Troian Bellisario talks new queer short “Still A Rose,” loving Shakespeare and “Pretty Little Liars”

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Troian Bellisario is the kind of actress who stops you in your tracks. Smart, funny and totally captivating, it’s no wonder filmmaking team hazart sought her out to play one of the world’s most famous roles, that of Juliet Capulet. In their stunning and sumptuous short film Still a Rose, hazart takes the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet and adds a twist by casting two Romeos (Tinuke Oyefule and Brandon Crowder) and two Juliets (Troian and Will Branske). The result is a queer and modern interpretation of the timeless story, that feels new again.

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“Since we feel that one of the civil rights issues of our generation is that of the inequality — in law and respect — towards the LGBTQ community and their relationships, we had been searching for a way to make a meaningful statement about the equality of all love,” hazart tells us. “While attending a performance of Queer Classics’ (an LA based theatre company) we found such inspiration in their version of ‘Romeo + Juliet’. Different in that their performance was act one with two women and act two with two men, we thought that a cinematic take could lend an interesting and unique ability to cut between all four couplings. From there, we thought about how the tools of filmmaking could re-translate that story in a fluid and varying perspective. What better way to express equal love than with the most famous love story ever told?”

Working with Troian again was something the team really wanted to make happen. “There is an immense list of things that make her a great leading lady, not least of which is her immense talent. She is such a thoughtful actor, that really takes the time and puts in the effort to craft a character and performance that feels authentic. Her ability to adjust on the fly and internalize nuance to a director’s note is another well-honed skill. But we think most of all it is her generous and collaborative nature that makes her so great to work with. She, as you can imagine, has an extremely busy and daunting schedule and for her to invest the time to make a small (but ambitious) project like this shows the true passion she holds towards her craft and the commitment she brings to her collaborators, something we feel very fortunate to be one of.”

Troian as Juliet in “Still a Rose”

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We had the chance to talk with Troian about Still a Rose, which premiered at Frameline last night. She was also kind enough to give us some insight into Pretty Little Liars and the upcoming time jump.

AfterEllen: I was utterly enchanted by Still A Rose. I know you’ve worked with hazart before on Immediately Afterlife, but what drew you to this project?

Troian Bellisario: They were awesome because we worked together first on Pretty Little Liars and they went out to continue directing. They were directors before they started working on the show. We worked on Immediately Afterlife and then when they got the idea, they came to me because they knew I was a huge theatre nerd, and especially a Shakespeare nerd and I had already done my kind of version of Romeo and Juliet. They know a lot about filmmaking but they felt that they didn’t really know enough about Shakespeare and theatre, so they were at first kind of talking to me about it just saying like, “what would you do, how would you approach this text?” And then they were like, “Oh, of course. By the way, if you’d like any role in this, we would really love your help and your portrayal of the character.” It was such a dream come true to get to work with them on that. That’s how it all began, really.

 

AE: Had you ever played Juliet before?

TB: I had done a lot of different scenes from Romeo and Juliet in school, and then I did a short film, that I wrote and produced and acted in where I played Juliet, but it was a different version of R&J. I’ve played her a couple of different times but not in a full length production. But I have definitely done the balcony scene a number of times.

 

AE: I had a feeling you might be a Shakespeare nerd. [laughs]

TB: Oh yeah, huge!

 

AE: I can always tell when someone understands the text really, really intimately when they are doing Shakespeare and I could tell that this was something that meant a lot to you. It comes through in the production.

TB: Oh thank you. I definitely love that text and it’s one of my favorite plays ever. Before I was on the show, I used to busk in the subways with my boyfriend, and we did the balcony scene. That was how we made money over the summer in New York.

 

AE: That’s amazing.

TB: It’s definitely been in me for a long time and I still would love to do a full production too if I got the chance to do it because it was so much fun.

 

 

AE: There something so universal about Shakespeare, and it lends itself so well to different interpretations. While you stay true to period, Still A Rose definitely opens up the Bards words to a totally new feeling and expression. For the first time, R&J felt like it was just a love story between people, regardless of gender or sexuality. What are your thoughts on that?

TB: I definitely think that’s completely accurate because the most interesting thing was in rehearsals, when I would watch the two guys playing Romeo and Juliet. There was a sound that they had to react to and they were kind of clutching each other. Then when we, me and Tinuke, would do it as two girls, all of a sudden, because we don’t really have the arranged marriage or they’ll just lose their family kind of thing over here in America, all of a sudden the fear for these two people coming together took on a totally different reality and I understood that in a more modern sense. That was really kind of illuminating. It’s really cool to get to watch other people’s interpretations and to get to integrate that into yours. Watching Will’s Juliet, really informed my Juliet in ways that I never really thought. That was a very cool thing because every time we would rehearse it, I’d get to sit out and watch Will do it and it was a totally different take on it. It was about integrating and making our Juliet and their Romeo. That was a really great experience.

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