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 11 Best Movies on Netflix Right Now

Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Wilson Webb/Netflix

With thousands of titles available, browsing your Netflix menu can feel like a full-time job. If you're feeling a little overwhelmed, take a look at our picks for the 11 best movies on Netflix right now.

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man may be in the middle of a Disney and Sony power struggle, but that didn't stop this ambitious animated film from winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 2019 Academy Awards. Using a variety of visual style choices, the film tracks the adventures of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), who discovers he's not the only Spider-Man in town.

2. Hell or High Water (2016)

Taylor Sheridan's Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water follows two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who take to bank robberies in an effort to save their family ranch from foreclosure; Jeff Bridges is the drawling, laconic lawman on their tail.

3. Raging Bull (1980)

Robert De Niro takes on the life of pugilist Jake LaMotta in a landmark and Oscar-winning film from Martin Scorsese that frames LaMotta's violent career in stark black and white. Joe Pesci co-stars.

4. Marriage Story (2019)

Director Noah Bambauch drew raves for this deeply emotional drama about a couple (Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson) whose uncoupling takes a heavy emotional and psychological toll on their family.

5. Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

Eddie Murphy ended a brief sabbatical from filmmaking following a mixed reception to 2016's Mr. Church with this winning biopic about Rudy Ray Moore, a flailing comedian who finds success when he reinvents himself as Dolemite, a wisecracking pimp. When the character takes off, Moore produces a big-screen feature with a crew of inept collaborators.

6. The Lobster (2015)

Colin Farrell stars in this black comedy that feels reminiscent of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's work: A slump-shouldered loner (Farrell) has just 45 days to find a life partner before he's turned into an animal. Can he make it work with Rachel Weisz, or is he doomed to a life on all fours? By turns absurd and provocative, The Lobster isn't a conventional date movie, but it might have more to say about relationships than a pile of Nicholas Sparks paperbacks.

7. Flash of Genius (2008)

Greg Kinnear stars in this drama based on a true story about inventor Robert Kearns, who revolutionized automobiles with his intermittent windshield wiper. Instead of getting rich, Kearns is ripped off by the automotive industry and engages in a years-long battle for recognition.

8. Locke (2013)

The camera rarely wavers from Tom Hardy in this existential thriller, which takes place entirely in Hardy's vehicle. A construction foreman trying to make sure an important job is executed well, Hardy's Ivan Locke grapples with some surprising news from a mistress and the demands of his family. It's a one-act, one-man play, with Hardy making the repeated act of conversing on his cell phone as tense and compelling as if he were driving with a bomb in the trunk.

9. Cop Car (2015)

When two kids decide to take a police cruiser for a joyride, the driver (Kevin Bacon) begins a dogged pursuit. No good cop, he's got plenty to hide.

10. Taxi Driver (1976)

Another De Niro and Scorsese collaboration hits the mark, as Taxi Driver is regularly cited as one of the greatest American films ever made. De Niro is a potently single-minded Travis Bickle, a cabbie in a seedy '70s New York who wants to be an avenging angel for victims of crime. The mercurial Bickle, however, is just as unhinged as those he targets.

11. Sweet Virginia (2017)

Jon Bernthal lumbers through this thriller as a former rodeo star whose career has left him physically broken. Now managing a hotel in small-town Alaska, he stumbles onto a plot involving a murderer-for-hire (Christopher Abbott), upending his quiet existence and forcing him to take action.

The Definitive Guide to All the Cats in Cats

James Corden, Laurie Davidson, and Francesca Hayward star in Tom Hooper's Cats (2019).
James Corden, Laurie Davidson, and Francesca Hayward star in Tom Hooper's Cats (2019).
Universal Pictures

Regardless of whether you were impressed, confused, or downright frightened by the trailer for Tom Hooper’s upcoming film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musical Cats, it’s safe to say that the star-studded cast and “digital fur technology” generated strong reactions all around. And, if you didn’t grow up listening to the soundtrack or watching performers in the 1998 film version purr and prance in furry, feline bodysuits, your shock is completely understandable.

Cats is light on plot, heavy on characters, and sprinkled with words that T.S. Eliot made up for his 1939 poetry collection Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the basis for the musical. To familiarize yourself with all the eccentrically named cats—and find out who’s portraying them in the film—here’s a comprehensive list of every "romantical, pedantical, critical, parasitical, allegorical, metaphorical, statistical, and mystical" cat you’ll meet.

Admetus

admetus cats film 1998
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Played by: Eric Underwood

Admetus is a ginger and white chorus cat with no spoken lines, but plenty of strong dancing sequences—perfect for former Royal Ballet soloist Eric Underwood. Though some musical productions have renamed Admetus as Plato (both names are mentioned in “The Naming of Cats”), the film will feature them as two separate characters.

Alonzo

Played by: Bluey Robinson

Alonzo is another chorus cat, identifiable by the black patches of fur on his face and the black-and-white stripes on his head. Apart from his ensemble appearances, he has intermittent solo lines and also assists Munkustrap during the fight against Macavity. Since singer/songwriter Bluey Robinson will portray him in the film, it’s possible that Alonzo will dance less than he has in stage productions.

Asparagus, the Theatre Cat

Played by: Sir Ian McKellen

Nicknamed “Gus,” this elderly, trembling tabby has an impressive acting history, which he recounts at length during his song (along with a few disparaging comments about how the theater isn’t what it once was, and kittens these days aren’t properly trained). Who better to play one of the Jellicles’ most well-respected thespians than one of the humans' most well-respected thespians, Sir Ian McKellen?

Bombalurina

Played by: Taylor Swift

Though Bombalurina is only mentioned by name once (in “The Naming of Cats”), she’s pretty hard to miss: the slinky, red-coated cat helps introduce Jennyanydots, the Rum Tum Tugger, Grizabella, Bustopher Jones, and Macavity. She most often sings with Demeter, her duet partner for “Macavity the Mystery Cat.”

Bustopher Jones

Played by: James Corden

Known as “the Brummell of cats,” this black-and-white, epicurean dandy frequents gentlemen’s clubs, wears white spats, and weighs a whopping 25 pounds. Jones’s genial manner endears him to just about everyone—not unlike James Corden.

Cassandra

cassandra in 1998's cats film
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Played by: Mette Towley

With her sleek brown coat and her regal, mysterious manner, Cassandra seems like she might’ve been worshipped by ancient Egyptians in a past life. You might recognize Mette Towley, a member of Pharrell’s dance group, The Baes, from her appearances in 2019’s Hustlers and Rihanna’s “Lemon” music video—and you can be sure that she’ll uphold Cassandra’s legacy as one of the most eye-catching chorus cats.

Coricopat and Tantomile

Played by: Jaih Betote and Zizi Strallen

These striped twin tabby cats always move in unison and boast psychic abilities. Though the roles are sometimes cut from theatrical productions, we’ll get to see them in the film, played by hip hop dancer Jaih Betote and Zizi Strallen, best known for her work as Mary Poppins in the recent West End revival.

Demeter

demeter in 1998's cats film
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Played by: Daniela Norman

This multicolored, slightly skittish cat usually duets with Bombalurina, and together they perform “Macavity the Mystery Cat” in full. It’s often implied that Demeter has a complicated romantic past with Macavity, who tries to abduct her during his attack. British ballet dancer Daniela Norman will star opposite Taylor Swift’s Bombalurina in the film, and you can also see her in Netflix’s upcoming ballet drama series Tiny Pretty Things.

Grizabella, the Glamour Cat

Played by: Jennifer Hudson

This aging starlet is now decrepit, depressed, and shamefully rejected by the rest of the Jellicles—think Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond with more self-awareness and very raggedy fur. Even if the Cats original cast recording wasn’t the soundtrack for your childhood road trips, you might have heard Grizabella’s song “Memory;” it’s been covered by Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Barry Manilow, Glee’s Chris Colfer, and more. American Idol alum (and general ballad-belting powerhouse) Jennifer Hudson will bring her Academy Award-winning talents to the role of Grizabella in the film.

Growltiger and Griddlebone

Played by: Ray Winstone and Melissa Madden Gray

Growltiger, a rough-riding sea captain cat, and Griddlebone, his fluffy white lover, appear during “Growltiger’s Last Stand,” during which Gus reminisces about having played the part of Growltiger in a stage production long ago. The characters have been left out of some productions, including the 1998 film, but Hooper’s version will feature them, where they'll be played by British actor Ray Winstone and Australian performer Melissa Madden Gray (whose stage name, fittingly, is Meow Meow).

Jellylorum

Played by: Freya Rowley

Named after T.S. Eliot’s own cat, Jellylorum is a maternal calico who cares for Gus and also helps introduce Jennyanydots and Bustopher Jones. Though sometimes portrayed as older and more mature than some of the other cats, Freya Rowley (who performed as Tantomile on the UK tour of Cats) will likely bring a younger energy to the character.

Jennyanydots, the Old Gumbie Cat

Played by: Rebel Wilson

Jennyanydots is a goofy old tabby cat who lazes around all day and spends her nights teaching the basement vermin various household skills, etiquette, and performing arts. Under her tutelage, the mice learn to crochet, the cockroaches become helpful boy scouts, and the beetles form a tap-dancing troupe. Rebel Wilson is a perfect match for such a multifaceted, eccentric, and amusing gumbie cat (whatever gumbie is).

Macavity, the Mystery Cat

Played by: Idris Elba

The show’s main antagonist is a tall, thin criminal cat with sunken eyes and dusty ginger fur. While the Jellicles are plainly terrified of this “monster of depravity,” they also seem eerily impressed by his ability to elude capture and conviction. Historically, Macavity hasn’t done any speaking, singing, or dancing—he only shows up briefly to kidnap Old Deuteronomy during a rousing cat fight—but here’s hoping that Hooper has broadened the role for the film so we get to hear at least a good growl or two from Idris Elba.

Mr. Mistoffelees

Played by: Laurie Davidson

Laurie Davidson, who played Shakespeare in TNT’s Will, will take on the role of Mr. Mistoffelees, an affable tuxedo cat who peppers his magic tricks with plenty of high leaps and pizzazz. He’s generally beloved by the rest of the cats, and he also saves the day by conjuring Old Deuteronomy from wherever Macavity had hidden him.

Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer

Played by: Danny Collins and Naoimh Morgan

These two roguish calicos describe themselves as “knockabout clowns, quick-change comedians, tightrope walkers, and acrobats.” They’re also partners in petty crime, notorious for smashing vases, stealing pearls, and generally wreaking havoc upon their posh family in Victoria Grove. British dancer Danny Collins will join Naoimh Morgan—who actually played Rumpleteazer in the Cats international tour—to bring the spirited rascals to life in the film.

Munkustrap

Played by: Robert Fairchild

Without Munkustrap, viewers would have little hope of understanding what’s actually happening in this vaguely plotted musical. Though there’s no song to introduce him, the striking, silver cat is still arguably the most important character: He describes the function of the Jellicle Ball, narrates the action as it unfolds, and leads the charge against Macavity’s attack. It takes a certified musical theater machine to play such an integral part, and Hooper has surely found that in Robert Fairchild, former New York City Ballet principal dancer and Tony Award nominee for An American in Paris.

Old Deuteronomy

Played by: Dame Judi Dench

In the gender-swapped role of our dreams, Dame Judi Dench will play Old Deuteronomy, the revered (usually male) town elder who chooses one lucky kitty at the annual Jellicle Ball to ascend to cat heaven, the Heaviside Layer, and be born again. It isn’t Dench’s first time in the junkyard: She was preparing to appear as both Jennyanydots and Grizabella in the original 1981 West End production of Cats when she snapped her Achilles tendon and had to pull out.

Plato and Socrates

Played by: Larry and Laurent Bourgeois (Les Twins)

Though Plato is a chorus cat mentioned in “The Naming of Cats” and included in some stage productions, Socrates was created specifically for Hooper’s film to make room for both halves of Les Twins, also known as Larry and Laurent Bourgeois. The French hip hop duo gained mainstream recognition after Beyoncé featured them in her 2018 Coachella set and subsequent Netflix concert film Homecoming.

Rum Tum Tugger

Played by: Jason Derulo

The Rum Tum Tugger is a perpetually fickle feline with a lot of rock-n’-roll flair and a pair of hips that he seems to have stolen from Mick Jagger himself. In addition to his own song, Tugger also sings “Mr. Mistoffelees” and features in a few other numbers. With Jason Derulo taking on the role for the film, there’s a good chance we’ll see a modernized, moonwalking version of this swoon-worthy cat.

Skimbleshanks, the Railway Cat

Played by: Steven McRae

Skimbleshanks is a charming Scottish cat who looks like a friendly tiger and ensures that all is in order on the night trains, which includes everything from patrolling for mice to reminding the guard to ask passengers how they like their tea. With his flaming red hair and graceful precision, Royal Ballet principal dancer Steven McRae definitely has a couple things in common with his character.

Syllabub/Sillabub/Jemima

Played by: Jonadette Carpio

This kitten’s name varies from production to production, but she’s usually characterized by her playful, innocent manner and her willingness to accept Grizabella when the other Jellicles try to shun her. Jonadette Carpio, Philippines native and member of the all-female Krump crew Buckness Personified, will bring her street dance background to the role in the film.

Victoria

Played by: Francesca Hayward

Though lithe, light-footed Victoria doesn’t sing any lines of her own in the original musical, her gleaming white coat and balletic dance solos still make her a standout—so it’s only fitting that Royal Ballet principal dancer Francesca Hayward will bring her to life in the film, where the role has been expanded into a main character. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Taylor Swift even collaborated on a new song called “Beautiful Ghosts” that Hayward will sing in the movie.

Miscellaneous Chorus Cats

Because theater companies vary in size and scope, certain chorus cats are sometimes omitted from productions—or members of the ensemble just aren’t assigned specific characters. At this point, Bill Bailey, Carbucketty, Electra, Etcetera, Peter, Pouncival, Quaxo, Rumpus Cat, Tumblebrutus, and Victor are all chorus cat names that haven’t been given to anybody in the film, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see extra cats in the shadows. According to Dance Spirit, Corey John Snide and Kolton Krause, who played Coricopat and Tumblebrutus on Broadway, respectively, have both been cast as ensemble members in Hooper’s film.

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