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
"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
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
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
"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."