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12 Star-Crossed Facts About Romeo + Juliet

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When adapting William Shakespeare, most movie directors spend a lot of time fussing over Elizabethan gowns and crumbling castles. Baz Luhrmann was more concerned with guns, slang, and Ecstasy trips. For his 1996 take on Romeo and Juliet, the Australian director dropped those famously star-crossed lovers into a contemporary city with contemporary problems. The resulting Romeo + Juliet was a bombastic update that struck a chord with teens, who turned it into a major hit. Here are a few interesting details about the hurricanes and kidnappings that plagued the set.

1. BAZ LUHRMANN WANTED TO PROVE THAT SHAKESPEARE WASN’T FOR SNOBS.

In retelling Romeo and Juliet as a modern story, Baz Luhrmann hoped to shake up Shakespeare’s accessibility. “The thing I really set out to do was to smash what I call ‘club Shakespeare,’” Luhrmann told ScreenSlam. “[The idea that] you have to be a member of the club to understand it. This 26-year-old writer wrote this fantastic play so that everybody could understand it, so that everybody could be affected by it.” Luhrmann was especially committed to this goal because he was intimidated by Shakespeare as a school kid. It took a psychedelic performance of Twelfth Night to bring him over to the Bard's side, and he hoped to do the same for moviegoers with his equally brazen vision.

2. LEONARDO DICAPRIO FLEW TO AUSTRALIA ON HIS OWN DIME TO GET THE MOVIE MADE.

Romeo + Juliet came out a year before Titanic, long before "Leo Mania" had struck. Without that star power behind him, Leonardo DiCaprio had to fight hard to get the movie made. Luhrmann told SFGate that when 20th Century Fox was still on the fence, DiCaprio flew down to Australia to help Luhrmann convince the studio of the project's viability. "He cashed in his business-class tickets so he could bring his friends, and he stayed in Australia for no money at all," Luhrmann explained. "He did a video workshop, so we could persuade the studio to do it. He was extremely passionate about it." Clearly, that passion paid off.

3. NATALIE PORTMAN ALMOST PLAYED JULIET.

Luhrmann claims many now-famous actresses read for the role of Juliet, but only one has been confirmed: Natalie Portman. She made it all the way to rehearsals, but the studio execs found her pairing with DiCaprio problematic. “Fox said it looked like Leonardo DiCaprio was molesting me when we kissed,” Portman told The New York Times. That’s probably because she was the actual age of Juliet in the text (14) while DiCaprio was already 21.

4. JANE CAMPION SUGGESTED CLAIRE DANES FOR THE MOVIE.

When Luhrmann was still struggling to find a suitable replacement for Portman, a fellow Aussie director helped him out. Jane Campion, the Oscar-winning writer/director of The Piano, asked Luhrmann if he had seen the TV show My So-Called Life. She suggested he check out the series' young star, Claire Danes, because she was “so mature for her age.” Luhrmann set a meeting with Danes and pretty soon, the role was hers.

5. DANES WASN’T IMPRESSED WITH DICAPRIO.

Luhrmann was dazzled by Danes’ maturity, but there was another quality that helped her land the job: DiCaprio said she was the only actress who looked him in the eye during auditions—which was no mean feat, considering how many women were smitten with the teenage heartthrob. “Claire just came in and was just so in the moment, so there, and so not trying to do this little angelic flower [version of] Juliet,” DiCaprio told ScreenSlam. “When we were doing the scene where we were supposed to be together, she came right up to me and looked me right in the eye and starting doing her lines.”

6. MARLON BRANDO NEARLY JOINED THE CAST.

Pete Postlethwaite ended up playing Father Laurence, the priest who marries Romeo and Juliet. But Marlon Brando was initially interested in the role. Luhrmann said that Brando sent him letters about the part, but took himself out of the running due to “personal family problems” surrounding his son, Christian. (Christian spent five years in prison for killing Dag Drollet, his half-sister’s boyfriend.) Even before Brando exited, though, he had some reservations—mainly because DiCaprio was too convincing in a previous film. “He said he saw Leonardo in [What’s Eating] Gilbert Grape,” Luhrmann recalled. “[He asked,] ‘Why is it you are going to cast a young man who’s not entirely in control of his mental facilities?’ So Leonardo had him believing that he wasn’t all that balanced.”

7. A HURRICANE HIT THE SET DURING FILMING.

Mercutio’s famous line, “A plague on both your houses!” gets some extra gravitas in this movie, thanks to the thundering skies behind him. That wasn’t CGI; it was a real hurricane. As Luhrmann explained to The Guardian, the cast and crew decided to capitalize on an actual storm rolling through their set in Mexico. They only had time to get two shots (one wide and one reverse) before things turned dangerous. “All the crew had goggles on, and the guys had stinging sand in their eyes, and then, after those two shots, the sets were completely blown away by the hurricane,” Luhrmann said. The crew returned four days later to film close-ups and had to use fans to recreate the effect.

8. THE HAIR STYLIST GOT KIDNAPPED.

That hurricane wasn’t the only disaster the production weathered. At one point, its key hair stylist, Aldo Signoretti, was kidnapped and held for ransom. “The bandidos rang up and said, ‘For $300 you can have him back,’” Luhrmann told Cinema Papers. “So Maurizio [Silvi, the key make-up artist] goes down clutching the money outside the hotel, holds it up, chucks them the bag and they threw Aldo out of the car and broke his leg.”

9. THE BILLBOARDS HAVE SECRET SHAKESPEARE QUOTES.

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Basically every billboard, sign, and scrap of paper seen onscreen contains a Shakespeare reference. Just look at the opening gas station fight alone. You’ll immediately see signs for Montague Construction and Phoenix Gas. The motto for Montague Construction is “retail’d to prosperity,” which is a reference to Richard III. Meanwhile the slogan for Phoenix Gas is “add more fuel to your fire,” a fragment from Henry VI, Part 3. Next to the gas station is Shylock Bank, named for the character in The Merchant of Venice. Look closely at the newspaper in the display rack and you’ll see the headline, “A rash fierce blaze of riot.” This comes from Richard II. And that’s all in the first eight minutes. Keep your eyes peeled and you’re bound to catch dozens more.

10. ALL THE GUNS ARE NAMED AFTER SWORDS.

Romeo, Mercutio, Tybalt, and their friends have shoot-outs in this film, as opposed to the sword duels that take place in the Shakespeare play. But Luhrmann alluded to the original weapons by stamping all of the guns with names of swords. Some characters carry a “Dagger” 9mm, while others have a “Rapier.” Benvolio got stuck with a more generic “Sword Series S” handgun. See if you can catch the “Rapier” text on Tybalt’s pistol in the clip above.

11. THE FINAL SCENE REFERENCES ANOTHER PAIR OF STAR-CROSSED LOVERS.

For the famous double-suicide finale, Luhrmann chose a classical composition. It’s called “Liebestod” (or “love death”) and it comes from the Richard Wagner opera Tristan und Isolde. That medieval story also concerns a doomed couple who die in the final act—but with more love potions and maritime mishaps.

12. THE SOUNDTRACK WENT PLATINUM.

Romeo + Juliet featured a famously anachronistic soundtrack stacked with singles by Garbage, The Cardigans, and Des’ree. People apparently loved the dissonance. The album went multi-platinum and led to a second, gold-certified volume. But both albums were missing a song written specifically for the movie: Radiohead’s “Exit Music (for a Film).” The British band had composed the song for the Romeo + Juliet end credits at Luhrmann’s request, but didn’t formally release it until their album OK Computer dropped the following year. However, their song "Talk Show Host" does appear on the soundtrack.

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Keep Tabs on 100 Classic Films With This Scratch-Off Poster
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Do you get a weird kind of buzz from scratching off the silver foil coating on instant lotto tickets? Do you like watching movies? Then Pop Chart Lab has something for you. The company is set to release a 100 Essential Films Scratch-Off Chart, an 18-inch by 24-inch wall hanging that lets you keep track of which classic films you’ve seen and which are still in the queue.

A look at a scratch-off poster featuring 100 classic films

The curated films are arranged in chronological order, from the works of Buster Keaton all the way to 2017’s Get Out. The silver foil obscures a portion of the artwork, which reveals more iconography from the movie when etched away with a coin. The $35 poster is due to begin shipping in September; you can purchase your copy now.

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11 Super Great Facts About Superbad
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On the surface, Greg Mottola’s Superbad is the ultimate bromance: it tells the simple story of three dorky high school seniors (Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse) on a quest to bring alcohol to a party, just to impress some pretty girls. But beneath the dick jokes and teenage hormones, it’s about the anxiety of leaving for college and growing apart, emotions that producer Judd Apatow and writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg channeled into the hit comedy. On the 10th anniversary of its release, the film still holds up and its themes still ring true. Here are 11 things you might not know about the already-classic coming-of-age flick.

1. SETH ROGEN AND EVAN GOLDBERG WROTE THE FILM WHEN THEY WERE TEENAGERS.

It’s no secret that Seth Rogen wrote Jonah Hill’s character as an exaggerated version of his younger self. In an interview with Indie London, Rogen disclosed just how far back the story goes: “Evan Goldberg [and I] started writing it in high school when we were 14 years old and a lot of that stuff [in the movie] actually happened. The relationship between us is totally fabricated for the movie. We did split up eventually, but we don’t give a sh*t … we don’t love each other … The whole fake ID concept happened. Fogell is actually our other best friend and all the names in the movie are people who went to high school [with us].”

2. DIRECTOR GREG MOTTOLA LET THE CAMERA RUN FOR HOURS, EVEN IN BETWEEN TAKES.

When you’ve got Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse in an Apatow movie, you know you’ve got to let them play. Which is exactly what Greg Mottola did. “We shot high def, which was the greatest thing ever,” Jonah Hill told About.com. “I literally thought it was the greatest thing. You could just shoot all day. It was so awesome. Like any idea, anything you wanted to try, it wasn’t a waste of money or like time to shoot it. Even if it was crazy like so much stuff in the movie. And I think Greg took a lot of stuff that were like in-between takes and stuff or like reactions or things of us hanging out because they could just keep shooting what they could use in the movie."

3. EVAN GOLDBERG’S BROTHER DREW THE PENISES YOU SEE IN THE FILM.

While only a few censor-friendly organs were shown in a scene in which Seth (Hill) explains to Evan (Cera) his childhood fascination with drawing penises, Evan Goldberg’s brother David actually drew more than 1,000 options from which to choose. “They were hilarious," Hill told About.com. "I think as much credit goes to [David] for how he executed. It’s so funny that he’s a lawyer.” As for the idea to put the joke in the movie in the first place, Rogen swears that that part is not autobigraphical. “That came from nowhere," says Rogen. "I don’t know what it is. I wrote that.”

Superfans of the movie (who don’t already know this) can actually purchase the penis illustrations as movie memorabilia. It exists as a book.

4. PRODUCER JUDD APATOW TAPPED INTO SETH AND EVAN’S FRIENDSHIP TO ADD DRAMA TO THE PLOT.

Rogen and Goldberg grew up together, though they didn’t experience any separation anxiety when they went their separate ways for college. However, for the sake of storytelling, Apatow decided to ramp up the tension. “Maybe Judd got the idea kind of because I was at McGill University in Montreal, Seth was here, and we were growing apart," Goldberg told Reelz. "When in reality I’d be like, ‘All right, see ya later’ and then wouldn’t see Seth for a year and I’d be like, ‘What’s up?’ If [Seth] was like, ‘Yo, I can’t see you for 10 years, but then after that let’s go get a beer,’ I’d be like, ‘Okay.’ With Judd, the idea was developed and he had the idea about college the next year.”

5. MCLOVIN’S MOM HAD TO BE ON SET FOR HIS SEX SCENE.

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Talk about awkward! Christopher Mintz-Plasse was only 17 years old when he shot the film, which required him to have parental supervision during his love scene with Nicola (Aviva Baumann). “It was real awkward but it worked out OK because when I watched the movie with her the sex scene wasn't awkward because she'd been right there when it happened," Mintz-Plasse told The Guardian. "Afterwards we didn't talk about it; we still don't speak about that moment.”

6. ACCORDING TO MICHAEL CERA AND JONAH HILL, THE REAL FOGELL IS MORE LIKE THE EVAN OF THE GROUP.

“It was more like Seth and Fogell making fun of Evan," Hill told Rotten Tomatoes. "Which Evan refuses to admit. But you could tell right away that that was the circumstance. When Evan showed him the movie, they were watching it and like 20 minutes into it or something, Fogell just went, ‘F*ck you dude.’”

However, Michael Cera’s bizarre story about the real Sam Fogell showed inklings of McLovin. “We've heard an awesome story where [Fogell] ... was gonna kill somebody one night,” said Cera. “He got in a bar fight and he went home basically to grab his sword, and he was looking for the guy.”

7. MICHAEL CERA SPENT AN HOUR IMPROVISING DANCE MOVES, WHICH IS WHAT YOU SEE IN THE OPENING CREDITS.

“It was Evan’s idea. For the DVD menu,” Michael Cera told Collider. “If it’s like a Blu-ray disc, they can have menus that long. It would be an hour of me dancing without looping. So the people would be like, ‘Oh, how long does this go on for?’ They would wait for it to loop and it never would.” It wasn’t until post-production when they had the idea to add the footage to the opening credits. “I think it was an editor’s assistant [who] made that intro of me dancing with like a silhouette,” Cera continued. “Then they recorded Jonah dancing because they liked it and decided to use it at the beginning of the movie.”

8. JASON SEGEL READ FOR THE PART OF EVAN.

“The first time I read the script was when we were doing Undeclared and we did a table read and we did it with Jason Segel and Seth reading the leads,” Apatow shares in the film’s DVD commentary. “It went well. It had a lot of heart at that period.” Added Rogen: “It took years to get the dick-to-heart ratio.” Eventually, the actors aged out of the roles, including Freaks and Geeks alum Martin Starr, who read Fogell's part.

9. SETH ROGEN’S ASSISTANT, MATTHEW BASS, PLAYS THE VAGTASTIC VOYAGER.

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When Evan recounts his wild night out to Becca, the film cuts to the trio watching X-rated clips of the Vagtastic Voyager. As it turns out, he’s actually Matt Bass, an actor who was also formerly Rogen’s assistant. In the film’s DVD commentary, Goldberg calls Bass "the greatest Canadian to ever live.”

10. CHRISTOPHER MINTZ-PLASSE’S FIRST SCENE EVER—IN HIS ENTIRE ACTING CAREER—WAS HIS CHARACTER’S INTRO IN HOME ECONOMICS CLASS.

While discussing the scene in the DVD commentary, Mintz-Plasse admitted to being completely terrified filming his first professional movie ever. However, Goldberg reassured Mintz-Plasse, saying, “We read so many non-actors, so many people who had never done anything professionally before, and none of them could hide their fear. That’s why none of them got the job.”

11. JAY BARUCHEL IS RESPONSIBLE FOR GETTING MICHAEL CERA HIS SUPERBAD AUDITION.

“[Jay and I] were working on Fanboys and I said, ‘I think you might like Superbad,’ and literally the first thing he said is, ‘You gotta have Michael Cera come in. He’s f*cking amazing, that guy,” Rogen recalls in the DVD commentary. “I was like, ‘Who the f*ck is that?’” That recommendation led to Michael Cera’s mom getting a hold of the script, which she ended up pushing Michael to consider. Be sure to thank Jay and Michael’s mom for making Superbad the classic that it is.

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