Still just breaking out into the Hollywood game, Kodi Smit-McPhee takes on one of the meatiest roles in Carlo Carlei’s Romeo and Juliet: Benvolio, a kinsman of Romeo who looks to keep peace in the volatile Verona where we find our story. Despite his casting in the film, Smit-McPhee admits to having limited experience with the works of William Shakespeare, really coming to a new appreciation for the playwright through his work in Carlei’s movie. We spoke to Smit-McPhee about his part in the film, his thoughts on bringing Shakespeare to a new generation, and what the future has in store for the young actor.
Compared to a bunch of the other movies you’ve been in, like The Road and Let Me In, Romeo and Juliet is a little bit more lighthearted. If, you know, you take away the whole killing people thing. How was it filming a movie like that?
It was a really amazing experience to do something different and out of the box from what I usually do. I really got to take home some cool memories, like sword fighting and the dancing and everything and the costumes. So like I said, it was really just something that was out of the box for anyone. And I’m glad to have had that experience.
I was watching an interview with your director, and he was saying that he was very into making sure that all of the costumes worked.
Oh, yeah, the costumes were a huge [priority] for everyone, and the hair and everything. I loved getting into that costume every day. It just really puts you in the mode and puts you in that moment. That was so awesome.
Yeah, the hair. Damian Lewis had quite a haircut.
Actually, when I started going in, they tried to do some crazy fringe cut like that and I just told them to split it down the middle.
Good call, good call. Because Damian Lewis can just go and shave it off for Homeland.
So before this film, did you have any experience with Shakespeare at all?
No, not at all. Coming from Australia, for some reason, we don’t even get into that whole side of it … our system in school isn’t really as up to date as it is around the globe. So this was kind of my first time getting to experiment with it. Before this, I wouldn’t really read it, I didn’t really have an interest in Shakespeare. But then when it came to doing this, something like this, I read it and grew a huge appreciation for this story and Shakespeare, and I actually read Hamlet after it. I really love it.
So because you didn’t really have experience with it, what were the keys things for getting into your role?
I think it was actually … good that I didn’t have any knowledge of it before because I really got to start fresh with it. and I saw the Franco Zeffirelli version of it and I really fell in love with that. But not trying to take anything from it, I just wanted to create a new character from my heart. That’s what I focused on, and it was really a lot of fun.
How do you think this version is different from other Shakespeare adaptations?
I think, technically, we went a little deeper with the characters. In everyone’s performance you could individually go deeper with each character, and the story itself was a little deeper and closer to the original [play]. So it was really cool to do something that I guess Shakespeare would have wanted. And as Julian [Fellowes] was saying, that it’s about the story that everyone always wants to just come back around forever, so I think it was really good to refresh it for this generation and people of our age and give them their own kind of Romeo and Juliet.
So if you hadn’t been cast in your role, what other role would you have liked? Like your dream one.
To tell the truth, that’s two questions. If I was to be anyone else, for some reason, I think I would be Friar Laurence, because that’s a cool character to be when I get older. But I really did fall in love with Benvolio’s character. He’s kind of like my personality, peacemaker, humble and just a really loving character, and I really enjoyed playing that character.
How was it working with such a talented cast? Did you have someone you really got along with on set?
Yes, it was amazing. When we went to shoot, we had three weeks of prep before and we just all got to really know each other and we all got extremely close. Douglas [Booth] is like a brother to me now, and I’m really close with Hailee [Steinfeld] and everyone, it was kind of like a family by the end of it. I really enjoyed working with everyone, it was such a good experience.
And you were talking about the sword fighting scenes before, what was the training like for that?
The training was really fun. The sword fighting stuff, and then the horse riding, was a bit of a challenge at the start, but then I got a hang of it and I really loved it. And that was another thing that I picked up on. I really love horse riding, and the horses we got to mess around with, it was really fun. And then we did some dancing lessons and that was kind of hard because it was a really old, historical type dance that they wanted to be correct so that was actually most of the challenge.
Do you have any upcoming projects that you’re excited about?
Yes, I just did [Dawn of the] Planet of the Apes and… I’m not sure when that’s coming out, but it was extremely fun to work on. We did it in New Orleans and Vancouver. In a few weeks I’m going to New Zealand and Scotland for a little while to shoot with [Michael] Fassbender.
Was there a funny or memorable thing that happened on set?
I think just overall, the whole experience was extremely memorable. But funny things, they were always happening, because like I said, just such a youthful kind of cast got together in Italy, it was just like a holiday. We were always joking around and having fun and one of the funniest things happened when we were all on the horses because no matter how much you trained them, around 300 people they’re still going to be a little bit shy and scared, so they would never do what they were told, so that was a little bit of a challenge and that could be a little funny sometimes.
What is your favorite movie of all time?
I know this answer. It’s actually the hardest question ever. I think, obviously, everyone has a lot of favorite movies, but I really for some reason, just love Quentin Tarantino’s writing and directing style. I just really appreciate… I really love Pulp Fiction and Resevoir Dogs, and what’s the other one? I can’t remember the film, it’s about the girl, and Samuel L. Jackson is in it… Jackie Brown, that’s it. Jackie Brown‘s a good one.
If you could be in any movie that’s already come out, is there a character or movie that you would like to play or be in?
That’s a good question. Who would I like to play? It’s such a deep question. I think I would play Batman. I love Batman.
Go big or go home.
I would do Batman. I would do one Batman, I wouldn’t do a lot of them. Just one.