Legions of teens who’d forever cursed their English teachers were suddenly enthralled by the Bard’s tale (as were their parents),
thanks to director Baz Luhrmann’s modern and sexy update of Romeo and Juliet.
William Shakespeare was thrust into the 20th century in Luhrmann’s 1996 film adaptation, which starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes as the titular star-crossed lovers. Capturing the essence of their ill-fated love story meant relocating the famed balcony scene to a swimming pool. (It still involved chain mail, though.)
Under love’s heavy burden do I sink
In the source material, Romeo scales a tree, just barely separated from Juliet on the balcony. In this iteration, Romeo would surprise Juliet as she waxed poetic alongside her pool, landing them in the water. “Shakespeare will be really funny one moment, so that you can have this direct emotion and sentiment the next,” Luhrmann says. “You know it’s going to end badly, but at that time, it’s romance. [We were] using the water so they can almost be together. It brought a sensual barrier that wasn’t a concrete barrier.”
What’s in a name?
Luhrmann was inspired by the grotto at Miami’s Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, so he had the pool painstakingly re-created on a set in Mexico, where the director was first to give it a test run. “The silliness of this is I started by getting in that armor stuff that Leo wore and walking around in water,” says the director, noting that Danes and DiCaprio would rehearse in the empty pool while it was still under construction.
Sin from thy lips?
The pool was filled with unheated water so that the actors’ skin wouldn’t turn red, and Luhrmann recalls the duo being game to take the plunge despite how chilly it was. “Really both of them were quite fearless; they tended to do everything themselves,” he says. “It was quite the nightmare of getting in and out, and then we had diving shots, and so it’s a whole lot of crazy, mechanical work to create a moment that seems intimate and beautiful and romantic.”
These violent delights have violent ends
Though it may appear seamless in transition, the moment when the two kiss in the water was shot in the pool as well as a small tank for close-ups. The scene ended up taking much longer to shoot than expected, a result of the choreography, iambic pentameter, and Danes’ specially-made aquatic wig. “Once she falls in, it’s an hour turnaround,” Luhrmann says of then-16-year-old Danes. “Remember, she’s in school, so we only got very limited time. You have to get these things really in one go. That’s why the scene has such a vibrancy, there’s not a lot of second chance with it.”