Hailee Steinfeld Talks ROMEO & JULIET, the Challenges of Shakespearean Dialogue, Her Chemistry with Douglas Booth, and More

     October 9, 2013

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Romeo & Juliet is the timeless story of star-crossed lovers from warring families.  The families of Montague and the Capulet will use any excuse to publicly fight in the streets of Verona, so when Romeo (Douglas Booth) falls for Juliet (Hailee Steinfeld), it quickly receives the wrath of both of their families, when all they want to do is be together forever.  Written by Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey) and directed by Carlo Carlei, the film also stars Paul Giamatti, Damian Lewis, Natascha McElhone, Ed Westwick, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Lesley Manville

During a press conference at the film’s press day, actress Hailee Steinfeld talked about the challenges of Shakespearian dialogue versus the type of dialogue she had in True Grit, how those two characters compare, how she read Romeo & Juliet in school around the same time she was filming the movie, the ways in which she related to Juliet, finding the chemistry with co-star Douglas Booth, what it was like to wear the intricate and elaborate costumes, and her excitement about introducing this story to a new generation.  Check out what she had to say after the jump.

romeo-juliet-hailee-steinfeldQuestion:  Can you compare playing Juliet to your role in True Grit, as far as dialogue goes?  Which was easier to wrap your head around? 

HAILEE STEINFELD:  The dialogue definitely added to the list of challenges with both of the roles.  With True Grit, the language was very specific, as is Shakespeare.  You couldn’t really improvise, nor would you really ever have to.  I never felt the need to.  It was all so beautifully written, and it was all right there.  With Shakespeare, it was definitely a process, learning that text and going through and translating each thing.  My script was filled with itty bitty writing.  So, I would say they were both as difficult.

In True Grit, you were very tomboyish and serious.  In Romeo & Juliet, you play a lovesick teenager.  Was one easier for you to play than the other?  Were you able to take anything from your True Grit character and apply it to Romeo & Juliet? 

STEINFELD:  I would say that the strength that was in both characters is similar.  My character in True Grit would set these goals for herself that seemed near impossible, but to her they were possible.  She was never going to believe anything else other than that.  I think that is the same with Juliet.  She doesn’t necessarily set goals for herself, but she knows what she wants to do and where she wants to end up.  She is going to do whatever she can to get there and be happy.  That is the similarity that comes to mind.  As for which was more difficult, I would say one wasn’t more difficult than the other.  Both were challenging roles, but I had great people surrounding me to help me out.

What was your knowledge of Romeo & Juliet, prior to filming the movie? 

STEINFELD:  I actually read the book, a little over a year ago, around the same time we were filming the movie.  I was reading it in school, so that was very convenient.  This whole experience was my introduction.

You were really close to the age of Juliet, when you shot the film, and it is interesting that a girl during the Renaissance could be so challenging to her parents.  In what way could you relate to her, as a teenager?  Do you feel similarities to her, in any way? 

hailee-steinfeld-romeo-julietSTEINFELD:  I do.  What I love so much about Juliet is how youthful she is and how innocent she is.  It was really interesting, exploring her emotions myself, at that age.  I definitely explored a side of vulnerability and innocence that I had never really done before, so that was really fun and interesting.  I think her innocence and her vulnerability is really present.  Another thing is that she is very strong and independent.  What is so beautiful about the story is that she doesn’t really know what she wants until she doesn’t have it, which is like most of us, in some situations.  You really see her fight for what she loves.  She does what she can to get to what she wants.

How was it to keep the chemistry going between you and Douglas Booth?

STEINFELD:  We were really comfortable with each other [after spending a couple of weeks together in Italy].  As actors, we have great chemistry.  It was important for us to have that for the story to be impactful.

How comfortable or uncomfortable were the costumes?

romeo-juliet-hailee-steinfeld-douglas-boothSTEINFELD:  The only reason I say they were uncomfortable is that they never really cooperated with the weather.  They were so beautiful.  Even if they are uncomfortable, the way they are structured really has an impact on how you play the role.  It is so helpful.

When you are approached to take on such classic, iconic roles, is it met with doubt and fear, or excitement to be considered?

STEINFELD:  In the beginning, it is a little bit of everything because you have a bunch of different people saying a bunch of different things, but it comes down to loving the project and being passionate about it.  I read this and I was so honored to be considered.  I remember our table read with most of the cast.  All of us were together in Italy, and before we had started, (screenwriter) Julian [Fellowes] said something to us that stuck with me, ever since.  He said, “This generation deserves their own Romeo & Juliet.”  I really think that is true, and I am really excited.  That is what I have been thinking about ever since – the excitement of introducing this to this generation.  I think everybody deserves to discover or rediscover this story.

Romeo & Juliet opens in theaters on October 11th.

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