John Madden, director
I became involved in the development of Shakespeare in Love after it had been in the works for several years. Initially, Julia Roberts was set to play the female lead, but the main issue was finding the right actor to play Shakespeare. Julia had her heart set on Daniel Day-Lewis, but many other male actors of a certain age were also considered. Ultimately, Julia decided to withdraw from the project.
A movie titled “Shakespeare” was seen as a risky project, and without Julia’s involvement, it struggled to move forward. However, Harvey Weinstein, who had previously acquired a film I directed, Mrs Brown, bought the script. He sent it to me, and even though it was unfinished, it was the greatest script I had ever read. Tom Stoppard, the writer, was interested in creating what he referred to as a “Zucker brothers movie”, but I steered it towards a more traditional Shakespearean comedy that juxtaposes wild humor with a deeper underlying meaning.
I had the pleasure of meeting Gwyneth Paltrow during her audition for a different movie. It was clear to me that she possessed all the necessary qualities for the role of Shakespeare’s love interest. Joe Fiennes was initially nervous during his first reading for Will, but I convinced him to try a more spontaneous approach and we immediately connected – he handled the humor with ease. Colin Firth initially declined the role of Viola’s fiance, Lord Wessex. When I expressed my disappointment, he seemed a little upset. However, we later approached him again and he ended up accepting the role. He had originally auditioned with Julia Roberts and likes to believe that he was the last Romeo she saw before leaving, but I am not entirely convinced that is true.
We spent a longer period of time practicing for that movie than any other I have done in the past. We had rehearsals for dancing, fighting, and even speaking in Elizabethan English – both on and off stage. I would frequently wake up feeling anxious, thinking: “Will Gwyneth be wearing a mustache? This won’t be successful!” What may be successful on stage may not necessarily work on film. However, Gwyneth handled it with great expertise.
Judi Dench appears as Queen Elizabeth for a brief time in the film Mrs Brown, where she had previously been seen frequently in the role of Queen Victoria. Despite her limited screen time, she remains a prominent figure and was recognized with an Oscar for best supporting actress. In order to portray the queen’s regal presence, she had to wear elevated heels, earning her the nickname “Tudor Spice.”
Judi purchased the exquisitely restored Rose theatre after the production ended, with the intention of using it as a resource for aspiring actors performing Shakespeare’s works. The structure was expertly crafted, boasting genuine oak beams and other fine details. However, during filming, a significant portion of the theatre was supported by scaffolding and it was not designed to be a permanent installation.
After we began editing the film, I became confident that all the different components would come together seamlessly. As a director, it can feel daunting at this point, but the editor, David Gamble, created a rough trailer that I found exciting and captured the tone perfectly. I thought to myself, “I would have to make a lot of mistakes to ruin this.”
Joseph Fiennes portrays William Shakespeare in the film “Shakespeare in Love.”
In the movie “Shakespeare in Love,” Joseph Fiennes plays the role of William Shakespeare.
When I first auditioned for Shakespeare in Love, I was still attending drama school. I was then offered the opportunity to try out for a new movie starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Julia Roberts. I eagerly accepted and took a break during my lunch to audition for one of the supporting roles.
Interestingly, I recently passed by the location where I used to reside – a cozy studio apartment with the bed right next to the kitchen. I was inside when I received the news that I had been cast as Will. It was the only instance where I screamed with pure happiness at the top of my voice.
I have a deep admiration for Shakespeare’s writing and was concerned that Hollywood may not do it justice. However, the screenplay turned out to be clever and humorous, and even included some commentary on the Hollywood machine within its historical setting. During my research, I coincidentally met Tom Stoppard at a small bookstore and mustered the courage to tell him, “I’ve just been offered your screenplay and I’m extremely excited.” He graciously invited me to his home and we discussed serendipity – he was incredibly gracious, kind, and wise.
Gwyneth was highly prepared, and her accent appeared flawless from the start. I had previously collaborated with Geoffrey Rush on Elizabeth, and it was wonderful to witness his brilliant comedic performance as a theatrical businessperson, following his earlier role as a Machiavellian character. While the majority of the cast were not well-known names, they had extensive experience in theater. The atmosphere was joyful and we were all having a great time, but I couldn’t help worrying that the film might not be successful.
The jacket costume designer Sandy Powell made for me had a sense of sexiness and was actually quite comfortable to wear. I got to do some great fight scenes in it – kudos to Bill Hobbs, who choreographed the swordplay, and the stuntman who fell off the stage on my behalf, right on to his ribcage. I was insistent that Will’s fingers should be permanently covered in ink. If the stains washed off after a day’s shooting, I’d make sure they were reapplied before the next.
After the initial wrap, I removed my beard, but it had to be put back on when we were asked to reshoot the ending. The first version was too sudden. I believe the bittersweet version that audiences saw was perfect.