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Tom Stoppard met Joseph Fiennes in a bookshop, and didn’t recognise him. Until Fiennes introduced himself – as William Shakespeare.

Shakespeare in Love began as a simple question. Writer and producer Marc Norman's son, who was studying Elizabethan Drama in school, was talking with his father about Shakespeare when Norman began to wonder just what inspired the young bard to write Romeo and Juliet.

"it mixes genres"

"With Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare really finds his voice," says Norman. "What is extraordinary about Romeo and Juliet is that it mixes genres: it begins as a love story and comedy, but then shifts gears, becoming a full blown tragedy - which was an extremely radical idea in its day. I began wondering what the catalyst might have been that moved his imagination so strongly and that's where the idea for a love story began."

Norman came up with the idea of Shakespeare falling in love with one of his actors, a woman who pretends to be a boy in order to appear on stage. He explains: "Because Shakespeare was already married, then by its very nature the love affair would seem to be doomed, so that led to all the mirroring and parallels with Romeo and Juliet."

"The more involved I got, the more enjoyable it became" Playwright Tom Stoppard

Playwright Tom Stoppard was brought on board, and taking Marc Norman's inspired screenplay, Stoppard "played around with a lot of ideas and added a few characters, including bringing in Christopher Marlowe. The more I did," he says, "the more involved I got and the more enjoyable it became."

The final script had a light-hearted and modern style –packed with witty references to Shakespeares's work. When director John Madden read it, he felt that it had "one foot in the 16th century and one in the 20th century." Madden was particularly drawn to the film's sometimes bawdy, often deliciously pointed humour. "The first thing I got out of the script was it sense of fun; it is full of surprises, topping one surprise with another," he says. "There is something terribly attractive about taking this great world figure and dealing with him mischievously and playfully, but without debunking him. One of the script's greatest assets is that it has brilliant dialogue which is irresistibly clever yet accessible and believable – quite a unique combo."

"Without the appropriate chemistry ...one just wouldn't have a movie" Director John Madden

One of the biggest challenges was finding two actors with the chemistry and comedic abilities to carry the two leading roles – star-struck lovers with a tendency to get their wires crossed. John Madden was acutely aware of the qualities required to carry this off successfully.

He says: "Without the appropriate chemistry between those two, one just wouldn't have a movie. I'd always felt that in an ideal world we would have an English actor for Will and for Viola I'd always felt we should have Gwyneth Paltrow – as simple as that really. She was a natural choice for me and I just imagined her in the part when I read the script. She has a quality of spirituality about her, which makes her believable as a muse. But she also has an earthy quality – she's real and sexy – which means she can carry the part off on both levels. It goes without saying that she's also incredibly beautiful."

"It is so rich in language it was just intoxicating" Gwyneth Paltrow

The process of casting the young Will Shakespeare required slightly more investigation and study. "I looked far and wide for the actor to play Will," says John Madden, "but the part required not just the qualities for a romantic lead, but also the ability to convince the audience that this man actually wrote all that beautiful poetry and all those extraordinary plays. Joseph Fiennes could do that because he has an interior quality, a natural intelligence and privateness and without that the part is stillborn. I'm a great believer that certain parts belong to certain people and there's no question in my mind that this part belongs to Joe."

Gwyneth Paltrow describes her initial response saying, appropriately enough for a romance, that she "fell immediately and completely in love with the script on first reading. It was so brilliantly written and the part was fascinating. It is so rich in language it was just intoxicating. I thought I have to do this."

"The script is so unique, dazzlingly brilliant and dynamic" Joseph Fiennes

Joseph Fiennes likewise: "The script is so unique, dazzlingly brilliant and dynamic and as an actor, I always find that teaming up with something like that is rather a good idea!"

This quiet modesty is typical of Fiennes, illustrated by his first meeting with Tom Stoppard as the writer remembers. "I was just browsing in a bookshop and this guy I didn't know came up and introduced himself to me, saying that he was currently working with John Madden," recalls Stoppard. "He made it sound like he was an assistant, or something. Then he said that he was an actor, but only when I asked what part he was playing did he quietly reply, William Shakespeare."

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February 4,1999: Tom Stoppard has rejected claims that he and Shakespeare in Love cowriter Marc Norman borrowed liberally from a 1941 novel, No Bed for Bacon by Caryl Brahms and S.J. Simon for their screenplay. In a letter to the London Evening Standard, Stoppard, while denying that he or Norman was aware of the novel, pointed out that many of the similarities have to do with historical fact; e.g., that Shakespeare wrote for two rival theater companies and that women in Elizabethan times were not permitted to perform on stage.

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