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An Interview with a Euphoric Juliet

Where Under-the-Skin Happens

By Eric Minton

Meg Rodgers as Juliet leans over the railing of the Blackfriars Playhouse's upper gallery, with a chandelier hanging to the left, tapestry and timbered wall in the back.
Meg Rodgers plays Juliet in the iconic balcony scene of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet at the American Shakespeare Center's Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, Virginia. "I think Juliet is particularly special in her thoughts because she’ll go from high emotion to calming herself down and working through moments practically. Like this is reality, why am I behaving this way? and then coming to a conclusion." Photo by Anna Kariel Photography.

The first experience Meg Rodgers had with William Shakespeare was reading Romeo and Juliet in the ninth grade. “They had us read it instead of watch it first, which never really works, I don’t think,” she says. Rodgers didn’t fully understand the language—it was ancient to her ears—but she nevertheless felt pulled into the play. “The words being used were describing things I was feeling that I didn’t know how to describe.” When she did see the play, it was the Baz Luhrmann version starring Claire Danes and Leonard DiCaprio. The film helped her understanding of Juliet because, like many girls her age, Rodgers developed a crush on DiCaprio.

As an adult, Rodgers is still growing into understanding what her ninth-grade self felt that Juliet feels in the play. That discovery played out in her portrayal of Juliet in the American Shakespeare Center’s production at the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, Virginia, opposite the company’s new artistic director, Brandon Carter, as Romeo. Directed by José Zayas, the production casts the couple’s passion as an addiction, an infatuation with life-thriving love playing out in a dangerous world. Zayas and his two leads also explored a dark thread of depression as each character harbors their own fascination with death. Rodgers, in fact, discovered a key link between Juliet’s most pivotal scene (playing dead) and her climactic scene (really dead): in both, she addresses the same props in her hands, a vial of poison and a knife.

Rodgers attended Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, earning a degree in psychology, which has proved a handy background as she analyzes both her characters’ and her own motives. She got into theater while at Slippery Rock and went on to earn a master of fine arts in Acting from the University of Houston Professional Actor Training Program. Her professional Shakespearean roles included Lady Macbeth, Lady Macduff, Olivia, and Richard III’s Queen Margaret. She also played Viola in a production of Shakespeare in Love. She became an audience favorite at the Blackfriars through a wide variety of roles, among them Helena in All’s Well That Ends Well and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing.

In tackling what is arguably Shakespeare's most popular female character—and one of the canon's most intelligent characters of any gender—Rodgers and her castmates were also emerging from the Covid pandemic. The American Shakespeare Center  continued productions through much of the pandemic by using outdoor spaces and audience spacing. Romeo and Juliet and the repertoire's other title, Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors, in which Rodgers played Dromio of Syracuse, were the first shows to be performed before full houses at the Blackfriars in two years.

Rodgers and I met for our interview in the playhouse's upstairs lobby, both of us masked. What was scheduled to be a half-hour interview sprinted on for almost an hour as we delved into Juliet's life and fate, Zayas' approach to the play's matrix of social and individual choices and their consequences, and our own experiences with depression and crushes. We did this interview the day before I saw the production, so I entered the interview blind to her take on Juliet, but ended the interview confident I would not be disappointed in her performance. As rich as our conversation was, however, I had no idea that Rodgers' Juliet would leave me emotionally wrung and unleashing tears at play's end when the knife wins out over the vial.

This transcription has been edited for grammar and length, but it attempts to maintain Rodgers' sometimes shifting thought patterns. In the interview, she referred to that as integral to many of Shakespeare's characters, especially Juliet.

April 8, 2022

How’s it feeling? Is there a difference pre- and post-pandemic?

I had a cold recently, but it wasn’t Covid. It was the first time I’ve been sick since the pandemic started, because we’re always wearing these masks. That fear definitely was heightened, trying to protect other people: a person would sneeze and the fear you might have when you hear that. It’s a whole other thing.

Like you’re really in the plague.

Yeah. And it went through the cast, we all got this cold. By the time we each realized one of us was sick, we’d all been in each others’ faces.

For you, working here pre-pandemic, working here post-pandemic, on stage, what’s it been like for you? Is it a different animal, is there more appreciation for it?

There’s a much stronger appreciation. Just to be in this space again. A lot of actors were working here during the pandemic, but I was one of the ones who did not want to do that. When I came back, just being in that artistic space again… [She bears a look of remembered awe]. I remember the first time we walked out [for a public performance], and there was an audience waiting for us, all masked and everything, and everyone started clapping and stood up. I was so overwhelmed, I physically felt like I was knocked back by the energy. It was like coming home again.

You got a standing ovation when you came out to do the music?

I think the first show we came out with was Mac[beth] last year. That’s when we were able to have audiences again back inside. And now we are getting more people in there, and they don’t have to be socially distanced according to Equity rules anymore. We’ve gone from a cap of 60 to 80 spread out for every performance to, the other night, 160 kids in there all together. The excitement you could feel coming from the audience to be back in a space like that, I haven’t seen that in there since 2019.

Also, there’s hesitancy. It’s a little quieter; especially I think with the kids it’s a little quieter. It makes me wonder what they’ve been through in the past two years of that period of their life. To come back into a theater space when you’ve been looking at screens for two years. It’s really magical, you know?

You think the quietness is because, not PTSD but maybe because they’re, like, in awe?

Yeah, in awe. Or just over-stimulation. You have 16-year-olds in there and they haven’t been to a public event since they were like 13 or 14.

That’s a big distance.

In their lives? Oh my gosh, yeah.

We had a big group for R&J yesterday. They were all slightly leaning forward, everybody was still, you could hear a pin drop. It was very, very special, and it made me remember why we’re doing student matinees, why we do what we do when kids reach out, and how this made an impact. We’d get messages saying how much they were moved. That’s why I like to do this.

So, to Romeo and What’s Her Name.

Ha! She’s not important.

Journalists, we have certain principles we have to work by, and as a theater journalist, one of the specific principles is that we don’t ask the age of any actor…

[Laughs.] Yeah.

…Not for vanity reasons but for professional reasons. So, I will not ask your age, but we know how old Juliet is. And Ian McKellen famously said you have to play Romeo as a teen-ager because that’s the only way you can do the hormones, but you don’t understand the lines until you’re 35 years old.

Yes! Yeah. That’s a great way to phrase that. I haven’t heard that but that’s exactly what I have been thinking.

And when I read it in college, I hated the play. But I appreciate it more now that I’m 64.

Yeah. You don’t get ruled by the emotions. I think at that age you are ruled by your emotions. I think once you’re older, you can remember those emotions and you can recall those and what you went through, but you have the frame of mind to be able to work through it, too.

I think Juliet is particularly special in her thoughts because she’ll go from high emotion to calming herself down and working through moments practically. Like this is reality, why am I behaving this way? and then coming to a conclusion. Whereas Romeo just kind of keeps going deeper and deeper. She’s trying to pull him out.

I am 29, and I don’t think even, like, five years ago I would have understood Juliet as well as I am. As I get older I think I understand it more.

Expand on that. That seems reverse logic. I mean, it’s Shakespearean logic because he would have been 35 or whatever when he wrote it. Have you played it before?

This is my first Juliet.

When did you first read the play?

I first read it in ninth grade.

What was your reaction in ninth grade?

I was and am a huge romantic. I was really pulled into it, and I felt like I was understanding what Juliet was going through. There was this text that felt like I didn’t quite understand it because that was the first time I read Shakespeare: and they had us read it instead of watch it first, which never really works, I don’t think. It felt like it was so old and ancient to my ears at the time. But what I was picking up and understanding felt like it was relevant to me. The words being used were describing things I was feeling that I didn’t know how to describe. We watched the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio and I was completely—[nervous laughter]—fell in love, I guess. [Laughs]. Yeah.

You watched Leonardo DiCaprio, but what about Claire Danes? Did you feel a connection with her performance?

Yes. Yeah.

It was a good one.

It was very good. It was very good. I haven’t seen it in a while, but I think everything that was going on in my head when I was trying to envision what was going on in the play when we were trying to read it out loud in class, seeing her say it out loud and in the moment made it come to life.

Has your playing it done the same thing? Have you gone back to your ninth-grade year?

I have not let myself go completely back to ninth grade me, but there’s a lot in my personal life during that time that’s relevant to this story. There’s been moments in the play where, when we were rehearsing—we have a word with [intimacy director Natasia Reinhardt] where we will say “button” if we need to pause and walk away for a second and come back.

You’re using a safe word.

Yes, it’s like a safe word, because José wanted the action, especially by the time you get to intermission, to keep going forward, like there is no time to take a breath, it just keeps rolling. And he wanted to lean into the darkness that Romeo and Juliet bring out in each other, where they both have this almost manic kind of state. They go from seeing each other and being like, “What is this?” to going from zero to a hundred really fast.

In my life, I struggled with depression pretty heavily, and around that age is when I started figuring that out. There’s a lot of talk of suicide in this play, and I feel that Juliet is hesitant about it. When she goes to take that potion, she has a huge monologue trying to work out whether she’s going to take it or not. I think she’s a little bit more hesitant about the actual finality of death but is fascinated by it.

Some of those moments, you just, you know…

You don’t want to go back there.

Yeah, but you can, even by accident. Like some of the language in the monologue and several of the moments in the play will bring back an imagery from when I was a kid, or those moments when I felt that way. Learning to use that safely is important because I don’t think you can completely knock down that door and let it all come out. I think you can acknowledge it and then let it go. But it certainly has brought back a lot of that period when you’re a preteen to like even early 20s, late teens—all that era when you’re figuring life out.

My depression first manifested in college and came to a head when I was 30—first time, anyway, because it’s been chronic for me.
Let me go back to that whole thing about getting in a rush. I’ve seen this play 40 times or whatever [this production was number 39], and when you do the shortened versions, you’re on this rail and you can’t get off.


And they can’t get off.

Yeah, once it gets going, there’s no turning back. And through his vision I’ve really noticed some of the language that is particularly dark, that people can romanticize and go, “Oh, that’s so sweet.” But he says, “I would I were thy bird” and I say, “Sweet, so would I: Yet I should kill thee with much cherishing.”

You’re talking about darkness—other than the background of the play—between the two of them? Because Romeo can kill.

Yeah. Absolutely.

So, what’s the difference between Juliet taking the potion and actually killing herself at the end?

Juliet in brown tank top holds a dagger to her throat as Friar Laurence holds up his hands trying to calm her.
Meg Rodgers' Juliet threatens to harm herself as Friar Laurence (Gregory Jon Phelps, right) attempts to calm her. "There’s just something about the dagger to me that feels brutal and not the way they’ve fantasized death together. There’s something about destroying your own body physically that doesn’t quite fit her fantasy of death." Other cast members in character watch from the side: Erica Cruz Hernández, left, as Nurse and Jessika D. Williams as Lady Capulet. Photo by Anna Kariel Photography.

My personal take for my Juliet is, I think, it’s a lot easier to take something that will do the damage to you versus directly taking a knife and doing the damage to yourself, actively having to. Does that make sense?

No, it doesn’t


And I heard all you said. So, is it OK to talk it out?


So, she’s in her bedroom and she’s got the vial and “is the priest trying to kill me?” and “what’s going to happen when I wake up?” I mean, that’s the scary part, you’re going to wake up in a crypt. Then you see the dream, the vision of Tybalt and Romeo, and you get into a rush, “Oh, I’ve got to get up there and help” and [finger snap] you take it. In the crypt it’s like, “Where’s the vial? Ah! There’s none left, damn it! OK, shwip [motioning a self-inflicted knife wound] like that.”

Let’s go, yeah. I think that image of vial and dagger that shows up at the end is also in the vial scene. She has the dagger, she says, “Lie thou there.”

That’s true.

I’m seeing it as I lie it there. I’m still thinking I have these two options, and I could do [the potion], and if it doesn’t work, then I have [the dagger]. It’s almost like choosing between the two, like should I do this now or is this going to kill me? I think the fear is what she’s bouncing around between the two, and at the end she goes back to the vial first before she goes for the dagger. There’s just something about the dagger to me that feels brutal and not the way they’ve fantasized death together. There’s something about destroying your own body physically that doesn’t quite fit her fantasy of death.

That’s what I love about doing Shakespeareances is how much I learn about the plays. Every time. I never noticed the fact that the vial and the dagger are in both scenes.

Yeah. I didn’t either until I was working out the vial scene. I was like, I want the dagger, she’s clearly got it, “Lie thou there,” and I realized there in front of me were these two options. Then we got to the bier scene and the vial is in his hand and the dagger’s right here so it’s like, Oh my God they’re next to each other AGAIN! What is HAPPENINGGGGggg! [Laughs]. Yeah.

That’s got to be intentional.

Yeah. That is.

And some people were like, the dagger in the vial scene doesn’t make sense because it’s never brought up again, and I’m like, Why does it have to be brought up again? What if I’m looking at the two and I decide on the vial and I put the dagger back in my pocket? There’s no reason for it to be brought up again.

Juliet is one of the most popular, probably number one, female roles. Maybe Lady Macbeth, but I think Juliet. I was at Louisville, Kentucky Shakespeare, watching Romeo and Juliet, and I sat behind three or four tweens.

[Starts laughing.]

And when they got to the sonnet scene, they started reciting it. It’s sort of like Bruce Springsteen, who holds the microphone out and we sing, “You ain’t a beauty but hey you’re alright.”

Yep, yep.

Or Hamlet: every actor tries to figure out a new way to do “To be.”

That just made me think of, with the tweens and everything, our first show that we did after opening. Usually for the first weekend we open, we have a big group here who are hard-core fans. I got to “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” and a large part of the audience joined in on “Wherefore art though Romeo,” and then started applauding. I had to wait after that line until they were done, and I’m talking to the sky like, is this an appropriate moment right now to acknowledge what is happening or should I just keep going and smile?

That’s my question: What are the stage challenges—not the artistic challenges—the stage challenges of playing Juliet when everybody knows that role? In terms of popularity, it’s the female Hamlet.

Yeah, yeah.

Did you feel that challenge going into it?

I did, I did. And I think José was amazing in directing. He would stop me immediately and let me know that I’m not being my Juliet right now. He could see it. He could just pick up on it, and he would change the direction I was going and be, like, just do my version and lean into it. I think I’ve taken such ownership over her in our version that I don’t feel that pressure as much anymore because I know this is my Juliet, and this is our ensemble’s production. It’s very different and it’s very special, and I’m excited to do ours. Ours. It feels like we have ownership over it. I know that other actors are doing something different, and I’m excited to see theirs, too.

When you go into a play, do you see other performances or read about other performances or do you try to not do that?

I will do that a month before I start, if I’m given that amount of time. A month out from when rehearsals start, I cut that all off so I can’t let other people’s interpretation get into my head. Especially when rehearsals start; I will not watch anything else or read anything else. I’m letting it happen and letting my instincts take over. If there’s something that someone else made a huge impact on me, it will find its way out. You know, we all steal things from each other but make it our own. I think that drives us to keep pushing ourselves better and keep supporting each other, and if I use something that I’m really inspired by, I will bring up that performance and talk about it.

There’s nothing wrong with somebody discovering something so great before as opposed to a gimmick.

Oh yes.

And with Juliet, there’s a lot of garbage out there. I don’t mean that in the negative sense, there’s a lot of stuff out there.

Yes, a lot of extra.

Your challenge on that was really to keep focusing on yours?

I don’t want to get carried away by comparisons; I think that’s really toxic. We did a lot of ensemble work with our group before we even started, so we became very close with each other and supportive, and we have such strong pride in our own work and what we put into this. There’s been no comparisons, there’s been no one saying, what if you try this? We’re excited to see what each person brings every day, and we build each other up to keep doing our best.

Carter as Romeo challenges me as a person every day. I feel really lucky to be across from him.

I interviewed him for Henry IV, and he said every day was different between him and Poins.

Yesterday, there was a 10:30 with the kids, which blew my mind. Oh god, that’s the first time we’ve done it for students, and I’m so happy. Anyway, we did that, and then the evening we did another one, and we were discussing how every time we do it, just little moments change. Well, we really see them at this point, and we feel them because we are just constantly locking eyes. Or the second half, we’re all on stage, so we’re watching each other, seeing things, always invested in what’s going on. And we were talking about how different the two shows were with the energy in the room and how that can change the show. With how we feel at 10:30 in the morning versus 7:30 in the evening.

That’s theater.


Theater is a different play on stage and a different audience and it’s always different.

Yeah. Like if someone in the audience sneezes and someone says bless you and suddenly that place in the play is funny and that’s not going to happen in the same play in the evening.

You made a very interesting and a good point that comparisons are toxic. I realize that I will bring up references, but I don’t do comparisons in my reviews. But you’ve got a pretty good track record: you’ve played a lot of Shakespeare characters, and you’ve done Shakespeare since you were in the ninth grade.

Yes, so Romeo and Juliet was ninth grade. Then I think in the 11th grade my English class did Julius Caesar. Then I didn’t really touch it again until I was an undergrad in college. I got my psychology degree at Slippery Rock University, and that’s where I started doing theater.

A psychology degree.

Yeeahh. I love psychology. It’s been a while, so I can’t really talk about it. [Laughs]

You obviously self-analyze, does that help you out?

I think so.

It’s just interesting that there’s an actor here who has a psychology degree. Do you bring that to your roles?

I think I do.

Do you put your characters on the couch, to use an old cliché?

I do spend a lot of time working through, um—for every moment that I’m on stage I’m thinking about why I’m doing what I’m doing, why I’m saying what I’m saying, what do I want, and if I’m even directly saying what I want. I try to compare it to the way we think every day. Sometimes it can be just, what I’m doing right now? I’m just trying to get words out to explain. Later I’m going to be like, ah, I should have said it this way. And sometimes characters are doing that. They aren’t directly getting to the point, they’re working it out.

Especially with Shakespeare monologues. Some of Juliet’s monologues she’s doing what I’m doing right now and just trying to work through what’s happening. Like, he just killed my cousin. Why am I crying? My husband is alive but should be dead. Tybalt’s dead that would have killed him. Why am I upset? Oh yeah, you said he’s banish-ed, oh my god that word is terrible!

I think she’s very human, and I think she’s very, very smart.

Well, yeah.

So smart.

She’s one of the smartest characters in the canon. Coming back to where I started before you took me off-course with the psychology bit.


No, no, that’s great. What you just said I’ve never heard any actor say before. I love that. Comparing characters. So, you’ve played a whole bunch of characters. You’ve played Second Swordsman.


Peto, a brilliant Peto.

Oh, Peto, Peto. For some reason I was inspired by the Minion movie where there’s the little yellow minions. I was watching the movie and I kept hearing one of the things those little minions say is “peto, peto,” and I was like, what if I’m a Minion?

[Laughs] So where in your career artistically—we talked about the challenges of Juliet on stage—where does Juliet fall for you in all the characters you’ve played?

Especially with where we are in the company right now with the group that we have together and the strengths that we have, I feel like this is going to be, with Juliet, a point in my career that I am always going to think of as a milestone: for my work, for the kind of art I want to do in the future, the kind of people that I want to work with. This is probably one of the productions that I’m most proud of in my life.

But that’s extra-Juliet. What about the person Juliet?

The person Juliet.

How do you feel about Juliet versus Kathrine…


And Lady McDuff is a good one. Viola [in Shakespeare in Love]. Lady M. Obviously that Macbeth was a very small cast.


Do you see Juliet elsewhere in the canon? Let me ask it that way.

I do. I see bits of her everywhere in the canon, I think. Um, hmmm. [She turns around her bio that I’m referencing so she can read it.] Well, Viola in Shakespeare in Love is based off of Juliet. But I think it’s an older version of Juliet. I don’t think she is as ruled by emotions and all-out heart. I think it’s a little bit more sexual with Viola. I think I see a lot of Helena in All’s Well in Juliet. But I think…


I do. I do.

They could—well, they’re not the same—well it depends on how you see Juliet: is she really 13 or is she really 17.

We’re not playing age in ours. But I place her—me and Carter have talked—somewhere around the age of 19. I also think our idea of that age in the play is a little older anyway, where 14 back then is kind of like 19.

They were wives.

Yeah. You were expected to grow up very fast.

To me, Helena seems like she’s mid-20s or something like that.


But you’re right, that drive, there’s a real sexual drive in Helena that’s almost psychopathic. [Laugh]

Right? Like you’re not thinking straight. You’re not thinking straight, and you’re following this boy. Bertram is a d**k.

Nurse in gold satin shirt and black pants jokes as a laughing Juliet sit in a chair with one leg hanging over the chair arm and in a long red robe, black pants and tennis shoes, and Lady Capulet in flower-print, knee-lengh dress, one hand leaning on the chair back, impatiently grins.
Meg Rodgers' Juliet, center, laughs at the ribald tale by Nurse (Erica Cruz Hernández, left) while Lady Capulet (Jessika D. WIlliams) impatiently stands by to finish her business with her daughter. "Juliet is very good at switching between roles. When she’s in the house with her family, she plays that role really well, and she can put on a façade that even the Nurse is fooled by, who knows her the best, who is, I think, her best friend." Photo by Anna Kariel Photography.

But Juliet is very good at switching between roles. When she’s in the house with her family, she plays that role really well, and she can put on a façade that even the Nurse is fooled by, who knows her the best, who is, I think, her best friend. Me and Erica [Cruz Hernández, who played the Nurse] have talked about how close we are, and I think I spend most of my time with her. I’m a little bit of a loner in the house by myself a lot of the time. I think I’m very, very close with the Nurse. And if I can act in a way that even the Nurse thinks I’m OK and we’re going to be all right [referring to the scene in which Nurse suggests Juliet marry Paris even though she’s already married to Romeo], I think that takes a lot of control: the psychology there to be able to put yourself together and fool the people around you that love you the most.

But it runs into a wall when the Paris proposal is given to her.

Yes. Oh yeah, yeah.

And she ends up buying time.

I think that’s on purpose. It’s such a sudden flip, that she’s very upset I think that flip-out—I’m going to call it a flip-out. [Laughs.] I shouldn’t call it a flip-out. I think that… that, um…


Tantrum, yeah, it’s a tantrum.

I like flip-out.

[Laughs.] Why not? I just literally see like a flip happening of trying to push them away. It’s actively trying to push them away. It’s Euphoria [Sam Levinson’s HBO series starring Zendaya in the lead role of Rue Bennett). I was really influenced by Zendaya in Euphoria, and so was José in directing me. Zendaya in the series has a drug problem, and when she realized her friends and family came together to get her help and take the drugs away from her, she flips out in a similar way, I think, where she becomes aggressive and is trying to say things to push them away and to hurt them. It’s comparing that type of love, that obsession, this drug that you need, and you could argue, is it love or is it like really obsessed with someone you think you’re in love with them and its absolute…

It’s like an addiction.

Yeah, yeah, like an addiction. Yeah. It’s comparable, I think, to what Romeo and Juliet have built, too: a drug addiction with each other.

When do you fall in love with Romeo? When you see him or when he does the sonnet?

I think there’s like the zero-in spark when they see each other at the dance. And then there’s a need to get together. And then once that exchange happens, I think it’s in there, it’s right in there. Because I say right after that I’m in love with my enemy.

And it’s not just a little girl saying that.

It’s not.

You feel that’s an honest, adult feeling.

Adult, yeah.

And we should not look on them as kids, they’re us.

Yeah. I remember when I was a kid and that first overwhelming love that I had and didn’t know what to do with it, it was so confusing and it just completely wracked your world and nobody understood the way you understood, and adults trying to talk sense into you and you’re like you don’t understand me! You don’t know how I feel!

That may be a girl thing.

Is it? Maybe that is a girl thing. And a Romeo thing.

Although, yeah, I had my definite crush, and I was like that with Sarah.


I was 100 percent and still am.

Oh my gosh.

But I didn’t as a kid.

Yeah. I thought I did.

But I could see girls doing that, and you see movies about that all the time.

We’re going to be together forever and we’re going to get married and we’re going to have babies and I’m 15 and I don’t care! [Laughs]

But your attitude is she is actually older than that and has a maturity and is still being swept off her feet.

Yeah. I think of her maturity—even if you want to put an age to it— is beyond her years with the things she’s had to deal with. And she is so intelligent. Especially with what we’ve built with Lady and Lord Capulet, I think she’s had to grow up fast.

What has she had to deal with?

With the relationships that we’ve established with the parents. It’s not particularly loving. It’s my duty to do what they tell me to do. You’ll see that Lady is continually drinking wine throughout most of the play.

Tell me she’s not doing a thing with Tybalt, please.

[Puzzled] No. A thing with Tybalt?

I’ve seen where she’s having an affair with Tybalt.


I’ve seen that at least two times.

Oh God! I don’t know how I feel about that.

I hope bad.

How would that change things? Ohhhh, because she got so upset over his death?

Yes. Exactly.

But you’d be upset if it’s your nephew.

What really pisses me off is Antonio in the Merchant of Venice is automatically cast as gay. Yes, there is some hints for that, but [directors] drive that he’s in love with Bassanio and he knows Bassanio is going to a woman, and that’s why he’s so depressed. And I’m going, no. He’s depressed because he’s depressed.


And Shakespeare knew this stuff. I’ve already written about Shakespeare and mental illness, and his ability to just get it right. And Antonio opens the play with I don’t know why I am so sad or how I became sad; I am sad because I am sad.”


There’s no reason. And people who aren’t depressed, who don’t go through it, don’t understand that. Shakespeare did, but directors don’t.

Which José, oh my gosh, we’ve had the best talks because he understands depression. Something we were talking about, Romeo is depressed when he comes in. He just is depressed. He’s looking for that something that’s going to bring him out of it. It’s almost like we’re looking for that person to save us in our lives, or bring us out of this misery, whatever this depth is, and then we find it in each other, and we just hold on for dear life hoping that it will work. José said something one day that was so beautiful. I was trying to talk to him about something, and he was like, “He got under your skin. He got under your skin all the way to your soul and you’re never going to get him out. This is it.” I was like, damn! F**k! Alright. This is it in their eyes. They need this or it’s the end. Because both of them have seen darkness.

And you see Juliet that way, as well.

I do. Yeah.

And it’s in part because of her family upbringing.

Family, her personality. I think she’s almost too smart for her own good. You know when you meet people who are incredibly intelligent are prone to falling into those depths.

OK, first scene. One of the most enigmatic things about Juliet is how is she responding in that first scene with the nurse and her mother and she says, “I’ll look to love”?

“I’ll look to like.”

Is that a real key for you? Right now, I cannot think of a Juliet that nailed that moment because I’m not sure …

What it is?

What they’re supposed to nail. Is that some of what you’re talking about here?

Yes. I think I’m playing a role in this moment. Me and Erica are backstage, and she’s like, “you need to come talk to your mother,” and I’m like, I’m not doing it, and she’s like, I’ll get you a cigarette if you go, and I’m like, OK, great. [Laughs.] Then we walk out and it’s like I love the nurse telling the story [about Juliet’s fall and bump on the head as a toddler]. I think we have a lot of inside jokes, and I’m not close with my mom, so Nurse is trying to help me through this. Then Mom says, you’re going to get married, and I say straight up, it’s an honor but I don’t dream about it, I could care less, I’d rather have more books or maybe a dog. The only other thing I say is, “I’ll look to like, if looking liking move, but no more deep will I endart mine eye than your consent.” Like, whatever you tell me to do, I will try it. And that’s what I’m supposed to do, that’s my duty.

So, she’s kind of emotionless, soulless at that point.

Yes. I’m saying what I’m supposed to say.


But I haven’t met Romeo yet, so I don’t really have an opinion about it. Which I think, her doing the same thing later on when my outburst happens, I’m very clearly upset, and she comes back and says you’re going to get married in a couple of days, we’ve decided for you. There’s that loss of control, I don’t have any control over what’s happening to me. There’s no consideration of my feelings. I’m very depressed. Maybe, you could argue that I’m getting a little manic.

Well, she’s manic with…


Well, she’s manic with Laurence, too.

And Laurence, oh ABSOLUTELY! Yeah. Oh, yeah. Our second half is right before “Gallop apace” starts, and it just starts rolling.

And that’s a great cut because we just get in our seats and she comes on “Gallop apace!”

Gallop apace, and then the Nurse says he’s dead…

And that’s a wonderful speech, that’s a great speech.

It’s so beautiful, oh my god, it’s so beautiful! I love it.

After that opening scene with Nurse and Lady Capulet, the next time she speaks she’s speaking the second quatrain of an impromptu sonnet.


So that very first four lines in that scene is very key to you for establishing the relationship with the Nurse and with the mother that then manifests in how you react to Romeo.

Yeah. Which is very different because it’s almost robotic in the beginning, like yes, I’ll do what you say. I’ll try to like him, I don’t really want to get married. And then, Romeo matches me and we complete these sonnets with each other and I’m just … so… knocked off my rocker. [Laughs.] You kiss by the book. What is happening to my body right now? Yeah, I think that’s where the under-the-skin happens.

That’s where under-the-skin happens. There’s my headline.

That’s where under-the-skin happens?

That’s why under-the-skin happens.

[Laughs] That’s my under-the-skin moment.