• Golden Globe Awards

Claire Danes, 1996 on Romeo and Juliet – Out of the Archives

Claire Danes, a four- time Golden Globe winner, played Juliet opposite Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo in the movie version of the Shakespeare tragedy directed by Baz Luhrmann Romeo + Juliet (1996). The young actress talked about that experience with the journalists of the Hollywood Foreign Press during an exclusive 1996 interview when she was 17 years old. She currently stars with Jesse Eisenberg in the television series Fleishman Is in Trouble.
Claire Danes said that she had learned to appreciate William Shakespeare’s work in school, but had not read Romeo and Juliet prior to being cast in the movie: “In my freshman year of high school I had studied the comedy As You Like It, and I was really nervous about reading it at first, because I thought that Shakespeare was reserved for the special elite and I wasn’t a part of that club; but my teacher was great and she really helped me tackle it, so I wrote a couple of papers on it. And once I figured out what Shakespeare was really about, what he was saying, how profound his ideas were and what a grasp he had on human nature, I was overwhelmed by his brilliance. But I hadn’t read Romeo and Juliet when I was offered the role.”
The young actress worked with Australian director Baz Lurhmann to shape her version of Juliet: “Baz was extremely supportive the whole way through making this movie, during rehearsals we were negotiating who Juliet would be exactly and we both decided that she was very strong and determined to get her way, that she was perceptive, innocent and vulnerable at the same time.  Baz and I went through every scene in detail, we were both really meticulous about finding out what every word meant exactly, and once we did that, I could form them clearly and make my points very strongly.”
She did not find it as difficult as she had thought to go from studying Shakespeare plays to acting in them on film: “To study Shakespeare and to act it are two entirely different things. I assumed that Shakespeare would be the hardest thing that I would ever have to do, but it turned out to be one of the easiest things I’ve ever done, because Shakespeare is such a good writer, he creates well drawn- out characters with no loopholes, so it’s not like you have to go home and fill in the blanks, do tedious amounts of homework in order to have the words make sense; it’s all there on the page for you.”
Danes claimed that, despite the fact that the movie, shot in Mexico, was set in present day, it remained faithful to the Shakespeare’s story and dialogue: “It was set in modern times, but we were very true to the story and we didn’t ever divert from the Shakespeare’s format, but we plugged in modern images for Elizabethan ones, like instead of swords there were guns and instead of horses there were cars. But I didn’t feel that there was much of a difference, because the characters still had the same feelings, Juliet was feeling alone and scared of growing up, needing love from Romeo. We had all these emotions that are a part of human nature and that we will all experience no matter what time we’re living in. That’s why Shakespeare has lasted for so long, because people are still getting something out of his stories and they still make sense to them.”
The actress admitted that she was a romantic and believed in love at first sight, but still struggled to understand Juliet’s actions: “I don’t think on the same level as Juliet, so for me as the actress I had to find a way to understand why Juliet would go to such an extreme for love, and a lot of it had to do with the fact that she was miserable in her own life, she was virtually abused by her parents, she felt so abandoned and neglected that Romeo was this breath of fresh air. She got to be her own person, be free and loose with him in a way that she couldn’t be in her normal life.  So to have somebody threaten to take that away felt like the worst thing that could have ever happened to her and it was a point of no return. And it’s not that I condone suicide by any means, I believe that the most important thing is to just keep going, but it’s a well-known fact that people go bonkers when they are in love and they’ve written so many songs about it.”
She was thankful to always have had the support of her family: “I’ve been extremely lucky in that I’ve had amazing parents, a wonderful brother and a great grandmother. I’ve had a lot of love in my life and my entire life I’ve been supported and encouraged to make the choices I’ve made and to do what makes me happy; while Juliet never had that, and her only saving grace was that she had a nurse who nurtured her. So I couldn’t really relate to her on that level, because I’ve had such a great experience at home and such a great family life. My parents met in college and they’ve been married 28 years, so I’ve had some great role models and I know that you don’t have to die in order for your first love to be special and wonderful.”
Even if she had not starred in the film as the actress, Danes said she would want to go see it, like any teenager would: “I would see it because Leonardo is one of my favorite actors, regardless of his young age. I saw it for the first time with my friend about a week ago and he was so excited, he was turned on by it and I was really pleased with his reaction. I liked it a lot, but I had no clue if it was good or not, because I’m so attached to it and involved with it still, that I have no objectivity. But my friend got out of the theatre and said, ‘That was so cool. They shouldn’t tell people that this is in Shakespearean language because it might intimidate them from going to the theaters, but it’s really hip and very accessible.’ Also there’s a great soundtrack and it’s very entertaining, it’s making some strong points and is touching on important themes, but you can have a good time watching it, which is important.”