‘R#J’ star Francesca Noel discusses what it’s like to be Juliet

The film, R#J, recently premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival

R#J recently debuted at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and it’s definitely a departure from the classic it’s based on. The feature debut from Carey Williams is a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet and in it, Francesca Noel stars as Juliet (aka “Jules”).

In fair Verona, a war as old as time is brewing between rival houses—but it’s being captured in a new way. Montague and Capulet Gen Zers are using their cell phones to document the eruptions of violence plaguing their communities. In the middle of it all, Romeo discovers Juliet’s artwork at a party, and the two inevitably fall in love. As tensions between their families escalate, the two plead for peace and desperately search for a way to escape their star-crossed destiny.

theGrio caught up with the 23-year-old actress to find out how she tackled the role that’s usually reserved for white actors. 

“I was just so taken aback that they wanted people of color; something that we don’t see very often. And and despite the film industry constantly putting out statements of solidarity and like throwing money at things, it’s so rare that they’re hiring practices are changed and that was just so revolutionary to see. And and it made me want it so much more,” Noel said. “I think the industry is trying to change and I think parts of it are, but a lot of it is an old guard situation and there are people who don’t want to change and there are people who just want money,” she continued. 

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“In my experience, it has been hard as a woman of color. And I’m sure women who have the whole range of colors, have a really hard time just getting in the position where we can have one woman of color starring or we can have one man of color starring, but we can’t have both because God forbid, everyone would just explode or something.”

Aside from the racially diverse cast in the update of Shakespeare’s classic, which includes Cameron Engles as Romeo, another unusual choice was to portray the story entirely through social media.

Blending text messages and Shakespearean dialogue, R#J takes us into the subversive love language of the moment, where GIFs, Spotify playlist exchanges, and Instagram profiles kindle romance and unexpected windows of vulnerability.

While older viewers may not be able to get past all the strangeness that comes with that; it’s certainly something Gen Z will relate to.

“I definitely thought it was crazy,” Noel said of the film that’s mostly shot on smartphones. “It’s great because Romeo and Juliet fits actually so well with this current social media, and they were receiving so much outside influence on their relationship and you can see that mirrored in how we do things today.”

As far as how she approached this new age version of Juliet, Noel said her intention was to be as authentic as possible. 

“I really wanted to play Juliet as like an authentic 17-year-old. You know, they’re all so tumultuous and things are really intense and you’re fueled by your hormones and you want to kill yourself after you’ve just met someone. And and it’s a lot,” she said. 

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“I didn’t need much preparation in terms of knowing who she is and knowing that story. It was really just a matter of putting these emotions in the right place and finding something that was real and something that wasn’t so polished,” Noel continued. 

“I think there’s a couple of scenes in there where I’m really weeping and having a full breakdown. And that’s very authentic to what it is. It’s not pretty. That was real snot. That was four hours of crying and my face was red and my throat was just shot. And and I really just wanted it to feel human.”

Check out the full interview above. 

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