When Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet was released 20 years ago audiences around the world fell in love with the modern-day reimagining of Shakespeare’s iconic play. Fox studios decided to take a gamble on Luhrmann (hot of the heels of his successful feature debut Strictly Ballroom) and embrace this gun-toting, Hawaiin-shirt-wearing, and awesome ’90s-soundtrack-blasting adaptation of the iconic star-crossed lovers’ tale. And at the center of Romeo + Juliet of course was Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. However, it turns out the filmmakers had another up-and-coming young star in mind for the role of Juliet before Claire Danes…
Portman in 1996, the year Romeo + Juliet came out.
Fox studios, however, ultimately felt that at 13-years-old Portman was too young for the role across from Leonardo DiCaprio, who was 21 at the time. Portman explained in an old interview,
“It was a complicated situation and […] at the time I was 13 and Leonardo was 21 and it wasn’t appropriate in the eyes of the film company or the director, Baz. It was kind of a mutual decision too that it just wasn’t going to be right at the time.”
For comparison, Claire Danes was 17 when they made Romeo + Juliet. Natalie, however, is certainly not bitter about the decision that was made then and continued to say that,
“I think the film came out really, really beautifully and Claire Danes did a really, really wonderful job.”
According to an Entertainment Weekly article from 1996, Danes was cast hot off the successful TV show My So-Called Life. Luhrmann explained that he had, “search for months all over the world [and] saw hundreds of people” for the role of Juliet. But it was fellow Australian filmmaker Jane Campion (The Piano) who had introduced Danes to Luhrmann.
DiCaprio and Danes at the Romeo + Juliet premiere.
Leonardo DiCaprio also had a hand in casting Claire Danes. After she was brought in to audition with him DiCaprio said,
“She [was] a really mature girl for her age. She was the only girl when we did the audition who came straight in my face to do the lines.She said them looking at me right in the eye. And some of the other girls did, like, the affected flower thing. You know, they stroked their face and looked up and tried to do things with their eyelashes, and it was not nearly as truthful as Claire’s performance.”
Can you imagine if Natalie Portman had been ultimately cast as Juliet though? We’re sure she would’ve brought some of that intense talent she displayed in movies like Heat and Léon: The Professional. But then, we can’t really imagine Romeo + Juliet without Claire Danes…too iconic!
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