Leslie Howard Talks about Romeo and Juliet (1936)
In this article, Leslie Howard explains the reasons why he accepted to play the role of Romeo in the big MGM production. He is convinced that Romeo and Juliet “is the greatest screen experiment in years. If it turns out to be a failure, Shakespeare and the screen will never meet again. No other producer would dare to film one of his plays if a Thalberg production flopped.” He then points out some innovative choices the producer made and provides some interesting considerations about the question whether and how Shakespeare should be “turned into popular entertainment for a great cinema public in all corners of the earth.”
(In a Film Weekly interview with J. Danvers Williams)
When Leslie Howard left England a few months ago for Hollywood, a Film Weekly representative was one of the last to bid him goodbye.
“No,” were his parting words, “I shall never play Romeo.”
Yet, here he is, back in England, having done it. And here is his explanation of why he changed his mind, given in an interview for which filmgoers all over the world have been waiting.
I had always sworn that I would never play Romeo on stage or screen. I meant it.
Romeo is, perhaps, the Shakespearian character I like least. I always felt that Shakespeare himself could not have been much interested in him. He was enchanted with Juliet, but I really don’t believe he had much time or patience for Romeo. And rightly so! Of what possible interest is a young man in love?
During the early part of the play Romeo is of no interest, not to me, at any rate. Later on, when the tragedy tightens around him and he is drawn inevitably toward his doom, he assumes a Hamletish quality that is much absorbing (and this, incidentally, is the side of Romeo I tried to bring out). But for long stretches of the play he is nothing more than a bore.
You may well ask why I eventually decided to play the part. A year ago, Irving Thalberg asked me to take it on. I was quite adamant; most definitely I wouldn’t. […..]