EXCLUSIVE: An Interview With The Cast and Director of Disney's ‘Maleficent’

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Photo Courtesy, Walt Disney Pictures.

Disney presents “Maleficent,” starring Academy Award®–winning actress Angelina Jolie in the title role. This year, 2014, marks the 55th Anniversary of the character who put a spell on young “Sleeping Beauty” in the animated feature released by Disney in 1959. Since her introduction, Maleficent has been Disney’s all-time most popular villain. Now she returns in this live-action version of the classic story—and there’s a lot about her we never knew.

Co-starring in the film are Sharlto Copley (“District 9”), Elle Fanning (“Super 8”), Sam Riley (“On the Road”), Imelda Staunton (“Vera Drake”), Juno Temple (“Atonement”) and Lesley Manville (“Secrets & Lies”).

The character Maleficent was a Disney creation first introduced in their 1959 animated feature “Sleeping Beauty.” But the story of the princess who falls under a spell of eternal sleep has been told since the beginning of fairy- tale time.

The origins of Maleficent as a female personification of evil are less clear. The story casts a queen as the jealous, vengeful villainess but she was married to the king and not an independent outsider who inflicts a curse on the royal family. But the character was changed from the villainess to a wicked fairy.

In a recent press conference we had the opportunity to chat with Sam Riley, Sharlto Copley, Elle Fanning and Director Robert Stromberg to discuss ‘Maleficent’ and their vision behind this film.

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Photo Courtesy, Walt Disney Pictures.

Our first interview starts with Sam Riley who plays Diaval, Maleficent’s loyal companion. He gets saved by Maleficent from a farmer and his dogs and become her loyal ally who fly to places and spy for her. He’s the only character who’s capable of telling her when she becomes a little overwrought and who really know what she’s thinking.

Did you watch Disney’s Sleeping Beauty when you were younger?

I remember seeing it and certain images, like the prince and dragon. I was more of a Jungle Book fan as a little boy.

How was it like working with Angelina Jolie?

I was very nervous about it at the beginning. The first meeting we had, she’s very disarming, big smile, and charming. She was fan of my character in the film so I felt protected. The first time acting with her, was when she was in full costume on set during the throne scene.

Did you have input in your human costume?

We had a lot of conversations about what I’m wearing when turning from a bird to a human. In the end, we ended with the clothes the scarecrow was wearing in the field a leather jacket and some other pieces. It was a lot of fun to look into a mirror after all the makeup and chest piece was put on.

This is Robert Stromberg’s first directional debut, what was his mood and how was his process and tone working with you?

I worked with a lot of first time directors, but not like this film with a big budget and star. The first time we met, he was at the casting and suggested how he would like to see my character be portrayed. He also showed me the drawings of the world, the characters and the different animals I turn into as well which looked amazing. He was a great director to work with.

Riley believes that the Diaval character serves a unique purpose as he helps to make Maleficent more relatable and more than a one-dimensional figure. “Maleficent is a fascinating woman,” explains Riley. “In the relationship between Diaval and Maleficent, Diaval tries to bring out
what he knows must be inside Maleficent.”

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Photo Courtesy, Walt Disney Pictures.

We move on to our next interview with Sharlto Copley who plays King Stefan and Aurora’s father. Stefan, was driven by blind ambition to become king and stopped at nothing to achieve his goal. This complex character goes on a journey from innocent young boy to vengeful monarch is a revelation to audiences familiar with the original. Describing Stefan and his role in the story, Director Robert Stromberg informs, “We meet Stefan, who is human, early on in the film, when he sneaks into the moors where Maleficent lives, and the two eventually become good friends. Over time, we realize that Stefan lusts for power whereas Maleficent is tied to the moors where she belongs, taking on the responsibility of protecting the creatures that dwell there. We follow Stefan on a journey to the King’s castle, where he begins his quest for power, wealth and money.”

Is it more fun to play a villain than the being good guy?

Not for me. I’ve had fun roles in other movies which have more complex things going on. I don’t enjoy getting to the aggressive or dark side of myself.

In the battle scene, you have swords and chains and armor on, was that CGI or were you in the armor?

It’s a combination. We do a scene with the chain and without the chain. That’s the typical process.

What attracted you to this film?

It was wanting to work with Jolie, and finally be able to show my nephew a film that wasn’t ‘R’ rated and the roles men and women have in the world. Also it’s about true love’s kiss. I felt it was a film that has something to explore that was relevant to our society. Love will save you if you let it.

Copley adds, “I like characters that go through a significant journey and Stefan goes through a rather profound one, from a commoner to a powerful ruler. Stefan is ambitious and feels like he deserves more respect than he’s getting in the world.”

Maleficent possesses magical powers but Stefan, being human, has none. “Stefan relies on human ingenuity and that’s what he uses to become king,” explains Copley. “He uses human ingenuity and human ruthlessness, if you will, at times as well. I think the line is very fine. I think what Stefan learns as he goes along is that the line between ingenuity and invention and greed can be extremely blurry.”

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Photo Courtesy, Walt Disney Pictures.

In our third interview, we got the pleasure to speak with the movie’s Director Robert Stromberg.

To find the perfect director to bring the production to life, Producer Joe Roth reached out to Robert Stromberg. “A film like this generally takes about six or seven months to prepare correctly because it’s a giant visual production,” informs Roth. “So, I had been working with Rob Stromberg, who won the Oscar® for ‘Avatar’ as production designer, and won the Oscar® for ‘Alice in Wonderland’ as designer as well, and had just finished ‘Oz The Great and Powerful’ for me. It was very clear to me that he was born to be a director, and he really wanted to be a director.”

Was it intimidating at all taking on a such huge project for your first directorial film?

I wish I can say that I was scared as hell, but I was not. It’s actually the opposite. I was really excited to finally work with emotion and work with the actors, and use that part of the pallet to combine of what I do.

How exciting was it for your to have the luxury at Pinewood Studios to be able to build so many of the sets?

What I really wanted to do was understand the balance between what you need and what needed to be built and what was going to be CGI. It was important for the actors be able to physically touch things and to feel the emotion of real light lighting the set that’s why the christening scene is an entire set, that’s the center of the movie. We wanted everybody to feel the energy of what it would be like to be there.

Did you use a lot of the Disney resources to go back and look back at the original cells from the classic movie?

That was actually really cool. I got to go into the Disney archives and they would pull out original art work for me to look at. It was important to keep the essence of the original movie in this new film. It’s funny that I didn’t realize that the castle that’s in the Disney logo, is actually Cinderella’s castle. So we had to make our own castle, we re-did the logo using our own.

Why did you choose Elle Fanning to play Aurora?

What I saw and what everyone saw was that she sort of portrayed life and light. That’s what we wanted the light to contrast with the dark. But it was really about that you can feel her spirit in the room.

Bringing Maleficent to the screen as a live-action character is a responsibility that Roth took very seriously when choosing his director. “Maleficent is a really important character; a character that if we do our job right in the film, that not only her character but Sleeping Beauty’s character as well, and some of the fairies and great creatures that Rob Stromberg has created will be seen for years and years and years in parks and in stores. Maleficent is a very, very important character in the Disney life.”

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Photo Courtesy, Walt Disney Pictures.

In our final interview of the day and after a brief break, we got to meet with Elle Fanning who plays the sweet Sleeping Beauty, Aurora.

For Fanning, winning this role was a dream come true. “It’s been sort of everything that I dreamed of,” says the young actress. “I think from the moment of putting on her first outfit, getting the hair and everything, it’s been really special to get to play such an iconic character.”

When you were younger, was there one of the Disney Princesses that you liked?

It’s weird, because mine was Sleeping Beauty. I felt that I looked like her the most when I was little. She has the long blonde hair and wore the pink dress and I love pink. So this is the biggest dream of my life.

So are you like Aurora in some ways? How are you different?

We are both very happy and smile a lot. I think she’s a little more naive because she’s sheltered and tucked away in the little cottage. I feel that I’ve experienced more things, I’ve traveled more she has. She’s still curious, because in the originally animated film, she’s more one dimensional, she’s a little princess. In our film, it was important for us to create a depth to her that no one knew before, have more layers, be more human, and to experience sadness and betrayal.

“In our film you get to see her have different emotions and really get the essence of her,” says Fanning. “I love how she’s very free spirited, and since she has been kept away from normal life, she’s very open to things and innocent. But that’s what makes her very likable and charming.”

What was the toughest and favorite scene for you to do in this film? Was it technical or physical?

I guess there was a few, the mud fight scene, was very technical, I looked like an insane person, I’m doing a mud fight with creatures that aren’t there so I have to know how tall they are to try and aim them and where they will be placed. Also another scene that I like and was my favorite was when I pricked my finger on the spindle. As a little girl that scene scared me in the original movie.

Fanning adds, “Aurora exudes lightness and it’s so great in our movie that we have the dark and the light, total opposites, because they work so well together, like opposites attract in a way.”

Maleficent is Rated PG with a running time of 97 minutes and now playing in Theaters.

We were invited by Disney to a screening of the movie on Sunday May 18 and then to the Four Season Hotel in Beverly Hills for the interviews. 5