Olivia Hussey: The Girl on the Balcony

Book Cover: "The Girl on the Balcony: Olivia Hussey Finds Life After Romeo and Juliet"
The Girl on the Balcony: Olivia Hussey Finds Life After 'Romeo and Juliet'

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Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 113

Olivia Hussey was just fifteen when Franco Zeffirelli cast her in Romeo and Juliet. When the film was released in October 1968, it catapulted Hussey and Leonard Whiting, the young actor playing Romeo, to global stardom. For many Shakespeare lovers, Zeffirelli's film is still the definitive film adaptation of the play. Now, fifty years after the movie’s release, Hussey’s memoir, The Girl on the Balcony: Olivia Hussey Finds Life After Romeo and Juliet, tells the story of the actress’s life before, during, and after Romeo and Juliet.

We talked with Hussey and asked her how she felt about Shakespeare before making the movie (“very boring”), filming the balcony scene (“I’d bump my teeth into his chin”), the endless press tour, and whether she’d do it all again. Olivia Hussey is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

From our Shakespeare Unlimited podcast. Published January 22, 2019. © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This podcast episode, “Speak Again, Bright Angel” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the Associate Producer.  It was edited by Gail Kern Paster.  Ben Lauer is the web producer. We had technical help from Andrew Feliciano and Paul Luke at VoiceTrax West in Studio City, California.

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Transcript

Sweet friends, your patience for my long abode.Sweet friends, your patience for my long abode.Sweet friends, your patience for my long abode.
MICHAEL WITMORE: It’s remarkable how iconic just four musical notes can be. Say, if you’re a classical music fan.

[CLIP: Beethoven’s 5th Symphony in C Minor, Opus 67]

Or, if you’re a football fan.

[CLIP: Monday Night Football theme]

Or, if you’re a Shakespeare fan.

[CLIP: “Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet” by Nino Rota—sometimes known as “A Time for Us.”]

From the Folger Shakespeare Library, this is Shakespeare Unlimited. I’m Michael Witmore, the Folger’s director. Those four notes are, of course, from the theme to Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 production of Romeo and Juliet.

The film, which is considered the Romeo and Juliet for Shakespeare fans of a certain age, starred 17-year-old Leonard Whiting as Romeo and 16-year-old sensation Olivia Hussey as Juliet. For the 50th anniversary of the film’s release, Olivia Hussey, along with her son Alexander Martin, published The Girl on the Balcony: Olivia Hussey Finds Life After Romeo and Juliet. We took the opportunity to invite Hussey into the studio to talk about the film that changed her life. We call this podcast episode, “Speak Again, Bright Angel.” Olivia Hussey is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

---------------------

BOGAEV: So, when you went to this audition for Romeo and Juliet, how well did you know the play?

HUSSEY: Oh, I knew it, because I studied at a drama school in England and one of the prerequisites was a Shakespeare class. You know, which I always found very boring, honestly. Those big monologues and. . . very hard on me. We did Romeo and Juliet for a while and I was cast as Romeo, because I had a very deep voice. I smoked a lot back then. Even though I was young, I was. . . everybody smoked, all the grownups, so I thought it was cool and—

BOGAEV: But you didn’t take to [Shakespeare]. What didn’t you like?

HUSSEY: I just found it very long and very. . . I didn’t really understand it. You know, I came from Argentina. I’m half-English, half-Argentinian.

BOGAEV: Right. So, Shakespeare, not your cup of tea. But you already had a lot of experience as an actor at the time that you auditioned for Juliet. You had a leading part on the London stage as one of the girls in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, with Vanessa Redgrave. And you already had a regular part on a TV show, The Charlie Drake Show. Which I don’t know, being an American, but I gather was really something.

HUSSEY: No. Here in America, he didn’t really hit like Benny Hill did. But, he was every bit as big as Benny Hill in London.

BOGAEV: So he was huge—

HUSSEY: Charlie Drake was huge. He was a comedian, and he was very short and he had this strawberry blonde hair. He used to say, “Hello, my darlings.”

[CLIP: The Charlie Drake Show. Drake sings “Hello My Darlings.”]

Hello, my darlings!
When you’re feeling sad and blue,
And the job's too much for you,
This is what you've got to do: sing,
Hello, my darlings!
Happy days are on their way
This is what you've got to say:
It's a happy day today, sing:
Hello, my darlings!

HUSSEY: I’d gone on auditions, but I hadn’t really done a lot of stage. The auditions were being held in a theatre. We were told to prepare something from Shakespeare. Of course, I said, “Well, I don’t have anything from Shakespeare.” They said, “You’re not doing Shakespeare?” I said, “No, we haven’t got to Shakespeare yet. And I don’t really understand Shakespeare. I don’t, you know—” I just blurted out because I was nervous.

And they said, “So, you’re doing a poem?” And I said, “I’m doing ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ by Edward Lear.” And so, I heard snickering. And then I just thought—So, I started, “The Owl and the Pussycat went to sea, in a beautiful...” and off I went and at the end of it, I heard this uproarious laughter. And I knew who it was because I recognized his voice, because it was Charlie Drake sitting there.

They eliminated a lot of the kids, you know, “You, you, and you, thank you very much for coming. You and you, stay.” I was right at the end of the line. Then I heard Charlie Drake say, “The little one at the end!” He just asked me a few questions about myself and I was a bit nervous, but I was very spunky, because that’s all I really had. I talked my way into the drama school. It was a private school and I couldn’t afford the fees.

BOGAEV: Which is why I asked you. And also—

HUSSEY: Yeah.

BOGAEV: I thought it so ironic, it sounds as if you got kind of a big break, your first big break because...

HUSSEY: Yes, that was a big break.

BOGAEV: Because you didn’t do Shakespeare.

HUSSEY: Yes, I know. But also, Charlie Drake liked me because I was shorter than he was.

BOGAEV: So, back to the audition with Franco Zeffirelli.

HUSSEY: Yes.

BOGAEV: When you got there, it sounds like it was just a mob scene. It sounds like hundreds of...

HUSSEY: It was an audition. There were 800 girls in London alone. And that’s not counting the girls he had seen in America, wherever else.

BOGAEV: Hundreds.

HUSSEY: Yeah. A lot.

BOGAEV: And apparently, Zeffirelli told you all to go find a costume. To just go grab it?

HUSSEY: What they had—it was at 6566 Dean Street, and all the girls were upstairs in the girls’ dressing room. The boys were in the—and they had one tunic for the boys, and the girls would have this one white dress with a gold thing, underneath the breast thing. And I always remember, because most girls are quite flat at 15, but I was actually very well-endowed at 15. So the thing was always crooked, so I was always like, adjusting it [LAUGHS]. And it was, you know, and it was one of the plights of my life was my breasts.

BOGAEV: Sounds like a mess. Tell me, then, if this is right, because as I understand it from your memoir, Zeffirelli came into the dressing room.

HUSSEY: Yes.

BOGAEV: And came right over to you and pulled his comb out of his jacket.

HUSSEY: Yes. He did.

BOGAEV: And rearranged your hair?

HUSSEY: Well, because I always wore my hair on the side because I wanted to look sort of, Brigette Bardot or you know…

BOGAEV: Oh, of course, she was the epitome of sexiness.

HUSSEY: Of course I didn’t. I always thought I looked so mature, and I looked like a little girl, you know? So, it was on the side, he came over and all the girls were looking, because the jealousies would go on, you know, when everyone’s auditioning.

He just he said, “Just stand still.” And he combed my hair all forward and then, and I said, “What are you doing?” And he said, “Watch. Trust me. You have this perfectly aligned face and I have to see it with a middle parting.” I said, “I’m going to look ridiculous with a middle parting.” And he said—

BOGAEV: You said this to the director?

HUSSEY: Oh, yes. I didn’t care. Because he was touching my hair! You know, and so he did that and he parted it. And he said, “Perfect. This is how you audition for Juliet.” Then we started and one girl went down and did—you know, it was the balcony scene they started with.

BOGAEV: Right. And he paired you that first day—

HUSSEY: With Leonard Whiting.

BOGAEV: With Leonard Whiting, who, of course—

HUSSEY: Yes. Because Franco was very visual thinker. He’s a genius man.

BOGAEV: So, right away he saw the two of you, and he thought, that’s...

HUSSEY: Yes. He paired different people with different people. But he said, “Leonard, Olivia. The two of you. Yes. I like that. Yes.” And so, we only auditioned with each other.

[CLIP: Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, 1968. Olivia Hussey is Juliet. Leonard Whiting is Romeo.]

JULIET
Romeo, doff thy name,
And, for thy name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.

ROMEO
I take thee at thy word.
Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized.
Henceforth I never will be Romeo.

BOGAEV: So, you were told to perform this balcony scene and you write about it in the book.

HUSSEY: And I had a very hard time on it.

BOGAEV: Yes. You said you didn’t like that scene at all. What was hard about it?

HUSSEY: That’s because... what was hard is that it’s a very, very long scene with a lot of ups and downs. One minute they’re kissing passionately, and the next minute, you know, she’s running...

BOGAEV: Right. She has huge mood swings.

HUSSEY: Huge mood swings. Everything else, and it was just ridiculous as an audition. That took about almost a week to shoot when we actually shot it.

BOGAEV: How well did you know the lines?

HUSSEY: Oh, I knew the lines. I had learned my lines, yes. Because when you’re 15, you learn your lines like that, you know.

[CLIP: Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, 1968]

ROMEO
Lady, by yonder blessèd moon I swear—

JULIET
O, swear not by the moon, th’ inconstant moon,
That monthly changes in circled orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.

ROMEO
What shall I swear by?

JULIET
Do not swear at all.
Or, if thou wilt, swear by thy gracious self,
Which is the god of my idolatry,
And I’ll believe thee.

BOGAEV: So, you and Leonard are auditioning and you get halfway through, “Thou knowest the mask of night is on my face.” And at that point you notice out of the corner of your eye that Zeffirelli is fidgeting with something. You see him fidgeting—

HUSSEY: Yes, but I didn’t just see him... We did a lot of... I’d look over at Franco—and I’m, “Oh, Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou…?”—and I’d be looking at him and he was just going—.

BOGAEV: With his hands. He was fiddling.

HUSSEY: That’s right. He was just fiddling with his hands. You know, and he’s sitting there kneeling, because he never could stand still. He was always “A-hem,” with his cough, and everything. You know, he’s there, and as I’m trying to get through one of the chunks of dialogue. He starts like going [flick] and flicking the papers at me. And I’m...

BOGAEV: He’s flicking little balls of paper at your, what? At your face?

HUSSEY: And yes, that’s right. He was... yes, he was flicking little balls. Yes! At me. You know, it wouldn’t hurt, it was just, you know.

BOGAEV: Well, what did you do?

HUSSEY: I turned around and I said, “Will you stop it. You know, I’m trying to act here. This is terrible!” Just like that. And then I thought, “Oh God, what did I do?”

And Franco looked at me and he burst out laughing and he just said, “This is what I want. The passion. No more ethereal stuff. Just be yourself.” And I said, “Okay.” And after that it was like—because what he loved, what he wanted was Romeo to be gentle and romantic and a lover and he wanted Juliet to be a spitfire, full of energy.

BOGAEV: So, did you think at that moment, “I’ve got this.”

HUSSEY: No.

BOGAEV: No. Because you had another audition and it sounds like it was to a packed house. Like, a zoo that studio executives were there. By this time, Paramount had taken over this—

HUSSEY: During the audition, it had, yes.

BOGAEV: This film had started out as a BBC special. And for this audition, you were getting to do a scene that you loved. The potion scene.

HUSSEY: The potion scene. I loved it because I got to do it by myself. You see, there was nobody bothering me. I didn’t have to wait for another actor to stumble, I could just let it fly, and all of my emotions could come out.

[CLIP: Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, 1968]

JULIET
O, shut the door, and when thou hast done so,
Come weep with me, past hope, past care, past help.

HUSSEY: And I was at Wyndham’s theatre and I had... it took me about an hour to learn the whole potion scene because it was so good. I loved it. And I asked all the girls, the young girls, the school girls in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. I said... they all knew I was auditioning for Zeffirelli and I kept getting called back. And I said, “He’s asked me to do the potion scene.” So, and they were all very judgmental. They’d all done it. They all knew what they were doing. They were—

BOGAEV: Oh, I’m sure. They would be so critical.

HUSSEY: And we were up in the gods, in the dressing rooms way above. The stars go below. And you work your way... you know, so we were in the gods right at the top. And I said, “Will you all sit down? Can I do it for you? What I’m planning to do for him?” And they said, “Yes, that’d be good.” So, they all sat on all the dressing room things in front. And so I started and I started doing it. And by the end I was in such a state and I was so worked up. And I put my head back and I fell to the floor. And there was complete silence.

[CLIP: Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, 1968]

JULIET
Tell me not, friar, that thou hearest of this,
Unless thou tell me how I may prevent it.
If in thy wisdom thou canst give no help…

HUSSEY: A couple of the younger girls were crying. And the older ones were just…. You know, they just went—and I thought, “Yes!” You know, that’s when you know you’ve got something. I said, “That’s just how I’m going to do it.” You know, because I get goosebumps thinking of it. It was the most thrilling moment when my peers were looking and they didn’t know what to say. So, I couldn’t wait to get to Franco. So, I waited. And then I went back to Dean Street and he said, “So, darling. This potion scene.” I said, “Just tell me where you want me to stand. I can’t wait to do this.”

BOGAEV: So, he tried to direct you. And give you notes?

HUSSEY: Oh, yes. He always tried to direct. I was stronger—

BOGAEV: And you said, “No!”

HUSSEY: I just said, “Please, Franco. I’ve been working on it.” I just, you know... and he said, “Oh, well, she’s been working on it!” You know, and then I noticed there were like, three men in suits and there was a bed and that was it, really, and one camera. And so, he said, “Well, you just can only stand here. If you want to fall or anything you have to fall behind this bed thing.” So, I said, “Okay.” So, I started doing it. And once I got crying, I couldn’t stop. I was like a mess. And I just put my head back and I fell behind the bed. I fell, but I’m sure I fell dramatically and then I went down on the bed.

BOGAEV: Elegantly [LAUGHS].

HUSSEY: And again there was complete silence. Nobody said a word. And then I heard “Ahem-hem,” which was Franco’s nervous thing. And Franco came over and he picked me up off the floor. And I was still trying to control myself. Because once you get going... and I’m [gasping, weeping] you know? And he just whispered in my ear, he said, “You’re going to love Rome.” And that’s when I knew that I was going to be Juliet.

[CLIP: Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, 1968]

JULIET
Love give me strength.

BOGAEV: So, when this whole production was finally unveiled, and you were unveiled. You and Leonard as the stars of Zeffirelli’s new Romeo and Juliet. Of course, it was huge, just huge news. Did you, though, have any idea of how big or how global a news story this would be?

HUSSEY: No.

BOGAEV: So you were gobsmacked?

HUSSEY: Well, yes. And I was 15. I turned 16 during the shooting.

BOGAEV: Well, I was thinking about that because I watched a newsreel-kind-of piece about the making of the movie.

[CLIP: a newsreel. An announcer narrates.]

            ANNOUNCER: Olivia Hussey, just 16 years old. Leonard Whiting, just 17.

BOGAEV: You’re at a pool party. You and Leonard.

HUSSEY: Yes. With a towel on.

BOGAEV: Right. He’s running around practically naked, in this tiny little… whatever.

HUSSEY: Well, he was an exhibitionist back then. All the boys were just like... but me, I was a 38 chest, you know.

BOGAEV: And all of these eyes on you. And you are wrapped up in a huge beach towel.

[CLIP continues, scored by smooth, Sixties-style easy listening music]

ANNOUNCER: They are burning up with vitality, exuberant and playful. Always on the move. . . and yet. . . finding time for more…

HUSSEY: Franco didn’t help me. Because once we got on the set, all through the set, he’d get the big megaphone. He’d say, “Where is she? Where’s Boobs O’Mina?” I was devastated. I said, “Franco!” And he said, “What is it, Boobs O’Mina?

BOGAEV: Boobs O’Mina? Boobs O’Mina was your nickname?

[CLIP continues]

ANNOUNCER: Franco Zeffirelli, one of today’s most daring and controversial directors, cast the roles as Shakespeare had intended: teenagers, who have both emotional ecstasy of youth and the spirit of rebellion.

HUSSEY: By the time we did the bedroom scene, I didn’t even care. Because he had made such a big deal of it and brought it up so much that it just didn’t mean anything anymore.

[CLIP: Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, 1968]

JULIET
It is not yet near day.
It was the nightingale, and not the lark,
That pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear.
Nightly she sings on yond pomegranate tree.
Believe me, love, it was the nightingale.

BOGAEV: At what point did you find out that you and Leonard were going to film that scene in the nude?

HUSSEY: Well, nobody ever talked about it until the day. And that sometimes I’d say, “You know, I’ve got to have like flesh colored underwear to wear underneath this long gown. And that was my way of [ahem-ahem], I have to have...” Then the morning of, Mauro the makeup artist, Mauro Gavazzi, you know, knocked on my door and “Juliet!”

“Yes?” And he said, “Franco sent me, I’ve got to make you up from head to toe.”

I said, “Okay,” I said, “But, you know, I have flesh-colored underwear on.” And he said, “Mmmmm.” So, he just, like, continued on doing it all.

BOGAEV: Everybody smoothed it over.

HUSSEY: Nobody said a word. Then once I got there Franco said, “You know darling, this is the one and only night they spend together. They’re young, this is their passion. What would it look like if she takes her robe off and she has her underwear on?”

[CLIP: Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, 1968]

ROMEO
No nightingale.
Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain-tops.
I must be gone and live, or stay and die.

HUSSEY: By the time he’d finished telling me about the love thing, I’d go “Oh.” And I’d just take everything off and I just got into the bed, because it made sense to me.

BOGAEV: And you trusted him.

HUSSEY: Oh, completely. Yeah.

BOGAEV: And it was a closed set.

HUSSEY: Yes.

BOGAEV: But that means you do have the camera men and you have the various people.

HUSSEY: Well, you have a few people there, but by that point in the filming—

BOGAEV: And somebody, some old goat snuck on, right?

HUSSEY: Well, by that point in the filming, we knew the camera crew so well, and they were so professional, that when they weren’t needed to light something or to hold something, they would just stand, but they turned their backs, which was really nice. But the sound man had, like, some strange kind of crush on me. It was strange because he had white hair, and he was an older man. So when we did the bedroom scene, I said, “Franco, I am not comfortable with him being there.” So, they set up the microphone on the—they built up a thing over the bed for the close-ups and they set up a microphone and they said to him, “We don’t need you. It’s a closed set.” But he was trying to sneak on. They caught him sneaking on. And he was banished from the set for that day.

[CLIP: Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, 1968]

ROMEO
I have more care to stay than will to go.
Come death and welcome. Juliet wills it so.
How is ’t, my soul? Let’s talk. It is not day.

JULIET
It is, it is. Hie hence, begone, away!
It is the lark that sings so out of tune,
Straining harsh discords and unpleasing sharps.

BOGAEV: Let’s move on to that famous balcony scene.

[CLIP: Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, 1968]

JULIET
How camest thou hither, tell me, and wherefore?
The orchard walls are high and hard to climb…

BOGAEV: What I didn’t realize until I read your book was that Zeffirelli built that plaster balcony.

HUSSEY: Yes.

BOGAEV: He had found the perfect place in Tuscany.

HUSSEY: A wall. It was a wall.

[CLIP: Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, 1968]

JULIET
O gentle Romeo,
If thou dost love, pronounce it faithfully.
Or, if thou thinkest I am too quickly won,
I’ll frown and be perverse and say thee nay,
So thou wilt woo…

BOGAEV: Well, it sounds a little bit of a mess. I mean, Leonard is climbing up and down that tree over and over again.

HUSSEY: They had to repair it many times… they painted it.

[CLIP: Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, 1968]

ROMEO
If my heart’s dear love—O, Juliet! [They kiss.]

BOGAEV: It looks so beautiful in the film. You’re nose-to-nose as he leaps up there. But apparently that’s not the way it went. You were all beat up? Bloody noses?

HUSSEY: What happened was, we’d have to kiss passionately. And, of course, we did. But after doing it like 10 times, I got a nose bleed. You know, and I’d bump my teeth into his chin and...

[CLIP: Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, 1968]

JULIET
And yet I wish but for the thing I have.
My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep. The more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.

BOGAEV: So how did you handle the famous lines, then?

HUSSEY: I just did them. I just did what was in... Franco would say, “Do what’s in your heart. If it doesn’t sound right, I’ll tell you.”

BOGAEV: So, the dialogue came to you, then, in the balcony scene? Which is so interesting, because another thing I learned prepping for this, was that apparently, Zeffirelli was using these new cameras that...

HUSSEY: Arriflex.

BOGAEV: Yeah, that looked great but they made a slight clicking sound. Right?

HUSSEY: [Demonstrates the noise: tck-tck-tck-tck-tck-tck] Yeah, yeah.

BOGAEV: So an unusual amount of the dialogue that we hear in that balcony scene—

HUSSEY: It’s all dubbed.

BOGAEV: —Had to be dubbed. Had to be looping.

HUSSEY: Except for three or four lines.

BOGAEV: Which is after you wrapped.

HUSSEY: Because we did months of shooting and then we had to do about six months of looping.

BOGAEV: Six months of looping. And when you’re looping, you’re just looping by yourself in a room, right?

HUSSEY: You’re standing in this big studio—

BOGAEV: You’re not standing across—you’re not saying your lines with your partner.

HUSSEY: No. No. You say your lines to yourself on the screen.

[CLIP: Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, 1968]

JULIET
Sweet, good night.
This bud of love, by summer’s ripening breath,
May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet.

BOGAEV: It’s just remarkable. So much emotion.

HUSSEY: It’s just a lot. Then sometimes Franco would say, “You know how you said the line here? Well, I want you to say it a different way. I want you to put more inflection on this part.”

[CLIP: Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, 1968]

JULIET
I should have been more strange, I must confess,
But that thou overheard’st ere I was ware
My true-love’s passion!

BOGAEV: So, apparently, you got fed up one day. Right? On set, and got frustrated and stormed out of there?

HUSSEY: No, first I—because he was always like picking on me—one day, I just turned around and I just said, “I hate you.” And I walked out and stormed out. I actually went next door, where Fellini was dubbing Satyricon. I didn’t know it was Fellini, but he was sitting in there, this big teddy bear of a man, and I was in tears, you know. And he said, he said, “What’s wrong Giulietta? Vieni qui.” You know, and I was sitting on his lap and I said, “He’s such a bully. I just hate him.”

BOGAEV: And you didn’t know who this... you didn’t know you were talking to Federico Fellini?

HUSSEY: No. I sat with him and he was doing drawings of me, because he’s famous for doing these little drawings and things. I was sitting, I had my arm around him. I was watching you know, Hiram Keller and Martin Potter playing the leads in Satyricon. I was saying, “That looks like fun. You know, I mean, and you seem so nice...”

BOGAEV: “I wish I was in your movie.”

HUSSEY: I turned around and Franco’s popped his head in. He said, “I’ve been looking for you everywhere.” He said, “What are you doing?”

And I said, “I’m talking to this lovely man who is not abusive. Who is kind and nice.”

And Franco said, “You know who this is, Olivia?” I said, “Yes, he’s lovely.” And he said, “This is the great Federico Fellini.”

I said, “No!” And he said, “Mm-hmm.” I said, “Well, you’re lovely. You’re much nicer than Franco.”

I went to dinner with Fellini and his wife Giulietta Masina, who was an amazing actress, and it was just the three of us in their little apartment.

BOGAEV: Wow. Yeah. I do want to get back though, to what you just said, that Fellini was nicer than Franco. Because Franco Zeffirelli, he had this infamous temper.

HUSSEY: Yeah, yes. He does.

BOGAEV: He did. He does.

HUSSEY: I love that though. He was just so colorful and so Italian. And then he was charming. Everyone treated everybody equally.

BOGAEV: Well, you saw, I think his temper the first time at a costume fitting.

HUSSEY: Yes.

BOGAEV: Is that right?

HUSSEY: Yes.

BOGAEV: You were getting fitted for one of...

HUSSEY: I’d already seen bits of it, but that was unbelievable because he had Danilo Donati, who was the most amazing designer. He was just a wonderful, wonderful man. Very funny. He looked like a penguin. He was just so sweet. He loved cakes and he’d bring big trays of cakes everywhere. He’d say, “Franco, I’ve got the dolci!” … And I was always on a diet, you know.

BOGAEV: Of course.

HUSSEY: He designed this dress, and the dress… Franco wanted what [Franco] wanted. This dress had puffy kinds of sleeves, and it was very in-the-period. I came out of the dressing room and I felt so beautiful. I was just so ethereal. And Franco started… [she grumbles in Italian]. He was yelling and carrying on. And then Danilo started screaming at him, and he screamed back… and they were really good friends.

BOGAEV: And they were pulling at your...

HUSSEY: No, then Franco came up and he said, “Look at this! Guarda questo!”  And he grabbed the sleeve of the thing and he ripped it off and Danilo went “Oh! Oh!”

Franco said, “It’s terrible. It needs to be petite. She’s petite. She doesn’t need to look like a bon-bon.” You know, all of these kind of... and by the time he’d finished he was grabbing at my bodice, going, you know, trying to rip that off and I’m like, “Ugghhhh!”

And he went off yelling and then Danilo went running, scurrying off to him and I went into my dressing room and I went, “I want to go home. I hate this. How could... this is abusive!” I was just like...

BOGAEV: That’s hilarious. It’s like an opera.

HUSSEY: Exactly.

BOGAEV: It’s like a comic opera.

HUSSEY: But he did everything with so much color that you’d see Sir Laurence Olivier saying, “Yes, Franco.” You know, everybody just loved him because he’s so, I don’t know, alive.

BOGAEV: Well, when the film finally came out, I mean, it sounds like you were on this whirlwind publicity tour that went on for...

HUSSEY: It was Paramount.

BOGAEV: I mean, eventually really for years.

HUSSEY: It did. It did.

BOGAEV: They put you up in the Plaza, once you got to New York.

HUSSEY: Yes. Yes.

BOGAEV: You and Leonard. But, you were broke at the same time.

HUSSEY: Oh, yes. People think, “Oh my God, you were in this classic film that will go on for all time.” Leonard and I, Paramount payed us £1500 each. That’s $3,000, back then.

BOGAEV: That’s what you got. In its entirety.

HUSSEY: That’s what we got. And when the film was grossing so much money and it was a phenomenon, they didn’t give us a boost, they didn’t give us a—nothing. And they’ve had us touring all over America and I didn’t have money for clothes.

They wanted us to do, I don’t know which show it was. It was the Jack Parr show. I just looked at them and I said, “I can’t do the show.” I wasn’t being a diva or anything.

They said, “Why not?” The Paramount people would always, “What do you mean?”

I said, “I have no clean clothes. So I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to put my dirty clothes back on.” Within an hour, somebody had gone to Saks Fifth Avenue and they brought back all these arrays of things. It was not very nice for me.

BOGAEV: It was that studio system, where they pretty much owned you.

HUSSEY: Well, they could have given each of us, I don’t know, $20,000 because the film was grossing so much money, and said, “Go shopping and get ready for the touring.” But nobody did. Nobody cared.

BOGAEV: So, I think it’s interesting that Zeffirelli took this great risk of casting two young people, having two teenagers in the role. You say in your memoir, that it wasn’t your acting that made the film. It was because you were both so young. What do you think it was about Zeffirelli’s directing, and the film as a whole, that made it work and has made it last?

HUSSEY: It made the Queen of England cry. It made you feel. You feel like we feel. You felt the film.

BOGAEV: When you look at the film, is there a specific scene in which you see yourself being so natural, that 15-year-old? Because I watched it this morning, actually—

HUSSEY: Oh, did you?

BOGAEV: Yes. And I was thinking

[CLIP: Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, 1968]

JULIET
O God, she comes!—O, honey nurse, what news?
O Lord, why lookest thou sad?

BOGAEV: You’re with your nurse and the nurse has gone to find out about...

HUSSEY: About Romeo.

BOGAEV: About Romeo. She comes back. Juliet's with the nurse.

[CLIP continues]

JULIET
Hast thou met with him?

NURSE
I am aweary. Give me leave awhile.
Fie, how my bones ache!

BOGAEV: And you are just so impatient and it’s the kind of—

HUSSEY: And we shot that in 20 minutes. I mean, really.

BOGAEV: It’s exactly the kind of fit my daughter would have had at 15.

HUSSEY: Exactly. Well, I was being myself.

[CLIP continues]

JULIET
Sweet nurse, TELL ME, what says my love?!

NURSE
Your love says, like an honest gentleman, and a courteous, and a kind, and a handsome, and, I warrant, a virtuous—Where is your mother?

JULIET
Where is my mother? Why, she is within.
Where should she be? How oddly thou repliest:
“Your love says, like an honest gentleman,
Where is your mother?”

NURSE
O God’s lady dear,
Are you so hot? Marry, come up, I trow.
Is this the poultice for my aching bones?
Henceforward do your messages yourself.

JULIET
Here’s such a coil!

BOGAEV: I know you have to go, so I have wondered about this. How do you think your life would have turned out differently if when you were 15, Franco Zeffirelli had cast you in a different movie about young lovers?

HUSSEY: A different movie?

BOGAEV: A different movie, not Shakespeare.

HUSSEY: You know, he wanted to make...

BOGAEV: Not Shakespeare. Not Romeo and Juliet.

HUSSEY: But he wanted to make Camille with me.

BOGAEV: But is something you’d ever thought about? If it hadn’t been Shakespeare.

HUSSEY: It could have been The Lady of the Camellias.

BOGAEV: But it would not have been a global—

HUSSEY: You never know.

BOGAEV: That’s true.

HUSSEY: It depends who they cast as Armand. I mean you never know, do you?

BOGAEV: You ask yourself in your book, that after a lifetime of all of these experiences—and you certainly have had them—you ask yourself what was left of Juliet. How do you answer that?

HUSSEY: Well, a part of me was left there. Because that was me. I mean, it’s really funny, because we worked on that for nine, ten months, you know. Everybody in Italy, it became a way of life. Nobody called us Leonard and Olivia. Everyone called us Romeo and Juliet. To this day, I still get called Juliet. It doesn’t matter what other work I’ve done.

So many people over the years, even two days ago, you know, they said, “I went into the class,” you know, English class. “I just, you know, didn’t want to do Shakespeare. I wasn’t... and then my teacher put on, you know, the first segment of your film. And we were all ‘Ahhhh. They’re our age, and they related…’” So many people have said, “I studied Shakespeare because of you.” And, “I became a teacher because I saw the two of you, and it gave me this love of the English language.”

You know, I mean, when Franco was here a few years ago, Placido Domingo was here singing. And when he saw me, he came to the table and he called his wife over and he said, “Come here, come here, it’s the Madonna!” You know?

It was like we became Romeo and Juliet for that short time. We got wrapped up in this romantic way of life that was, you know. Most jobs after that, I always thought it was going to be hard, but most of them were so easy compared to that, you know? Because it was so demanding. And Franco wanted perfection. But once you get spoiled and you start with something like that, everything else is work.

BOGAEV: Well, that is the thing. I mean, I talk to a lot of actors. And it is this blessing and a curse. You have this huge success when you’re young and you become branded and known for that one role. And you became known for a role: the most famous version of the most famous English playwright. Of course, there’s no way of knowing who you would have been if you hadn’t had that kind of astral plane celebrity. But is it something you think about?

HUSSEY: No.

BOGAEV: No.

HUSSEY: My life—I mean, we all look back and there’s a lot about our lives we might have changed, but I think all of the knocks and all of the experiences made me who I am. I like me. I’m a nice person. That’s all that really matters I think, you know. I’ve been known always to be kind and you know, and good to work with and professional. And I’ve had a hell of a life, really. When I look back I think, “Wow, I did that,” or, “My God.” I wouldn’t have changed anything, really.

BOGAEV: And with that, it has been such a pleasure. I’m so glad that you could come talk on our podcast.

HUSSEY: Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure.

---------------------

WITMORE: Olivia Hussey starred along with Leonard Whiting in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film version of Romeo and Juliet. She was interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

“Speak Again, Bright Angel” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the Associate Producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer. We had technical help from Andrew Feliciano and Paul Luke at VoiceTrax West in Studio City, California.

If you’ve been enjoying Shakespeare Unlimited, I hope you’ll consider reviewing this podcast on whatever platform you get the podcast from. It helps us get the word out to people who haven’t heard it, people who might enjoy it. We’d really appreciate your help. Thank you.

Shakespeare Unlimited comes to you from the Folger Shakespeare Library. Home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the Folger is dedicated to advancing knowledge and the arts. You can find more about the Folger at our website, folger.edu. And, if you find yourself visiting Washington, DC, we hope you’ll visit us on Capitol Hill. See a performance in our Elizabethan Theatre and come face to face with one of our first folios. The first printed edition of Shakespeare’s plays. We hope to see you here. Thanks for listening. For the Folger Shakespeare Library, I’m Folger Director, Michael Witmore.

 

Book Cover: "The Girl on the Balcony: Olivia Hussey Finds Life After Romeo and Juliet"
The Girl on the Balcony: Olivia Hussey Finds Life After 'Romeo and Juliet'

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