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Circa 1967

Franco Zeffirelli asks Paul McCartney to play in “Romeo and Juliet”

Last updated on May 6, 2024

In March 1968, the movie “Romeo and Juliet” hit the theaters. It was directed and co-written by Italian filmmaker Franco Zeffirelli and based on the play of the same name by William Shakespeare. The film starred Leonard Whiting as Romeo and Olivia Hussey as Juliet.

In the book “Conversations with McCartney” by Paul du Noyer, Paul McCartney revealed he was considered for the role of Romeo by Franco Zeffirelli. Although Zeffirelli did not mention it in his autobiography, Paul provided details about his encounter with Olivia Hussey, including exchanging telegrams with her. Olivia Hussey also mentioned her meeting with Paul in her autobiography.

In April 2020, during an interview on “The Howard Stern Show,” Paul also mentioned his discussions with Zeffirelli.

[In 1967] Franco Zeffirelli came over to London and offered me the lead in Romeo and Juliet. I said, ‘I can’t do it, man, you’re kidding. I’m just a musician.’ The one with Olivia Hussey. Leonard Whiting played it. He said, ‘No, I really know you could do this. You look absolutely how I see Romeo. It would be perfect. Come to Rome and we make a film, it will be beautiful.’ I bottled out.

I took her out, Olivia Hussey – this was before I met Linda – took her out to a nightclub. I quite fancied her, she was gorgeous with long dark hair. I sent her a telegram, ‘You’re a beautiful Juliet.’ She sent one back: ‘You’d make a great Romeo.’ It was all very… [romantic swoon]. You’d vomit now, I suppose. My kids wouldn’t believe it: ‘Oh Dad! You didn’t do that, did you?’

Paul McCartney – From “Conversations with McCartney” by Paul du Noyer, 2016

Based on those successes, were you ever offered leading roles in films in Hollywood, because you were definitely marketable in movies?

Not in Hollywood but this Italian director Zeffirelli, Franco Zeffirelli, he was making a film, Romeo And Juliet, and he was hanging out in London and I met him somewhere and he said “Oh, you know, I want to offer you the lead role as Romeo.” I mean, I’m not kidding, you know and I said “No, what are you talking about? I’m not an actor. I mean, it’s Romeo and Juliet, you’re gonna need an actor for that.” And he said “No, it’s gonna be ok, it’ll be great, I know you’re gonna be great.” So it nearly came to it, you know, I was kind of… I kept saying “no, Franco, you can’t do this, I’m not right for it, thank you for thinking I was.” So that was pretty near thing, I nearly had the lead in that film.

Meanwhile you were smart to turn it down and it is hard to say no, cuz it’s seductive, you know, it’s like “oh wait a second I can be a leading man, I could branch out.” Yeah it’s very seductive and people do that and then they can ruin their whole careers because it’s laughable that’s not their thing…

Yeah, you know, like you say, it’s kind of tempting on one level because it’s like huge ego boost but then you just got real with it. “No way, you are kidding me.” I couldn’t have done it, no matter what Franco thought. So I just politely declined and said “thanks for asking me, but no, thanks.”

Paul McCartney – Interview for The Howard Stern Show, April 14, 2020

One cold September night I met a man on whom I had had a crush for years. I was standing in a crowd of people outside a club called the Bag of Nails; I turned around and he was right in front of me. He smiled as he went past me, holding the hand of the woman who would become his wife.

Later that night, we met again in the lobby and began to talk. I lost track of the time, and it was only after his date had come over to say she was tired and was going home that I realized how late it was. They said their good-byes, she left, and a little later I found myself idly walking the streets of London with him.

A light rain fell, unnoticed, as we walked through Piccadilly, and although I will remember our walk for the rest of my life, I can’t recall a single thing we said to each other. I do recall that it was easy talk, light and sweet, our heads huddled together against the rain. Eventually, we hailed a cab. I remember the cabby’s eyes in the rearview mirror, their look of total disbelief.

An early morning mist had settled around Wimbledon as we pulled up in front of my house. He walked me to the door, bent down, kissed me gently on the cheek, and said good night. It was innocent and it was wonderful, and I wanted the moment never to end. As I watched Paul McCartney walk back down the path past my tiny lawn and step into the cab, I thought about how much of life is about coincidence—being in the right place at the right time.

A few weeks later, a story appeared in the British tabloids that Paul and I were romantically involved. We had been spotted at the Bag of Nails and seen leaving together. According to the article, we were having a secret affair and I was desperate for him to leave Linda and marry me. Journalist Jack Bentley, after pressure from both Paramount and Paul’s people, eventually retracted the story. Years later, Mr. Bentley contacted me for some reason and I had the great pleasure of hanging up on him.

I will always have a warm spot in my heart for Paul McCartney, and for my little girl’s fairy tale of what might have been. When we saw each other again a few years later at Apple Studios, he came bounding down the stairs, breathlessly saying, “Miss Hussey, so nice to see you again.” Miss Hussey: He was such a gentleman. When I heard that Linda, whom I admired greatly, had passed away, I cried and said a little prayer for them both.

From “The Girl on the Balcony: Olivia Hussey Finds Life after Romeo and Juliet” by Olivia Hussey, 2018

From Facebook – July 1968 – Director Franco Zeffirelli discussing with Paul McCartney and John Lennon

Going further

The Beatles Diary Volume 1: The Beatles Years

"With greatly expanded text, this is the most revealing and frank personal 30-year chronicle of the group ever written. Insider Barry Miles covers the Beatles story from childhood to the break-up of the group."

We owe a lot to Barry Miles for the creation of those pages, but you really have to buy this book to get all the details - a day to day chronology of what happened to the four Beatles during the Beatles years!

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