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.

The Psychology Behind Kids' L.O.L. Surprise! Doll Obsession

Jack Taylor, Getty Images
Jack Taylor, Getty Images

Isaac Larian, the founder and CEO of toymaker MGA Entertainment, is an insomniac. Fortunately for him, that inability to sleep forced him to get up out of bed one night—a move that ended up being worth $4 billion.

Larian’s company is the architect of L.O.L. Surprise!, a line of dolls with a clever conceit. The product, which retails for about $10 to $20, is encased in a ball-shaped plastic shell and buried under layers of packaging, forcing children to tear through a gauntlet of wrapping before they’re able to see it. The inspiration came on that highly profitable sleepless night, which Larian spent watching unboxing videos on YouTube. It resulted in the first toy made for a generation wired for delayed gratification.

The dolls first went on sale in test markets at select Target stores in late 2016. MGA shipped out 500,000 of them, all of which sold out within two months. A Cabbage Patch Kid-esque frenzy came the following year. By late 2018, L.O.L. Surprise! (the acronym stands for the fancifully redundant Little Outrageous Little) had moved 800 million units, accounted for seven of the top 10 toys sold in the U.S., and was named Toy of the Year by the Toy Association. Videos of kids and adults unboxing them garner millions of views on YouTube, which is precisely where Larian knew his marketing would be most effective.

A woman holds a L.O.L. Surprise doll and packaging in her hand
Cindy Ord, Getty Images for MGA Entertainment

The dolls themselves are nothing revolutionary. Once freed from their plastic prisons, they stare at their owner with doe-eyed expressions. Some “tinkle,” while others change color in water. They can be dressed in accessories found in the balls or paired with tiny pets (which also must be "unboxed"). Larger bundles, like last year’s $89.99 L.O.L. Bigger Surprise! capsule, feature a plethora of items, each individually wrapped. It took a writer from The New York Times 59 minutes to uncover everything inside.

This methodical excavation is what makes L.O.L. Surprise! so appealing to its pint-sized target audience. Though MGA was advised that kids wouldn’t want to buy something they couldn’t see, Larian and his executives had an instinctual understanding of what child development experts already knew: Kids like looking forward to things.

Dr. Rachel Barr, director of Georgetown University’s Early Learning Project, told The Atlantic that unboxing videos tickle the part of a child’s brain that enjoys anticipation. By age 4 or 5, they have a concept of “the future,” or events that will unfold somewhere other than the present. However, Barr said, they’re also wary of being scared by an unforeseen outcome. In an unboxing video, they know the payoff will be positive and not, say, a live tarantula.

L.O.L. Surprise! is engineered to prolong that anticipatory joy, with kids peeling away wrapping like an onion for up to 20 minutes at a time. The effect is not entirely novel—baseball card collectors have been buying and unwrapping card packs without knowing exactly what’s inside for decades—but paired with social media, MGA was able to strike oil. The dolls now have 350 licensees making everything from bed sheets to apparel. Collectors—or their parents—can buy a $199.99 doll house. So-called “boy toys” are now lurking inside the wrappers, with one, the mohawk-sporting Punk Boi, causing a mild stir for being what MGA calls “anatomically correct.” His tiny plastic genital area facilitates a peeing function.

Whether L.O.L. Surprise! bucks conventional toy trends and continues its popularity beyond a handful of holiday seasons remains to be seen. Already, MGA is pushing alternative products like Poopsie Slime Surprise, a unicorn that can be fed glitter and poops a viscous green slime. An official unboxing video has been viewed 4.2 million times and counting.

The 8 Most Anticipated Horror Movies of 2019

Jessica Rothe in Happy Death Day 2U (2019)
Jessica Rothe in Happy Death Day 2U (2019)
Michele K. Short, Universal Pictures

Between Hereditary, A Quiet Place, and Halloween, 2018 was a killer year for horror moviesand 2019 is shaping up to be just as impressive. While remakes seem to be dominating the schedule in the coming months, there are plenty of sequels, adaptations, and even a few promising original titles coming out as well. Here are some of the scary movies we're most looking forward to seeing this year.

1. Us

In 2017, Jordan Peele revolutionized the horror genre with Get Out. The Academy Award-winning filmmaker plans to do the same again with Us, which features a predominantly black cast—a rarity for a horror movie. "I dedicated a lot of myself to creating a new horror mythology and a new monster," Peele said of the film. "I think that monsters and stories about monsters are our best ways of getting at deeper truths and facing our fears as a society ... It’s also important to note that this movie, unlike Get Out, is not about race. It is instead about something I feel has become an undeniable truth. That is the simple fact that we are our own worst enemies." Us, which stars Elisabeth Moss and Lupita Nyong'o, arrives in theaters on March 22, 2019.

2. IT: Chapter 2

Stephen King fans were thrilled with 2017's IT, the second adaptation of the horror master's beloved 1986 novel. Andy Muschietti is sitting in the director's chair again for the second chapter, which will follow the Losers Club as they return to Derry, Maine in their adult years. While Bill Skarsgård will reprise his role as Pennywise, impressive new additions to the cast include Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, and James McAvoy. The film debuts on September 6, 2019.

3. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

If you’ve been a horror fiend since childhood, you’ll no doubt remember Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark book series. The books included memorable illustrations by Stephen Gammell, some of which no doubt haunted many children’s nightmares. The film adaptation will be released on August 9, 2019.

4. Zombieland 2

Venom director Ruben Fleischer's feature debut, 2009's Zombieland, was an instant hit with both horror and comedy fans. And they've been waiting 10 years for a sequel. Finally, we’ll be getting a second film this year with Fleischer directing and Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, and even Bill Murray all confirmed to return. Zombieland 2 is set to hit theaters on October 11, 2019.

5. Happy Death Day 2U

The hilariously bad-but-fun Happy Death Day (2017) surprised audiences with how flat-out entertaining it was, so much so that fans were thrilled to hear there were plans for a sequel. Much like the original movie, the second film will follow protagonist Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) as she’s killed every single day. But this time, the killer is coming for her friends, too. Happy Death Day 2U premieres on February 14, 2019.

6. Pet Sematary

Though Mary Lambert's original Pet Sematary (1989) was not met with much critical acclaim, fans of the Stephen King novel were pleased with the adaptation, and are excited to see the story come to life again. The remake, which is directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer and stars John Lithgow and Jason Clarke, debuts on April 5, 2019.

7. Child’s Play

When rumors began swirling that there was going to be another Chucky movie, and that it would be a remake of the original Child’s Play at that, people—including the original series creator Don Mancini—didn't initially seem too excited.

But as more details—including a cast list that includes Aubrey Plaza and Brian Tyree Henry—were made public, interest in the project seemed to grow. Child’s Play hits theaters June 21, 2019.

8. The Prodigy

Creepy kids will never fail to make terrifying horror movie villains. In The Prodigy, Taylor Schilling’s character discovers something supernatural might be happening to her son when he starts acting as if he’s possessed. (Spoiler alert: He probably is). The film will be released on February 8, 2019.

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