hear that Romeo + Juliet had a relatively small budget.
It grossed $147 million from a budget of just $14 million, receiving mostly positive reviews.
Not only this, but it was even nominated for the Best Art / Set Decoration Academy Award.
The film was also included on the list of films the BFI suggested that people watch by the age of 14.
11. Baz Luhrmann believes it’s the movie that William Shakespeare himself would have made
Romeo + Juliet director Baz Luhrmann wanted to try and make a movie that William Shakespeare himself would be proud of.
“I wanted to look at the way in which Shakespeare might make a movie of one of his plays if he was a director”, he explained.
Luhrmann went on to say that the bard was “a relentless entertainer and a user of incredible devices and theatrical tricks to ultimately create something of meaning and convey a story. That was what we wanted to do.”
He was also insistent that the film would run for exactly two hours.
This was in line with the prologue which states: ‘Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage’.
10. The soundtrack went platinum
The soundtrack for Romeo + Juliet featured an eclectic mix of classical, pop and rock music.
Some artists whose music was used in the film include The Cardigans, Des’ree and Garbage.
You can also hear Symphony 25, written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
The album went multi-platinum, leading to a second, gold-certified volume.
However, it was missing one very special song that had been written especially for the movie.
9. Luhrmann called upon Radiohead to write a song for the end credits
British rock band Radiohead’s lead singer, Thom Yorke, is often considered to be the greatest lyrical genius of our time, and Luhrmann clearly agreed.
He sent the band a videotape of the last twenty minutes of the movie and asked him to write a song for the end credits.
Yorke obliged, and wrote the iconic (and aptly titled) track Exit Music (For a Film).
The lyrics heavily references the text, including lines such as ‘pack and get dressed, before your father hears us, before all hell breaks loose’.
The song would later be included on their 1997 album OK, Computer, and was regarded by Luhrmann as ‘one of the best exit themes ever written’.
8. Baz Luhrmann wanted to prove that Shakespeare ‘wasn’t just for snobs’
Luhrmann aimed to tell the original story in a modern, more accessible way.
‘The thing I really set out to do was to smash what I call ‘club Shakespeare’, Luhrmann explained.
He was emphatic that you didn’t have to be ‘part of the club’ to enjoy Shakespeare.
Shakespeare was just 26 when he wrote the play, and in Luhrmann’s eyes, he ‘wrote this fantastic play so that everybody could understand it, so that everybody could be affected by it’.
This was personal to Luhrmann, who had struggled to relate to Shakespeare as a child. He was determined to show that Shakespeare could be relevant in the modern world.
7. All of the guns in the film are named after swords
Romeo, Mercutio and Tybalt, as well as several other characters, have a shootout in the film.
In the Shakespeare play, these fights did of course take place with swords instead of guns.
6. There were problems filming some scenes
When we watch a movie, it all seems so effortless and coherent. However, in this case, there was trouble brewing behind the scenes.
Cinematographer Donald McAlpine was faced with a conundrum when it came to filming the scene where Romeo and Juliet meet at the fish tank.
Both the tank and the water were impossible to film without the reflections of the filming crew being visible.
He managed to solve the problem by inserting a couple of fluorescent tubes into the tank.
They were placed out of the camera’s eyeline, and were the only source of light for the entire scene.
5. Leonardo DiCaprio was first in line to play Romeo
The pair became good friends, which was cemented by DiCaprio’s sheer dedication to the film.
4. Baz Luhrmann thought Leonardo DiCaprio was a rock star
Before meeting DiCaprio, Luhrmann had seen pictures of him in the press.
This was of course pre-Titanic, and the actor had not yet become the household name he is today.
Upon seeing the picture, Luhrmann thought he was exactly the kind of person who would be perfect in the role of Romeo.
However, he initially presumed that DiCaprio was a rock star, with his tousled hair and classic good looks.
When he discovered DiCaprio was in fact an actor, he was overjoyed, and made it his mission to have him involved with the film.
3. Claire Danes had a crush on her co-star
We’ve already discussed how Danes and DiCaprio were at loggerheads on set, but we didn’t really delve into the reasons behind this.
Remember in school when if someone was mean to you, your parents told you it was because they ‘fancied’ you?
Well, that might actually be true in this case. According to Danes, she had a huge crush on DiCaprio, who was five years her senior.
‘It was problematic’, the star explained. ‘I couldn’t really have a crush on the guy I was professionally having a crush on!’.
Apparently, she found that the only way to deal with this ‘spark’ was to pretty much completely ignore her co-star. Fair enough!
2. Claire Danes wore a wig during filming
Claire Danes wore several wigs throughout the movie, as her own hair was cut short at the time.
She also had a special aquatic wig made specifically for the underwater scenes.
During the underwater sequences, the cast would have to film in cold water.
This was to avoid their skin becoming too red from any heat in the pool.
The combination of freezing water and tension between the lead actors led to friction on the set.
1. It was the highest-grossing film version of a shakespeare play
There have been an influx William Shakespeare play adaptions, particularly in the eighties and nineties.
But none have proved so popular as Romeo+Juliet, which grossed over $147 million worldwide. This made it the single highest grossing film adaption of a Shakespeare play.
It even beat the likes of Ten Things I Hate About You, which starred Heath Ledger and was based on The Taming of the Shrew.
Like most of Shakespeare’s works, Romeo + Juliet was written entirely in iambic pentameter.
However, Pete Postlethwaite, who plays Father Laurence, is the only actor in the movie who speaks using this meter.