Disclaimer: Disney sent me to Los Angeles on an all-expenses paid press trip, in exchange for my coverage of the red carpet world premiere of Cinderella, which included my Kenneth Branagh interview. All opinions are my own.
Photo Credit: Disney
When I think of Kenneth Branagh, I tend to think of him as an actor in period pieces. From “Hamlet” to “Othello”, I’ve always been impressed with his talent. He garnered a new fan in my household this past year when we introduced our daughter to Harry Potter. But perhaps the greatest talent of Kenneth Branagh isn’t acting at all…..but directing.
Marvel fans will recall “Thor”, but this week Kenneth Branagh goes back to his roots in my opinion…..back to a period piece, one that is timeless. The classic story of Cinderella. But this time, it’s the Disney animated story turned into a live-action film……..with magnificent locations and costumes. Exactly what one would imagine with Kenneth Branagh in charge!
When 25 of us bloggers sat down with Kenneth Branagh for an exclusive interview in Beverly Hills last week, he had much to say. He was witty and charming…..yet most of all, you could tell he was incredibly proud of the film. He should be – it’s magnificent!
Here’s a bit from our interview….
What brought you to this project?
Kenneth stated, “I think it was the surprise of being asked. I hadn’t long ago done Thor and I did a film called Jack Ryan. And so a couple of quite boy-sy films. And being asked to do a girl’s film (if that’s not a stupid way of putting it) and a fairytale and such a famous one”.
“I remembered a of couple things from Cinderella. I loved the chase back from the from the palace at midnight. I really remember in the original animated film the stepmother coming out of the dark with two blazing green eyes at which she’s lying in bed. Cinderella brings her some tea. So I remember it being a bit scary but very exciting and fun”.
“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”.
About casting the perfect Cinderella…
Kenneth said, ” I had an idea of how Cinderella should be. But we knew, in my experience, it was gonna be like I made a 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. (EVERYONE AGREEING) So we knew that it would take a while and that you had to really feel that the character, the actor you would just want to be with them”.
“Yeah, she had to be likeable. You needed to want to spend those 90 minutes or whatever with her. And because of the way we were slightly reimagining the character’s personality, she needed to have, you know, a good sense of humor, a kind of what we were calling a kind of an approachable beauty and kindness and passion and strength and that could stand up, you know, in a scene with Miss Blanchett or Miss Bonham-Carter”.
“I heard Lily James’ voice first. I thought, God, that’s a beautiful voice. And then she was a beautiful girl. And then she was very patient across a lot of auditions and things. And eventually it just became clear that she was the one”.
Photo Credit: Disney
On dealing with death in the movie…. (and a small spoiler)
Kenneth stated, “But the hardest, hardest, hardest decision in the whole movie was– 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 so I, you know, I feel responsible for a kind of attack on the grown ups. You know, I mean it’s tough. But it’s beautiful. 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 the son loses dad the three-quarters of the way through the movie, 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 and it- – you know, there’s lots of entertainment and everything else”.
Of course I personally couldn’t pass up the chance to ask Kenneth Branagh a question…..
What was the most difficult scene to direct?
Kenneth stated, “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 and then get them back on set before wasting too much time. And 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 glamour 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”.
As someone who has already seen the film, I will say that Kenneth succeeded……..and the ballroom scene is beautiful and magnificent and yet the perfect boy meets girl moment.
Photo Credit: Disney
A SECRET MOUSE SCREENPLAY?
Kenneth says, “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 then speeded it up to be in sort of mice squeak mode, you could just get a half a hint, half a hint of what they say.”
“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. There is a secret mouse play and screenplay inside the movie”.
Photo Credit: Disney
On the magical locations….
Kenneth said, “But 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. But 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 meet 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. ‘Cause these oak trees were here when Shakespeare was alive. So that was really very sort of magical”.
What an amazing experience to get to talk to the director of such an iconic reimagined classic!
CINDERELLA opens in theaters everywhere on March 13th!
More Cinderella World Premiere posts coming next week, including my movie review, interviews with cast and more!