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For years, Walt Disney Studios has been interested in bringing “Cinderella” back to the big screen, to reintroduce the Timeless tale to a 21st-century audience and build on the nostalgia and memories cherished by millions around the world. Of utmost importance, the film needed to be entertaining and bring as much fun and humanity to the fairy-tale characters as possible, while preserving the unforgettable elements from the animated classic.
Director Kenneth Branagh had never toyed with the idea of directng a fairy tale before, but ater reading the script by screenwriter Chris Weitz, found that the story spoke to him in ways he never imagined.
“I was captivated by the power of the story and felt I was in sync with the visual artistry that was being developed,” Branagh says. “It’s a classic piece of storytelling where the central character goes on a journey that we can really identify with, so the texture and landscape of a great story was wonderful to play with as a director.”
Branagh’s long-term producing partner, David Barron, knew Branagh was the right director for the job. “I’ve worked with Ken for over 20 years, and he is the perfect choice to direct ‘Cinderella,’” Barron says. “He has a passion for storytelling and a rare gift for finding the humanity of every situation, even fairy tales.”
Meet the Characters:
Ella (Lily James) is a beautiful young woman whose idyllic life comes crashing down when her merchant Father (Ben Chaplin) remarries following the tragic death of her Mother (Golden Globe® nominee Hayley Atwell). Eager to support her loving father, Ella welcomes her new Stepmother (two-time Academy Award® winner Cate Blanchet) and her daughters, Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drisella (Sophie McShera), into the family home. But when Ella’s father unexpectedly passes away, she finds herself at the mercy of a jealous and cruel new family.
Soon, she is forced to become their servant, disrespected, covered in ashes and spitefully renamed Cinderella. Yet, despite the cruelty inflicted upon her, Ella will not give in to despair nor despise those who mistreat her, and she continues to remain positive, determined to honor her mother’s dying words to “have courage and be kind.”
When Ella meets a dashing stranger in the woods, unaware that he is really the Prince (Richard Madden) and not merely Kit, an apprentice at the palace, she believes she has finally found a kindred soul. It appears her fortunes may be about to change when the King (BAFTA® and Emmy® Award winner Derek Jacobi) summons all maidens in the kingdom to attend a royal ball at the palace, raising Ella’s hopes of once again encountering the charming Kit. Alas, her Stepmother forbids her to attend and callously destroys her dress.
For the role of the Prince, Richard Madden responded enthusiastically to the material. He was eager to take on the dashing and thoughtful Kit, the bright young man who initially conceals his true identity from Ella. The actor, who starred as Robb Stark, King of the North, on HBO’s hugely- popular “Game of Thrones,” was thrilled to find that the Prince was not the shallow, one-dimensional character people remember from the animated film, but someone who audiences could actually believe Ella would fall in love with.
In a recent press conference we had the opportunity to chat with Lily James and Richard Madden to talk about their character and what it took to bring them to life on the big screen.
Our first Interview starts with Lilly James:
Q. How was it for you to play such an iconic Character such as Cinderella?
Terrifying. When I got the part I was completely overwhelmed and couldn’t be more excited. There was a lot of fear and pressure because she’s so iconic. Luckily we had Ken to direct us, which had a very clear vision of the film.
Q. At What point did it hit you that you were playing Cinderella?
Putting the dress on for the first time, doing the dance, seeing the slippers. The sets were all built and real. It’s like diving into the story. The costumes were beautiful.
Q. What was it like working with Cate Blanchet?
She is amazing. It was surreal. She excelled every expectation. She’s really funny and encouraging to me on set. Also what she did to the character was so real. Cate brought life and history to the character.
To prepare for the film, James tried to live healthily, implementing a daily yoga routine to get the kind of posture and grace and elegance that Ella would have had. She also took horseback riding lessons for six weeks, and did a great deal of research on spirituality, reading up on great leaders and pacifists like Gandhi.
“I wanted to make Ella seem as real as possible, but didn’t want her to appear as if she had no faults because I was afraid the audience wouldn’t relate to her if she was too perfect,” James says.
She continues, “The heart of the story is Ella’s strength and how, even under the cruelest of circumstances, she manages to maintain goodness, purity and positivity.”
Our next Interview was with Richard Madden who plays the prince.
Q. What was it like playing the Prince in Cinderella?
It was a joy. We are in these amazing costumes, it was magical.
Madden says, “Ken and I had numerous discussions about young rulers and how they would relate to more traditional views of their elders. The Prince wants to do what is best for the kingdom, but he has his own fresh ideas and philosophies as to how things should work.”
Q. Did you have any dance background before you did the ballroom scene?
No, I didn’t have any dance training. I’m not an actually gifted dancer, but I would think the Prince would be. I had to train 4-5 days a week for months before they let me near the dress.
“The Prince actually learns a lot from Cinderella, in fact. And the character has been written very cleverly in the sense that you see that she’s challenged the way he thinks so that he is willing to question the King.”
Q. What was it like to make this film with Disney and did you have any special connections to Disney that you remember as a child?
As a child I remember all the films. I have two sisters and we watched the movies on repeat. It’s still kinda surreal to be the Prince in Cinderella. It feels really special. When I was a kid, the first time you learn about love, death and grief it was the Disney films that I was introduced to these.
In order to make the film relevant to modern audiences, it was this core of kindness and compassion that would be fundamentally important. And the filmmakers were convinced that the powerful story, combined with an exceptionally-talented cast and a strong script with more complex and realistic characters, would make for a truly entertaining cinematic experience.
Disney’s animated fairy tale “Cinderella,” the magical love story of an ill-treated heroine whose dreams come true, was a colossal moment in Disney’s rich cinematic history. With a production budget of close to $3 million, “Cinderella” was a huge financial risk for the studio at the time, but the film opened on February 15, 1950 to universal acclaim and was a big hit commercially, grossing more than $34 million and firmly solidifying the studio as a major force in the industry.
Today, 65 years later, “Cinderella” has become one of the studio’s most treasured titles. The film is included on the American Film Institute’s list of the “10 Greatest Animated Films of All Time” and is an enduring fixture on America’s pop cultural landscape.
“Cinderella” is released through Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and is now playing in theaters.