(2) At Zeffirelli’s Villa: Rome, May 1967


Extract from Zeffirelli – The Autobiography of Franco Zeffirelli. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1986 pp.226-227

“We had assembled for work on Romeo and Juliet at the end of May [1967], though not in the conventional way in rehearsal rooms. I had for sometime been dreaming of getting out of the centre of Rome, which increasingly had come to seem dirty, crowded and inconvenient. Of course, I’d had fun there as a young man enjoying big city life with friends of my own age, but now I wanted something more open, which I could share with my increasing herd of pets.

“I had discovered a small estate, really a sort of park, on the outskirts of the city not far from the ancient Appian Way. The owner had built a group of pleasant country-style homes, each far enough away from the other to appear isolated, in effect lost amongst the trees and gardens. It was ideal; near enough to the city for work, far enough for the sort of country existence I now wanted. I rented first one house and then later another larger home, where I still live today.

“That May I moved my entire company: not just Aunt Lide and Vige but also the principals of Romeo and Juliet. There we all were, during the hot summer, living as if in a cheerful, busy commune; Olivia and Leonard rehearsing on the lawn; Nino Rota writing the music in the salon; RobertStephens and Natasha Parry learning their lines or swimming in the pool – it was a dream world.”

Zeffirelli's villa
At Zeffirelli’s Villa with some of the young cast – May 1967


Extract from an interview with Leonard Whiting in May 1967:

Olivia Hussey, who plays Juliet, and Franco and I are staying at the same villa outside of Rome and he goes over the script with us time and time again. Understanding the motivation, the feeling behind the lines is the most important thing; when you have those down, the lines come out right by themselves. When I signed for the movie, I began to study speech. Franco had me move away from home in North London so I wouldn’t be influenced by the kind of speech I heard around me all the time. And I started taking fencing lessons. It was funny about the dueling. When I got to Rome to do the movie, I found that the style I had been taught in London–the way you placed your feet and all that–was three hundred years later than what I should have been learning. I felt pretty foolish.

“I must be a little like Romeo because if I weren’t I don’t think that Franco Zeffirelli, the director, would have cast me. He explained to me that Romeo really has no purpose in life when Shakespeare’s story begins, that he is aimless and a dreamer, that he tends to blow everything up and out of proportion. Like that business about his loving Rosaline at the beginning of the play. Probably she had only looked at him three or four times, but he said they were in love. When he really falls in love with Juliet, it gives him a purpose in life for the very first time. Zeffirelli sees Juliet’s family as newly rich–I think the expression is Nouveau riche–and still pretty earthy. They dress in a gaudy way and are a bit flashy as a family trying to raise itself socially, while Romeo’s family is more idealistic and on a different social level. But Romeo doesn’t give a hang for all the quarreling between the families, he’s just not interested. And once he sees Juliet, things are changed forever.”

[1]Filming started at the end of June 1967 in the town of Tuscania