William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet brought the bard into the mainstream for an entire group of new, young audiences in 1996. The Leonardo DiCapario and Claire Danes film, directed by the eccentric Baz Luhrmann, brought the traditional play into a modern, dreamlike setting, reaching across audience demographics better than any other Shakespeare adaptation had done to that point.
Here are 13 things about the film you may not have known…
1. The film runs for exactly two hours, in line with the prologue which states: “Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage.”
2. Like most of William Shakespeare’s work, the verse of Romeo and Juliet is written in iambic pentameter. While the dialogue remains intact, Pete Postlethwaite, who plays Father Laurence, is the only actor in the movie who speaks using this meter.
3. Baz Luhrmann sent Radiohead a videotape containing the last 20 minutes of the movie and asked them to make a song for the end credits. They composed the song “Exit Music (for a film)”, which appeared on their 1997 album OK Computer.
4. Cinematographer Donald McAlpine was faced with a real problem with the meet-cute scene between Romeo and Juliet at the fish tank – the reflections of the water and the glass of the tank were almost impossible to light without causing all sorts of untoward reflections. McAlpine solved the problem by inserting a couple of fluorescent tubes into the tank out of the camera’s eyeline. These were the sole source of light in the scene.
5. DiCaprio and Danes had very little time to get accustomed to each other. The first scene they shot was the topless scene after Romeo and Juliet spend the night together.
6. When Tybalt’s car rolls over, the roll cage, which is used to protect the stunt driver, collapsed, almost breaking the stunt driver’s neck.
7. Natalie Portman was originally cast as Juliet, but Baz Luhrman felt the age gap between her and Leonardo DiCaprio (eight years) was a problem. Lurhman also felt Portman was too young, having been 13 at the time.
8. The majority of sets were built from scratch in order to achieve the film’s unique look. The Sycamore Grove theatre and huts on Verona Beach were actually destroyed by a hurricane during filming. The beginning of the hurricane is evident during Mercutio’s death scene, and many pick up shots had to be filmed elsewhere.
9. Romeo and Juliet first kiss which takes place in a cramped elevator with the camera dizzyingly swirling around them was achieved by making the elevator into sections and putting the camera on a circular dolly. As it spun round, stage hands would lift and very hurriedly replace the elevator panels to accommodate the bulky camera equipment.
10. At the Capulet masquerade ball, the major characters wear costumes that reflect their personalities: Romeo as a knight, Juliet as an angel, Tybalt as a devil, Capulet as an emperor, etc.
11. Claire Danes wears a wig throughout the movie and also had a special aquatic wig for her underwater scenes.
12. The Jesus statue that dominates Verona was actually a visual effect. In reality, it was 2 feet high.
13. During the production, key hair stylist Aldo Signoretti was kidnapped by gang members and held for $300 ransom which Baz Luhrmann paid.