John Madden, director
I became involved with the development of Shakespeare in Love after it had gone through several years of planning. Initially, Julia Roberts was considered for the lead female role. The main challenge, however, was finding an actor to play Shakespeare. Julia had suggested Daniel Day-Lewis, but there were multiple suggestions for male actors of a certain age. Eventually, Julia decided to step away from the project.
A movie titled “Shakespeare” was deemed a risky venture and was struggling without Julia’s involvement. However, Harvey Weinstein, who had previously acquired a film I directed, Mrs Brown, purchased the script. He sent the script, written by Tom Stoppard, to me and even though it was incomplete, it was the best I had ever read. Tom was interested in creating a “Zucker brothers movie”, but I steered it towards a more traditional Shakespearean comedy with the contrasting elements of over-the-top comedy and underlying seriousness.
I had the pleasure of meeting Gwyneth Paltrow during her audition for a different film. It was clear that she possessed all the necessary qualities for the role of Shakespeare’s love interest. Joe Fiennes struggled during his initial reading for the role of Will, but I convinced him to try a more spontaneous approach and it worked perfectly – he skillfully handled the humor. Colin Firth initially declined the role of Viola’s fiance, Lord Wessex. After expressing my disappointment, he seemed a bit offended. However, we later approached him again with better results. He had originally auditioned with Julia Roberts and claims to have been the last choice before she left, but I cannot confirm this.
We spent more time rehearsing that film than any I’ve done since. We had dance rehearsals, fight rehearsals, even linguistic rehearsals, dealing with how Elizabethan English might sound – both on and off stage. I’d often wake up in a cold sweat, thinking: “Gwyneth’s going to be wearing a moustache? This isn’t going to work!” What might work on stage doesn’t necessarily translate to cinema. But Gwyneth navigated that with great skill.
Judi Dench has a brief appearance as Queen Elizabeth, after her prominent role as Queen Victoria in Mrs Brown. Despite her limited screen time, she remains a central figure and was honored with an Oscar for best supporting actress. To enhance her presence, she wore elevated heels, earning her the nickname “Tudor Spice.”
Judi purchased the exquisitely refurbished Rose theatre after the production ended and had plans to relocate it as a resource for aspiring Shakespearean actors. While it was expertly constructed with authentic oak beams, it relied heavily on scaffolding during filming and was not intended to be a permanent structure.
After beginning to assemble the film, I gained confidence that all the different components would come together seamlessly. As a director, I may have felt anxious, but the editor, David Gamble, created a preliminary trailer that I found thrilling – the tone was spot on. I thought to myself, “I would have to make a major mistake to ruin this.”
Joseph Fiennes plays the role of William Shakespeare.
I auditioned for Shakespeare in Love while I was still attending drama school. I was offered the opportunity to audition for a new movie starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Julia Roberts, and I eagerly accepted. During my lunch break, I quickly read for one of the supporting roles.
Interestingly, I recently passed by the location where I used to live in a small studio apartment where the kitchen was right next to the bed. I was inside when I received the news that I had landed the role of Will. It was the only instance where I shouted with pure happiness at the top of my voice.
I am a big fan of Shakespeare’s writing and was worried that Hollywood might water it down. However, the script turned out to be humorous and clever, even incorporating some commentary on the Hollywood industry despite being set in Shakespeare’s era. While conducting my research, I coincidentally met Tom Stoppard at a local bookstore and mustered up the courage to tell him, “Excuse me, I have been offered your screenplay and I am extremely excited.” He kindly invited me to his home where we discussed serendipity. He was gracious, kind, and offered valuable insights.
Gwyneth was highly prepared and her accent appeared flawless from the beginning. I had previously collaborated with Geoffrey Rush on Elizabeth and it was amazing to see him take on the role of a theatrical entrepreneur, after playing a Machiavellian character before. The majority of the cast were not well-known, but they had extensive experience in theater. The atmosphere was filled with joy and we were having a great time, leading me to worry that the film may not turn out well.
Sandy Powell, the costume designer, created a jacket for me that exuded sensuality and was surprisingly comfortable. I had the opportunity to perform some impressive fight sequences while wearing it – a big shout out to Bill Hobbs for choreographing the sword fighting and the stuntman who took a fall on my behalf, landing on his ribcage. I insisted that Will’s fingers always be stained with ink. If the marks washed off during filming, I made sure they were reapplied before the next day of shooting.
After the initial filming, I removed my beard, but it had to be re-added when we were called back for a reshoot of the ending. The first version was too sudden. I believe the bittersweet version that viewers saw was perfect.