Romeo and Juliet - Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth
Romeo and Juliet - Juliet (Hailee Steinfeld) and Romeo (Douglas Booth) ©2013 R & J Releasing, photo by Philippe Antonello

On October 11th, writer Julian Fellows (Downton Abbey, Gosford Park) and director Carlo Carlei (Flight of the Innocent) bring the timeless love story of William Shakepeare’s Romeo and Juliet to a new generation.

Despite the fact that their families despise each other, Romeo (Douglas Booth, Great Expectations, Worried about the Boy) and Juliet (Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit) meet and fall madly in love … but it’s a love that is doomed by the hatred that surrounds them.

Douglas and Hailee Steinfeld spoke with us about their iconic roles.

What was your first memory of  reading or seeing Romeo and Juliet?

Romeo and Juliet - Hailee Steinfeld
Romeo and Juliet – Juliet (Hailee Steinfeld) ©2013 R & J Releasing, photo by Philippe Antonello

Hailee: I actually read the book (of the play) a little over a year ago, around the time we were filming the movie. I was reading it in school, so that was very convenient. I would consider this whole experience my introduction to the story and to Shakespeare.

Douglas: For me, I grew up in England with Shakespeare. It’s a big part of our culture. He’s one of our best playwrights. It wasn’t until I threw the work into this film that I truly fell in love with his text and having now done this, I really do love it.

Since doing it, I’ve seen so many more of Shakespeare’s plays on stage and they’re so brilliant.

When you were approached with these classic, iconic roles, was it met with doubt and fear or excitement?

Romeo and Juliet - Douglas Booth
Romeo and Juliet – Romeo (Douglas Booth) ©2013 R & J Releasing, photo by Philippe Antonello

Douglas: It’s a bit of both. You’re terrified and excited and I live for challenges in my career. What I want to do is try to challenge myself and have a varied career and this is something I hadn’t done before. I took on Boy George so I wasn’t scared of an iconic character, but I think it’s definitely more excitement than fear.

Hailee: I would say, in the beginning, it’s a little bit of everything, but I think it comes down to loving the project and being passionate about it. I read this and was so beyond honored to be considered.

I remember our table read (of the script), most of the cast were together. We were in Italy and we all sat down, and before we started, Julian said to us, that this generation deserves their own Romeo and Juliet.

I really think that’s true and that’s what I’ve been thinking about ever since; the excitement of introducing this to this generation. I think everybody deserves to discover and rediscover this story.

In what ways did you relate to Juliet as a teenager?

Romeo and Juliet - Hailee Steinfeld
Romeo and Juliet – Juliet (Hailee Steinfeld) ©2013 R & J Releasing, photo by Philippe Antonello

Hailee: What I loved so much about Juliet is how youthful and innocent she is. It was really interesting exploring her emotions myself at that age. I definitely explored a side of vulnerability and innocence that I had never really done before, so that was really fun and interesting.

She is very strong and independent, and I think what’s so beautiful about the story is that she doesn’t really know what she wants until she doesn’t have it, and that’s like most of us in some situations. And you really see her fight for what she loves.

How do you compare Romeo to playing Boy George?

Romeo and Juliet - Director Carlo Carlei, Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth
Romeo and Juliet – Director Carlo Carlei with stars Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth ©2013 R & J Releasing, photo by Philippe Antonello

Douglas: Each character you play has its own set of characteristics, for want of a better word.You approach each character in the same way.

First I have to go inside myself and establish something real and I have to put that out on the table, and then I can think, ‘Now, how can I twist this to create?’

The Boy George character, that’s me, the Romeo character, that’s me.

They look completely different, you won’t recognize them if you put two pictures up in front of someone, people won’t know it’s the same person probably, but it’s all part of me, it’s all coming from the human part inside me.

Douglas and Hailee were asked how they prepared for their roles. Click below to listen to their answer.

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I asked Julian Fellows, who was also at the press conference, about casting Paul Giamatti as Friar Laurence in the movie, and as Harold Levinson on Downton Abbey this season. Click here to hear his reply.

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Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.