Film, like fashion, has a habit of moving in cycles. And with news that Carrie, The Great Gatsby and Dirty Dancing are the biggest of 2013, it’s safe to say that next year is all about the remake. Perhaps the most anticipated of all is Carlo Carlei’s ultra-trad adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The film, about forbidden love between two enemy families, is perhaps Shakespeare’s most adapted to date. Still, given that most of Generation Y were weaned on Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 version, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, the pressure must be on new Romeo, 20 year old Douglas Booth, right? ‘I’ve seen that version a couple of times’ he told Grazia last week. ‘And Leonardo DiCaprio is one of my favourite actors so I’m a little daunted, but it’s a different setting and a different time. Let people compare!’
Visually, the two films are worlds apart. While Luhrmann’s adaptation was garishly modern and set in Nineties L.A., Oscar-winning screenwriter Julian Fellowes, of Downton Abbey fame, was tasked with realising a more traditional adaptation, which was purposefully shot on location in the beautiful Renaissance towns of Verona and Mantova instead of using sets.
For Douglas, tradition was key: ‘I was always fighting to keep the script as close to the original text as possible,’ he says about falling in love with Shakespeare during filming. ‘Sometimes things would be taken out as it was thought it might not work on screen or would confuse the audience, but I would say “trust me it’s one of the most beautiful dialogues ever written.”’
Still learning the dialogue was the least of Douglas’ worries at times. ‘I kept splitting my crotch jumping on and off horses and when I was having a sword fight with Ed Westwick [who plays Romeo’s enemy, Tybalt], I slipped and wrenched my shoulder as I hit the floor. Suddenly everyone – producers, insurers, paramedics - swarmed round thinking I wasn’t going to get up again. But after an ice pack and some paracetamol, I had to keep fighting.’
And while working with cast big guns like Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis might sound terrifying, Douglas is a veteran compared to Juliet played by True Grit’s Hailee Steinfeld, who just 15 during filming. So, what was it like having to feign romance with a teenager? ‘She’s such a natural actress for her age, but while I don’t mean to patronise her at all she was just 15 when shooting.'
As roles go, Romeo is surely second only to Hamlet in terms of career-changers. Douglas, however, remains measured. ‘You don’t want to presume anything, but I’m extremely proud of the work I did on the film. So what will come, will come. Let’s just say it’s not too crazy for me. Yet.’ Well given what it did to Leonardo’s career, that probably won’t last…
Romeo and Juliet is in cinemas Autumn.