The popular 1996 Shakespearean romance drama “Romeo + Juliet” recently turned 25, and its director, Baz Luhrmann, is sharing with TODAY how he feels about the movie a quarter century later.
Luhrmann, who has also directed films such as “The Great Gatsby,” “Moulin Rouge!” and a 2022 feature on Elvis Presley, recalled his favorite scene between stars Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio. The scene, which he described as both “haunting” and “beautiful,” captures the tragic death of both Romeo and Juliet.
“We actually got permission to shoot the death scene in this incredible church in the middle of Mexico City,” Luhrmann said. “That actual helicopter that attacks Leonardo, that was real, everything was real.”
The director recalled it was the middle of the night, “and just this vast cathedral, full of neon signs, neon crosses, and flowers and candles. And really in the end, because I wanted a very quiet set, it was just myself, Leonardo and Claire. And I walked in the church on my own just to feel it.”
The Australian director noted that this particular shoot gave him a feeling that he has never had "before or since.”
Luhrmann also recalled the most challenging scene to film, the gas station scene, saying it included “a very intense period of shooting.”
“We’d blocked off traffic, and it was the fumes and you can imagine middle of Mexico City, guns and all of that. And there was a scene I remember ... Dash Mihok had to run out and run up the road like shooting, and he ran up the wrong road and the traffic's standing like that, he ran up the wrong road. And guys are getting out of the car and he's on top of the car with a gun going like this. It sounds funny, but we were terrified.”
While talking to TODAY, Luhrmann shared how he has always been fascinated by William Shakespeare. “Shakespeare, you know, he invented one quarter of the English language. Like, he just made words up,” said Luhrmann.
Luhrmann’s fascination with the 16th century English playwright led to his inspiration for writing, directing and producing one of Shakespeare’s most recognizable plays.
“I think probably my inspiration was that I as a kid found Shakespeare impossible to grapple with ... Shakespeare had to play to both high and low audiences,” Luhrmann noted.
Luhrmann explained how he thinks Shakespeare might have made a movie if he were around today.
“Every decision in the film, whether it's, like, pop music — Shakespeare took popular music from the street, put it in the movie. ... Every decision came from an analysis of what would Shakespeare, the ultimate street writer, you know, the ultimate rhymester, how would he sort of try and make a movie?
“Now, we don't really know what he would do," he added. "But we do know he would try to play low and high. I mean, he was derided for being populist in his own time. So that was it. I just wanted to kind of open the door to an audience in the way that the door to Shakespeare had been open for me when I was younger."
And Luhrmann made sure to direct the film in a way that would ensure its timelessness.
“I made it purposely so it couldn’t be dated,” he said. “And, in fact, we meticulously tried to take anything out you might say, well, that technology — like one stage, Mercutio had a Sony Walkman. So don't do that because that technology will disappear. And Leo’s like, yeah you better watch out for the Rollerblades, because, you know, that'll disappear too. Like, oh, that's cheesy too, so, let's get rid of that. But it was that neutralizing so you couldn't date the movie.”
The director said "Romeo + Juliet" has appealed to audiences for a variety of reasons.
“I think why people really connect with it, and of all ages, it’s inherent in the play: because it has young love, but it’s actually about the adult world. It has action, right, but it has romance. It has comedy. It has drama, it’s set in an exotic location. It has all those things. And I simply found a way of amplifying those things,” Luhrmann said.
And how does Luhrmann feel about his movie 25 years later?
“I'm just happy that 25 years later, it isn't like, oh, yeah, you made that. You know, like people actually, audiences, fans, nonfans, there's still a visceral energy around the show, around the story, around the movie. And that means I don't feel so old."