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Theater & Dance

Derek Jacobi Plays Mercutio with a Dash of Oscar Wilde in ‘Romeo and Juliet’

Derek Jacobi
Courtesy of Fathom Events

Director Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of the classic tragedy will be broadcast live from London this week during a one-night-only screening. 

King Lear. Hamlet. Derek Jacobi is no stranger to the greatest characters of William Shakespeare. He's commanded the stage in 30 different plays from the Bard's canon.

This week, he'll add another play to that list--Romeo and Juliet, directed by Kenneth Branagh.

"I've played many Shakespeare roles--minor ones all the way up to Lear," Jacobi tells Out. "But each role is just as difficult, just as scary as playing Lear."

The 77-year-old actor will play Mercutio in the modern retelling alongside 30-year-old Richard Madden's (Cinderella, Game of Thrones) Romeo.

The age difference stands out, as most directors--most actors--imagine the comically crude Mercutio as Romeo's contemporary rather than an elder.

"I always imagined Mercutio as a young man, as one of the boys," Jacobi says. "And I am far from young. But it seems to have worked and I've really enjoyed it."

Derek Jacobi

A performance of the play at London's Garrick Theatre will be cast live for one night only--Thursday, July 7--in theaters across the world. Jacobi is excited to share his Mercutio with the world and tells the story of how his take on the character began.

"I asked Ken, 'Why? Why me?'" Jacobi admits. "And he told me this story about George Orwell and his friends visiting a bar in Paris. They saw an older man in the corner. They invited him for a drink--he was quite fun, quite witty. When he left, Orwell asked the bartender who the man was. And the bartender said, 'Oscar Wilde.'"

The anecdote stuck with Branagh and inspired him to cast an older Mercutio. And Jacobi sees much of Wilde in his Mercutio.

"Mercutio here is an old man who enjoys the company of younger men--nothing sexual implied, nothing like that," he says. "He's a man with a past, with life experiences. He's getting on with these kids who are just starting out--these callow young men. It adds a layer deeper than the comedy to their relationship."

Tickets are available by clicking here. View the trailer below.

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