For a young actress, even one with an Academy Award nomination for True Grit, the idea of tackling the icon that is Juliet in Romeo and Juliet had to be daunting. Hailee Steinfeld, in fact, felt a myriad of emotions.“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,” Steinfeld said to Movie Fanatic.
“I remember our table read with most of the cast. All of us were together in Italy, and before we had started, Julian (Fellowes, screenwriter and creator of Downton Abbey) said something to us that stuck with me ever since. He said, ‘This generation deserves their own Romeo and Juliet.’ I really think that is true. 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.”
Unlike previous starlets who have played Juliet on screen, Steinfeld is much closer to the real character’s age. That enabled the actress to find common ground that she hopes will set her apart.
“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,” admitted the actress who will soon be seen in Ender's Game.
“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. You really see her fight for what she loves. She does what she can to get to what she wants.”
The Romeo and Juliet trailer shows us a different side of Steinfeld than she revealed to the world in True Grit. Yet, she found a common challenge with both roles. “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,” Steinfeld said.
“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.”
Whereas her character in True Grit was a tomboy, Juliet is much more of a classical younger girl character. But, there was a common thread between the two that Steinfeld grabbed on to.
“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,” Steinfeld reported.
“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.”
Her Romeo, actor Douglas Booth, and her immediately hit it off when they met in Italy. To say that helped is a gross understatement. “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,” Steinfeld said.
What perhaps was not so easy were the period costumes. Although they are exquisite to look at, given that they filmed in summer… they were not the friendliest to staying cool under the pressure of bringing a Shakespeare legend to life.
“The only reason I say they were uncomfortable is that they never really cooperated with the weather,” she said and laughed. “They were so beautiful. Even if they are uncomfortable, the way they are structured really has an impact on how you play the role.”
Before tackling Romeo and Juliet, fate had a funny way of introducing her to the classic. "I was reading it in school a little over a year ago, around the same time we were getting ready to film the movie, so that was very convenient,” she said. “This whole experience was my introduction.”