If you’re a Shakespeare fan,chance are you are familiar with the name Kenneth Branagh. However, even if you’re not with his long list of fantastic acting and directorial resume how does one not know this talented man. With such an amazing list of roles and his artistic vision it was no surprise when Disney asked him to Direct Cinderella.
I was very excited to sit down with this Legend to discuss the ins and outs of directing such a cinematographic extravagant movie!
So tell us about the casting process.
I had an idea of how Cinderella should be and knew in my experience, it was gonna be just like when I made the Film Thor, which took a long time to find the beautiful and sexy Chris Hemsworth, now officially the sexiest man in the world. So, I thought, well, I have good taste then clearly and knew that it would take a while and that you had to really feel that character and you want to be in their company. She had to be likeable and you needed to want to spend 90 minutes with her. Also, because of the way we were slightly re imagining the character’s personality she needed to have a good sense of humor, a kinda and approachable beauty, kindness, passion and strength that could stand up in a scene with Miss Blanchett or Miss Bonham-Carter. There was a lot to tick off of boxes. So it was gonna take a long time. I knew when I heard Lily James’ voice first. I thought, God, that’s a beautiful voice and then she was a beautiful & patient across a lot of auditions and things. And eventually it just became clear that she was the one.
What was the most difficult scene to direct?
I think probably the ballroom sequence because you knew that there would be so much expectation on it. And you knew that practically speaking you were gonna have 500 people, half of whom were gonna be in corsets. And that was gonna be a bit tricky. You know, you’ve gonna have 500 people to the loo as well during the course of the day. Get them back on set before wasting too much time. I knew that the dancing and then the sort of staging and the sense of our opulent it was and getting a sense of the glamor and the flamboyance of it was important. I wanted to take people to the ball. But I also knew that for me the scene was just as much about his hand on the small of her back in the beginning of that dance. So it was trying to keep that big large-scale ambitions with just wanting the human dynamic of the boy meets girl moment.
What brought you to this project?
I think it was the surprise being asked. It hadn’t been too long since I did Thor and then did a film called Jack Ryan. So I had a couple of quite boy-sy films.So being asked to do a girl’s film, if that’s not a stupid way of putting it , a fairytale and such a famous one, was quite surprising. I was very aware also if you do a Disney film then you have a big responsibility. There’s gonna be a lot of kids seeing it for the first time. And they all know the story as well. I’ve never made a film where the lights go down and you realize that everybody from five to 95 knows what’s gonna happen next. So it’s not about what happens next. It’s about how you do what happens next. So that was very exciting.
Were there sound bites from the original animation?
No, you know what we did? It sounds a bit daft. But we scripted the entire mice story through the movie. So Chris Weitz and I sat down, and we wrote words, dialogue for all four of the mice in every scene in which they appeared. And then we recorded them with actors a couple of different ways. Sometimes we made the actors say it very, very, very slowly so that when we speed it up to be in sort of mice squeak mode, you could just get a half a hint, half a hint of what they were saying. So for instance Gus Gus at the end when he finally is persuaded that he shouldn’t eat the cheese and maybe he should jump on the back of the other three so they can open the window and they can hear Cinderella singing. He does something shrugs and does a few little remarks. I don’t think that we went back and raided mice remarks from the original movie. But we do– we do have a secret mouse play and screenplay inside the movie.
It was refreshing to see Nonso Anozie in the movie.
Nonso is an actor who I worked with about 12 years ago in the theater. He’d just come out of drama school. He’s a man mountain. He’s actually enormous, but a darling bloke and a wonderful actor. So he was also in my last film Jack Ryan. I knew that he would play this kind of oak tree of a guy with a real twinkle in his eye. And also there’s very few people who can stand up to Cate Blanchett and say, I’ll tell you what to do. But best of all Cate Blancchett actually turns around and looks rather scared. You know, so I knew that Nonso would be able to do that. He’s a wonderful actor.
How did you chose the locations?
We have a location manager to whom you give a brief. Then they go off and help out. But being a small country, frankly, you end up knowing a few. And how I’ve done a few pictures with palaces I have my contacts in as well. Essentially of course we built so much of it that we didn’t do too much inside real palaces. So the whole of that ballroom is an entire construction on the 007 stage in Pinewood. However, the outside of Cinderella’s house was all built for real in a place called Black Park. And then interestingly the forest where the prince and Cinderella, is in Windsor Great Park, which is essentially the Queen’s back garden. She lives in Windsor Castle part of the time, so part of that park involves that group of oak trees which are over 600 years old. So it was very nice to be able to say to Lily and Richard you’re gonna do this magical scene in a magical place. Because these oak trees were here when Shakespeare was alive.It was really very sort of magical.
At this point I had the chance to tell Kenneth that this movie was Amazing! I was so impressed by the beauty and innocence he brought into it yet made it appropriate from 4-94 and how that age span would find something so magical to it.
Well, thank– thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you very much. I appreciate it! I think so. I mean amongst the toughest things we did it’d be interesting now if you go back and look at the 1950 animated picture ’cause you may be surprised at how far we depart in a strange way. I think we absolutely embrace the spirit of it. And in a couple of occasions we really sort of hint at a couple of shots. But I think the real sort of reinvention is the character of Cinderella and her kind of pro activeness. You know,she doesn’t just wait around but also this– this un cynical belief in the power of kindness and courage. One of the things we really wanted to do was just make sure that was not something that the kids were being sort of lectured with and it be done lightly enough from a character who seemed to embody it in a way that still allowed her to be happy and free and intelligent and smart and, to be fun. I mean not suddenly be all self-righteous and pious and everything. So I think that that was something we tried very hard to do. The hardest decision in the whole movie was, and I know it’s a bit of a Disney cliché ’cause they’ve been doing it since Bambi, was losing parents. As you will have spotted, we got three out of four of the parents ,I feel responsible for a kind of attack on the grown ups. But, it’s tough. You know, I mean it’s tough. But It’s beautiful. In the first ten minutes where Mum goes, my God, you see the shoulders heave. If you sit at the back of the auditorium and you see a lot of arms go around, you know, small people, either reach up or vice versa. And by the time Dad loses– the son loses dad the three-quarters of the way through the movie, that’s when you see the boys and then of course, we didn’t want to traumatize young people. But at the same time as I was mentioning earlier, you know, this sort of responsibility you have if you get the privilege of making a Disney movie is there is a way to maybe just find a compassionate way to talk about things that includes some of the difficult things that life throws up. As long as, you know, it can be done lightly.
What was your favorite iconic image?
I felt very secure in the world of Sandy Powell and her amazing talent with the costumes. And the determination to be very inventive about all of those things. So the kind of balance between, finding this sort of classical approach. For instance,it sounds like a sort of simplistic question, but there was a big question about what color is that dress? You know, does it stay blue? The original was blue. What kind of blue? Or go pink? Because the mother’s dress is pink. But should it stay pink in order to honor her mother? How much do we want to see a pink dress for that amount of time in the ballroom sequence? How magical can we make the material that is pink as opposed to blue or some other color? So those conversations were all had. It just becomes, a stage-by-stage kind of process.You felt quite a pressure with the slippers because, you know, you’ve got ruby slippers. And you got other slippers in film history. We knew it was going to be a big moment. Sandy’s work with Swarovski,to find this kind of multi-faceted thing, which also has a heaviness. It was incredibly heavy & multi-faceted thing, I think it all ended up being a stroke of genius.
Was there talk about telling the story from a different perspective?
I mean that’s what Chris Weitz’s screenplay had, and that’s what I liked. I remember saying to Ali Shearmur, our producer, at the beginning of the process, I said I think my big idea here is to try to get out of the way. The story’s been working for two and a half thousand years. There’s a reason why that’s happening. My experience has been to let the work of great storytellers do as much work as possible and then try and amend and adjust as best you see fit from your own perspective. My experience in Shakespeare and I’ve done it a number of times where you take a strong. conceptual idea and you might move the story completely. You might make it very modern. I did a version a play called Love’s Labour’s Lost as a kind of Hollywood musical.So it shifted it by, 300– 350 years and to some extent did tell it from a different kind of viewpoint. And I think a lot of people may not just liked the film, but for a lot of people the actual idea itself was confusing. It got in the way and felt reductive. It may have been just specific to that. But I have found in developing they thought about whether she could be, you know, in modern day Brooklyn or whatever and indeed there’s tons of evidence of modern Cinderella stories, you know, where gender is changed or time is changed. But, I feel as though you get a chance to consider, provoke, and think differently if it’s through a classical perspective.
What brought you to cast Richard?
He had an intelligence and wit.He relished the idea of how you might sort of play a gentleman. You know, he wasn’t striving hard to be a certain modern kind of cool.You know, I think both these actors, I love the idea that they they were prepared to be uncynical in the film, and just sort of respond directly to each other and that a gallantry, a courtship and the desire to woo, to serve, to listen were things that he felt could be played very positively and would be very, very attractive and that in a way there was a natural disposition in a world of the piece that we presented for him to to love her. It was a very powerful thing to be somebody listening,looking, and reacting, and of course the wonderful chemistry between them. I think he was somebody I felt could do this thing we needed to do of having a man who earns Cinderella’s respect and love and didn’t just get it because he had a big car.
As you can see there are many amazing details that went into this film to make it the beautiful masterpiece it is. Don’t forget to check out Disney’s Cinderella which opens in Theaters tomorrow Friday March 13th!