Leonard Whiting reminisces about his iconic Romeo 

click to enlarge Leonard Whiting shared the screen with Olivia Hussey in director Franco Zeffirelli’s gorgeous screen version of “Romeo and Juliet.” - COURTESY  PHOTO
  • COURTESY PHOTO
  • Leonard Whiting shared the screen with Olivia Hussey in director Franco Zeffirelli’s gorgeous screen version of “Romeo and Juliet.”
Wherefore art thou Romeo? Right here in The City.

Leonard Whiting, who brought the iconic Shakespeare character to life in Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 film classic "Romeo and Juliet," might just be San Francisco's most beguiling Valentine's gift this year. (The British accent helps.)

The actor takes the stage on Valentine's Day at the Castro Theatre in a Marc Huestis Presents event which includes a special Q&A prior to a screening of the iconic film.

"It's extraordinary when you do something when you're younger and then it has its own life," Whiting says of the big-screen outing that catapulted he and co-star Olivia Hussey into the spotlight and forever changed the bed sheets of cinema.

"I was a boy taken from the banks of the very poor working class family in North London and hosted by one of the greatest directors of all time," Whiting says. "If I had wished for a million dollars to have anything, I don't think I could have created such an experience where the beauty and potential of life married so beautifully with the power of being so young."

He pauses before musing, "Now, wasn't that poetic?"

Charming, humble and spirited at 64, he also recalls the sweet affections he and Hussey, with whom he remains close friends, shared-on screen and off.

"We became a couple representing a generation," he says. "It was an artistic thing, but also the luck of timing that made it so fantastic. We were tremendously fond of each other. Some journalists would say of our connection that it was hype, but it was actually the truth."

Casting alert: Whiting and Hussey are reunited on screen in the upcoming thriller "Social Suicide" loosely based on "Romeo and Juliet." The film stars Hussey's daughter India Eisley; Whiting and Hussey play parents to Eisley's modern-day Juliet in a media-frenzied world. "The extraordinary thing was that I felt so comfortable doing it," says Whiting.

As for the 1968 movie – which won Oscars for best costumes and cinematography – Whiting attributes its longevity to a few things: "It was unashamedly romantic. And also, in society, there was a whole kind of undercurrent of people saying, 'We don't like certain aspects of life in the world and we would like to make them better.’ This film made it possible."

IF YOU GO

Romeo and Juliet

With Leonard Whiting (Romeo) onstage

Where: Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. (talk), 9:10 p.m. (screening) Feb. 14

Tickets: $11 (film only) to $45 (VIP), free for 16 and younger

Contact: (415) 863-0611, www.ticketfly.com

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Greg Archer

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