Booth Tackles the Bard in ‘Romeo & Juliet’
(l-r) Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld in "ROMEO & JULIET." ©Relativity Media/R&J Releasing. CR: Philippe Antonello.

(l-r) Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld in “ROMEO & JULIET.” ©Relativity Media/R&J Releasing. CR: Philippe Antonello.

Front Row Features

HOLLYWOOD—Douglas Booth follows a 400-year acting tradition, playing a lovesick Verona boy who’s love for a local girl is verboten thanks to a longstanding family feud. The young lovebirds would rather die than be held apart by their respective families’ hatred for the other.

We’re talking Shakespeare’s classic “Romeo and Juliet,” which is getting its umpteenth Hollywood treatment. Julian Fellowes, the award winning scribe behind “Gosford Park” and the TV juggernaut “Downton Abbey,” adapts the Bard’s classic tragedy for a whole new generation. He also serves as a producer on the Carlo Carlei-directed film.

Hailee Steinfield, the Academy Award nominated actress from “True Grit,” plays Booth’s love interest, Juliet Capulet, the only daughter of a social-climbing lord in Renaissance Verona, who hopes to marry off his daughter to a wealthy count. Juliet is smitten, however, by Romeo Montague, who has crashed a family party and fallen hard for the teenage beauty. Thanks to some help from a kindly friar (Paul Giamatti) and Juliet’s nurse (Lesley Manville), the couple court and eventually secretly marry. Trouble ensues when Romeo encounters Paris (“300’s” Tom Wisdom), with tragic results.

The 21-year-old Brit has acted and modeled for several years. He starred in the BBC biopic “Worried About the Boy,” in which he depicted ‘80s rocker Boy George. With formal acting training, he also has starred in a Fellowes-penned work, making his big screen debut in 2009’s time-travel fantasy, “From Time to Time,” which also starred Dame Maggie Smith.

Booth stars in the upcoming biblical epic “Noah,” directed by Darren Aronofsky.

Having studied Shakespeare in school, he recently explained what it was like taking on one of his classic characters on film.

Q: The sword fighting in this looks pretty intense. Did you have to learn to fight in that fashion and were there any accidents?

Booth: Yeah. There was quite a lot of rehearsal. You have to get that thing right, because those swords can really do some damage. But it was great fun. What kind of young 21-year-old wouldn’t want to run around sword fighting on the weekends?

Q: No accidents?

Booth: (smiling) A few cut knuckles maybe.

Q: This is obviously a story about romantic overtures. What’s the most romantic thing you’ve done or someone has done for you?

Booth: It would be a bit sickening if I told you. You don’t want to know. It’s probably something quite small, actually. The most romantic things are very small, kind gestures from people you love.

Q: I don’t remember Romeo being such a sociopath.

Booth: Such a sociopath?

Q: He’s so in love and enamored with art on the one the one hand, and then he kills three people.

Booth: (laughing) I hear what you’re saying. He very much lives in the moment to the most extreme degrees. He sort of falls very quickly in love, but I don’t think he really found true love until he met Juliet. He thought he was in love with Rosaline, and he was head over heels. He’s busy carving a bust of her at the beginning of the movie. Then he just suddenly sees Juliet and he totally drops Rosaline. Now he’s just totally in love with her. But at the end, when he’s with Paris he says, “Please, don’t let me put another sin upon my head. Please don’t make me kill you.” He’s going to do anything he needs to do to be with his Juliet. Nothing will stop him. Nothing. (Paris is) in the way, and he says, “I beg you, please.” And he doesn’t, and so a fight ensues.

Q: How do you compare this role to playing Boy George?

Booth: Each character you play has its own set of characteristics, for want of a better word. How does it compare? It’s the same. 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. That’s just going within myself and changing it. 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 and it’s all coming from the human part inside me.

Q: You were really convincingly in love. Was it hard to hold that throughout the whole filming?

Booth: Pretty hard if you knew the end when (Steinfeld) was sick of me at that point. (He laughs.) We filmed the balcony scene first. You never shoot a film in the order of scenes, or very rarely. First, we had a couple of weeks in Italy before we started shooting to get to know each other and it was really a valuable time for us, so that when we got going we really could just (do it) because we had to jump right into it. It takes work beforehand to make sure that you know your arc, you know your journey, and so that wherever you’re jumping into it you know exactly where you’re supposed to be. We had to make sure how to maintain that kind of connection throughout the whole three-month- long period.

Q: How comfortable or uncomfortable were your costumes?

Booth: It was freezing cold. I don’t know if you could see our breath in the movie. It was really cold and Hailee’s dresses, her chest was open. It’s not going to keep you that warm. I had a bit more padding, which makes it a lot harder to go to the toilet, and all that kind of thing. So it’s uncomfortable in a sense, but actually they were all custom-made, every single costume in this movie was made for this movie, and made for us.

Q: What was your first memory of “Romeo and Juliet?” What form did that take? What stuck with you about it?

Booth: I grew up in England with Shakespeare. It’s a big part of our culture. 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.

Q: Did you ever play this role while you were in school?

Booth: I read the text but never had the chance to play it in a capacity like this.

Q: Can you talk about working with Paul Giamatti who plays the friar?

Booth: He’s one of my favorite actors. He’s so talented and I was fortunate enough to have a lot of scenes with him. The relationship between the friar and Romeo is so important. Just to see the way Paul played it was so fantastic. I’d never seen that. And, what he gave every day was gold. One of my favorite shots in the whole movie was at the end when he rushes into the crypt and you see his face when he sees what he’s done. You’ll find few actors that can pierce you with their eyes quite like Paul Giamatti can. I remember also, when we were filming the funeral, he started crying while watching us and when (Carlei) said “Cut,” he just couldn’t stop and he had to go into another part of the church. Someone had to go and console him. He invests a lot into his parts and roles.

Q: When you are approached with this classic and iconic role, did you have any doubt and fear you could pull it off? Or were you excited and thrilled?

Booth: It’s a bit of both. You’re terrified and excited. I live for challenges in my career. What I want to do is try to challenge myself and have a varied career. This is something I hadn’t done before so I was excited to do it.