How do you modernize Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet? You make it queer and add vampires! At least that’s how writer/director Ronnie Khalil decided to do it in his upcoming film, With a Kiss I Die. The film is set 800 years after Romeo and Juliet died, or “died” in Juliet’s case. Juliet meets and falls for a woman named Farryn (Paige Emerson), but Juliet’s family doesn’t approve and she’s left in a familiar predicament.
I had the opportunity to speak with Ella Kweku, who plays Juliet, about how she got involved, what her experience was like, and of course, what it was like putting a modern spin on an old classic.
Kweku got involved with the project when a cinematographer friend of hers handed her the script to read for him. She was initially interested in producing it, not starring in it, but he convinced her to audition. When she got the call that they wanted her, she hesitated because she’s a method actor and had trouble getting out of a previous role, but her friend reassured her that he’d be there for her, supporting her, so she took the role. She had a completely different experience filming With a Kiss I Die and was happy she took the role.
The film originally was supposed to be a straight love story, but during the casting process, Khalil made the decision to make it a love story between two women. Kweku talked about loving to push the envelope, push boundaries, and was excited to put this spin on Shakespeare. For her, Juliet’s bisexuality made complete sense with how old she is and how much she’s experienced.
Vampires have become more popular in the past 20 years or so, thanks to things like Buffy and Twilight (I admit begrudgingly), and with each new franchise comes a tweak of mythology. When I asked Kweku about how this particular spin differs, she admitted that she doesn’t watch a lot of vampire films. She actually didn’t really see Juliet as a vampire, so she didn’t play her as one. According to Kweku, Juliet isn’t a full vampire, and we’ll see that explored in the film, so I don’t want to give too much away. However, Kweku did have to wear fangs for a couple of days of filming and she said it was awful because of how difficult it is to talk around them and how uncomfortable they are.
Kweku was a joy to speak to and I cannot wait to see the film. With a Kiss I Die will be released on August 28th on iTunes (pre-order here), Amazon, Direct TV, Dish Network, Comcast, Mediacom, and a variety of other VOD platforms. Check out the trailer below.