You'd better buckle up, because ABC is bringing the sexy back to Shakespeare. In their newest series, Still Star-Crossed, the story of Romeo & Juliet continues in a deliciously dramatic and soapy manner. The Montague and Capulet parents are still at each other's throats over the deaths of their respective children. Intriguingly, the show moves the action and story to a new protagonist: Juliet's cousin, Rosalind, who finds herself caught between these warring families and an arranged marriage she wants no part of.
SheKnows spoke over the phone with two of the up-and-coming stars of Still Star-Crossed, Medalion Rahimi and Sterling Sulieman, to discuss the inventive twists on the classic story, their characters and what makes this show so relevant and watchable to audiences in 2017.
In the show, Rahimi plays Princess Isabella and Sulieman is playing Escalus. While Escalus is a pre-existing character from Romeo & Juliet — a lawmaker and authority figure in the city of Verona — his sister Isabella is an entirely new character to this world. Both Rahimi and Sulieman told SheKnows that the allure of Shakespeare was one of the primary reasons they signed on. "With it being such a famous story, it’s something you sort of dream of, to do Shakespeare as an actor," Rahimi explained. "This is, so far, the closest thing I can get to it. And it’s Shonda Rhimes! It’s just like the best of these two amazing household names."
Sulieman agreed with Rahimi and noted that his reasons were similar to Rahimi's, that the attractive combination of a Shakespearean story foundation combined with the producing power of Rhimes was one of the reasons he signed on. "It’s not very often that I get to do a period piece, let alone something so epic. It’s Romeo & Juliet, it’s Shonda, and for me it’s also horses and swords. But it’s something I’m very excited to jump into."
There's no doubt that Still Star-Crossed is a show steeped in and faithful to the trappings of a period piece. Viewers are transported to 16th-century Verona, where there is no shortage of gorgeous period-specific costuming, lots of sword fighting and horseback riding and eloquently scripted dialogue, all evocative of its Shakespearean predecessor. However, you'd be hasty in thinking Still Star-Crossed isn't relevant or accessible to modern audiences simply because of its period-piece details.
"I mean, there’s a lot of things going on in the show," Rahimi noted, highlighting some ways audiences can access this show in a thematic manner. "There’s people who are struggling with fulfilling expectations that other people have of them and following their heart, which I think is definitely relevant to today. There’s, you know, the [idea of] feeling included, feeling a part of a community — I think that’s really vague — but you’ll have to see, I guess."
Speaking of ways to connect with Still Star-Crossed, when Sulieman and Rahimi began speaking about their characters, it became clear that they (as well as the rest of the Still Star-Crossed cast) would be deeply relatable.
In the case of Escalus, a young man thrust into a position of great power at such a young age, Sulieman sounded as if he was thoroughly prepared and excited to bring him to life. "It’s interesting because in our [show] we kind of have my father being the prince who dies right before I get there," he noted. "So I think one of the beauties of Escalus being younger in this story is that he comes in as this fresh, young prince who’s a little unsure of how to manage the Montagues and the Capulets. And so that creates an interesting divide because he’s easily, maybe, manipulated by them. And he has his sister to help manage them and also he of course is young, so his heart is full of fire," Sulieman said, deepening his voice a little for what might be considered lighthearted emphasis.
The trailers for Still Star-Crossed indicate that this younger Escalus finds himself embroiled in the intimate goings on of the Montagues and Capulets more so than his Shakespearean counterpart; in the new ABC drama, we find that he has a romantic history with Rosalind. How deliciously complicated, indeed.
But the updates and intrigues aren't limited to Escalus and Rosalind. Rahimi's Isabella is a delightfully progressive female character, drawn as both a cunning young politician and a woman with aspirations that break gendered stereotypes. "She’s a strong female character. She’s not so concerned about finding love or anything like that. She really just wants to make sure that the city is safe and that her family stays in power and to end the bloodshed within the city. She’s constantly talking about creating peace within," Rahimi explained.
She also detailed how she and her brother have different approaches to the problems plaguing Verona and hinted at how that might affect their relationship on the show. "[Escalus has] been outside of the city and I’ve never left the palace because a woman in that time is not, I guess, allowed to leave the house [laughs] so I have to be there to help him, but it’s hard for me to see that he gets to just rule and do almost everything that he wants and I have to just sit pretty — kind of."
Rahimi and Sulieman ended our interview with some great teases about what to expect on the first season of Still Star-Crossed. For those that still remain unconvinced that this delightful, suspenseful and yes, seriously sexy-in-a-soapy-way Shakespearean update isn't for you, listen up.
"We do take the show out of Verona sometimes, so there’s a bunch of treats that are coming," Sulieman teased with Rahimi adding that "for Isabella [...] she loves her brother and she loves her city, but she also does get a taste for power. I think that she gets herself into some situations that later on in the show (which you have to stay tuned for) that are, uh, a little bit sticky."
Swords, horses, Shakespearean-influenced dialogue, forbidden romance, political plotting and plenty of period-specific details to keep you enthralled: What more could you ask for in a TV show?
Still Star-Crossed airs on ABC every Monday starting May 29 at 10/9c.
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