Booth, who's known to British audiences for playing Boy George in Worried About the Boy and Pip in Great Expectations, is now starring as Romeo alongside Hailee Steinfeld in the new Romeo and Juliet, which hits theaters this Friday (watch this space for our review, coming at you tomorrow). But, this is just the beginning for Booth. He has a long list of upcoming roles in some very-much-anticipated films, including Noah (with Russell Crowe and Anthony Hopkins) and Jupiter Ascending (with Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum).
We sat Booth down for a little getting-to-know-you session, where we discussed everything from his English education to working with Steinfeld to fun on-set prank stories — and we were definitely charmed. Especially when we learned that he's so much more than just a pretty (okay, extremely pretty) face. But, don't take our word for it — see for yourself below.
How was it working with Hailee? Did you know each other before?
"We didn’t know each other before this, but we got to know each other. I mean, the first time I met her was at the Met Ball and then I was testing with her a week later, so it was kind of cool to meet her at a ball first. We just became good friends, we had sort of three or four weeks in Italy to get to know each other before and that was really incredible."
So, you guys knew each other well before you had to shoot some of the more intimate scenes?
"The balcony scene was the first scene we filmed, so that was pretty tough."
Tell us about the casting process.
"They met about 300 guys in London and L.A., so I wasn’t really aware of what the casting process was. I went in, and then I totally forgot about it, I didn’t think I was going to hear anything again. Then I got a callback. There are some things that go on behind the scenes that you are never really aware of, but then you hear they’re going to test you and you’re like 'oh great.' You have no idea what happened to get you to that point."
Were you friends with anyone in the cast before you started filming?
"Julian Fellowes cast me in my first-ever film, but it was a coincidence that we were working together again."
Any funny on-set prank stories?
"We just all had so much fun, and all got along really well. We were a tight unit and hung out all the time, so I remember we were all out one night, and Ed Westwick had left a little bit earlier. I got back to the hotel, and walked into this square with all these pillars. I got out of my taxi, it was 2 a.m., and suddenly out jumps Ed from behind a pillar, and he’s pretending he has a sword in his hand. I said 'Ed, what are you doing? I have to go to bed.' And, he's like, 'We have to rehearse the fight. We have to rehearse now, it’s essential we rehearse now.' So, he made me do this fake rehearsal in the middle of the night, and that extra practice made it one of the best fights in the film."
How much training went into the sword-fighting process?
"I mean, a fair bit, because when you’re going for it, you’re really going for it with the swords, and if you get hit, it would hurt. It’s definitely not sharp because if it were sharp it would knock off your hand, but I’m just saying it would hurt a lot or would potentially cut you or break a bone. They’re actually pretty heavy things."
How did you get into character?
"To get into character for me, I approached it by thinking me and Hailee are two of the actors closest in age to ever do this, so the thing that’s going to make this work is for us to sort of turn it up and create something very real and kinetic in the moment. For me, it was about preparing with the text, because you have to get your head over the text and around the text, and once you got that, to sort of throw away the baggage of Romeo and Juliet and think we are two real people, this is how we speak, this is how it's going to work."
Have you seen past adaptions?
"I’d seen past adaptions and really enjoyed them. But, once I got the part, I didn’t look back because I didn’t want it to influence what I did. I didn’t want to do an imitation of what someone did before. I wanted it to be my own."
Were you a fan of Romeo and Juliet and Shakespeare before?
"I enjoyed Shakespeare before, it’s a huge part of our culture in England, but not until I actually did this properly and invested in this did I fall in love with Shakespeare, and not just this play. Now I’ve been watching loads of productions recently of Shakespeare."
This adaptation is both timely and modern. We feel like people of this generation can also understand it.
"I hope so. I think it’s brave to set it in the actual place Shakespeare wanted it to be set. I really liked that. People these days are like, 'Oh we want to bring it to a younger audience, let's set it in Harlem!' Well, let's go set it where it was meant to be set and just bring it to a younger audience. Just bring it to them, make it slightly more accessible, with young actors and modern film making and see what we can do."
How was filming in Italy?
"Amazing! We were in Verona, Mantua, and Rome. I mean, who doesn’t want to be in Italy for three months? It’s a stunning place, has the most amazing people, and the most amazing food."
You're fairly well-known to British audiences. Is it different doing a Hollywood film?
"I don’t really know, every job feels the same. This one felt really intimate compared to other jobs. After this, I did Noah at Paramount and then Jupiter Ascending at WB. Those are multi-hundred-million-dollar budget films. Those felt like huge movies. But, with this one, we had a really tight core of actors."
How was it to work with Emma Watson again in Noah?
"Brilliant, she’s fantastic. She's such a lovely girl, and I’ve known her for a while now."
Are you still modeling?
"People always ask me that. I never started. I did two Burberry campaigns, and that's taken two days out of my 21-year-old life. I was preparing to be an actor since I was young, dreamt of it, and I’ve been working years and years toiling away trying to create interesting things on screen. I never was [a model], but I’m still friends with Christopher Bailey at Burberry."
So, you’ve always wanted to be an actor?
"Yeah. I'm dyslexic, so I struggled with school and academic work, and I knew it was what I wanted to do. There’s never been a plan B. I got my agent when I was 15, my first job when I was 16, and then just kept working from then up until now. I got lucky."
Going back to Romeo and Juliet, what is your favorite scene in the movie?
"Lots of them, but my favorite is probably the scene between me and Paul Giamatti after the fight with Tybalt."
How was it working with him?
"Amazing, he’s a legend and one of my favorite actors. It was a dream come true, a pinch-yourself moment for sure."
Did you ever feel intimidated working with this cast and going into a role with such hype?
"It’s intimidating but you have to forget about it or it’s going to have a negative effect. You just have to concentrate on being present and creating, trying to create a real character and focus on innocent interest in the love story."
Do you believe in love at first sight?
"I mean, love at first sight is definitely possible. For me, I’ve met some of the most beautiful women in the world, and they’re not the most attractive people I’ve met. Beauty comes from within."
Do you have a girlfriend?
"Yeah, I have a girlfriend."