In Shakespeare’s well-known tragedy Romeo and Juliet, a story that’s been re-written, adapted incessantly by Hollywood and Baz Luhrmann, and dissected by bored school students in schools across the country for decades, there’s one voice that’s missing: Rosaline. If you're unfamiliar with the character, you're probably not alone. She’s Romeo’s initial love interest and a figure only briefly mentioned in the first few acts of the iconic play then swiftly forgotten, overshadowed by star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet and their heart-wrenching love story.
That is until now. Enter: Rosaline. Based off the 2012 novel When You Were Mine by Rebecca Serle, the Disney+ movie follows the side character, who's also Juliet’s cousin, as she becomes the protagonist in her own story. For actress Kaitlyn Dever, who stars in and executive produced the film, it was exactly this ability to start from scratch with the character of Rosaline that made the project so appealing. “It’s a role I haven't really done, a period piece [that] didn't feel like a full period piece,” she tells Refinery29. “And I just knew that because we don't know much about Rosaline … you can kind of go anywhere with it.”
And go anywhere they did, updating the well-known story with modern themes (like ghosting and fuckboys), a female lead with 2022 values (Rosaline is a proud feminist who'd rather "eat rotten goat innards" than give a suitor a chance), and an equally contemporary soundtrack to match. As you can expect, it gets messy. But it also gets pretty hilarious, with Dever’s character calling out some of the more problematic and also straight-up ridiculous plot points in the Bard’s famous play. Yes, as Rosaline points out to Juliet, faking your death without discussing the logistics with your boyfriend is probably the worst idea ever.
Dever first read the script when she was 15 years old, and while the alternative take on the classic story of Romeo and Juliet looked slightly different than the movie released this month (small tweaks to reflect the changing times, she says), the now 25-year-old remembers the feeling she had reading it for the first time. Like her character Rosaline’s affection for Romeo, she was hooked. “I fell in love with this story and what the writers did with the comedy,” she says. “It was so, so good when I first read it that I was just excited to see it as an audience member whenever it [came] out.”
It's hard not to feel like Dever's attraction to the project was in some way influenced by her own career path, which has been similarly limitless. Because a decade later, following that gut feeling is what’s guided much of Dever’s varied and award-worthy career up until this point. Chances are you already know the actress well, as Shailene Woodley’s protective BFF in 2013’s The Spectacular Now; courageous sexual assault survivor Marie Adler in Netflix’s harrowing Unbelievable; and the quiet, do-gooder Amy in Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart. And if you don’t already know Dever and her acting chops, you definitely will after her latest releases.
While her initial tactic for choosing projects was more go-with-the-flow, taking jobs that came in an organic way (something she’s grateful for and considers herself lucky to have), as Dever's gotten further into her career her mentality has changed slightly. “As of recently, I've been making more conscious choices with the projects that I'm a part of,” Dever explains, “but I still like to approach my life, but also my career, in a way that's just like, everything happens for a reason and it’s a part of the journey.”
It’s this mentality that’s allowed her to, in an industry that often confines women into one niche or label, explore and not be defined by one particular genre. Because despite the fact that Dever has become well known for more serious roles, taking on a rom-com like Rosaline isn’t really that much of a departure for the actress.
Amidst the thematically heavier miniseries and TV shows, Dever’s career has also been punctuated by flashes of comedic brilliance, specifically with her starring role as Amy in Booksmart; the female-answer to Superbad. And this month, she’s also starring in the blockbuster rom-com Ticket to Paradise alongside genre heavyweights George Clooney and Julia Roberts. “I've never really been able to stay in one lane,” Dever says. “I've always loved doing comedy and then jumping from a comedy to a serious drama.” In part, because they can both offer her the thing she most looks for in roles: to be challenged. “It's easy to think about comedy in this like, oh, it's lighter, it's easier than drama,” she says. But that isn’t true, and is an unfair characterisation, she says. “You find challenges with everything. And I realised it's just about using a different part of your brain.”
This month, it’s comedy, but that definitely doesn’t mean it’ll be the same next. “I'd like to just remain open with everything in my life and my career.” Which means that Dever can’t really succinctly define or outline exactly her next step. Because, aside from some plans like directing and a sci-fi movie in the works (a genre first for the actress), she’s not exactly sure what it’ll be. Like the character of Rosaline, she can kind of go anywhere with it — and that’s half the fun.