Interview with Kenneth Branagh, Director of Disney’s Live Action Cinderella #CinderellaEvent

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Disclosure: I received an all expense paid press trip in exchange for my coverage of Disney’s Live Action Cinderella and related events. All opinions are my own.  Interview photos courtesy of Jana Seitzer of MerlotMommy.com – Film stills and clip provided by Disney

Imagine getting the chance to interview the director of a classic fairy tale brought to life once again in such a beautiful way that you get lost in the movie all over again.  Then you realize WHO the director is.  Sir Kenneth Branagh.  Yup, interviewed him.  No big deal.

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Okay, in all seriousness, it was really fantastic.  He struck me as respectful, kind and very intriguing.  For me, it was fascinating to listen to him.  Not only can you get lost in his beautiful accent, but his answers were just as mesmerizing.

He greeted us warmly as he entered the room and asked if we were having a good time, along with who we’d spoken with so far.  That may seem simple to some, but I felt like it was just thoughtful of him to ask.

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Tell us about the casting process.

Well, 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. No, no. So, we knew that it would take a while and that you had to really feel that the– the character– the actor would, in this case, you just want to be with them. You know, you want to be in their company.

Yeah, she had to be likeable. You had to want to spend those 90 minutes or whatever with her. And because of the way we were slightly reimagining the character’s personality, that she needed to have, you know, a good sense of humor, a kinda what we were calling a kind of an approachable beauty, kindness and passion and strength and that could stand up, you know, in a scene with Miss Blanchett or Miss Bonham-Carter.

Who also just had a kind of– a kind of simplicity without being, you know, sappy.  It had to tick a lot of boxes. So it was gonna take a long time. 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.

 

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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. Then 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 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.

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What brought you to this project?

 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. A fairytale and such a famous one, and I remembered a couple things from Cinderella. I loved the chase back 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 thought– 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.

 

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Were there sound bites from the original animation?

No – well, 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 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 said.

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. There were a few little throw away remarks like that. I don’t think– although sometimes you do stuff unconsciously. I don’t think that we went back and raided mice remarks from the original movie. But we do have secret mouse play and screenplay inside the movie.

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How did you chose the locations?

We almost always have a location manager to whom you give a brief. Then they go off and help out. But you know, as being a small country, frankly, you end up knowing a few. And how I’ve done a few pictures with palaces in, I have my contacts as it were. 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 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.

And so we were around that area, the– the southeast part of the England– around Windsor Castle. It was basically there and around and there are some wonderful forests and beautiful spots to shoot.

 

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What brought you to cast Richard?

I thought that he had sort of, apart from very blue eyes,  [LAUGHTER] he had, and very tight trousers, but that was another– [LAUGHTER] they– actually, they weren’t his own trousers. So I shouldn’t really, you know, he had, intelligence and wit. And also he relished the idea of how you might sort of play a gentleman. You know, he didn’t, 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, you know, and just sort of respond directly to each other and that a gallantry, a courtship- 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– that, in a way there was a natural disposition in the world of the piece that we presented for him to love her.

You know, and that he was able to do that and not see that as suddenly rendering him the love interest. It was a very powerful thing to be somebody listening, looking, and reacting, and trying to, um, with the screen time that he has, and I think it’s very touching and wonderful chemistry between them. And I think he was somebody I felt could do this thing we needed to do of having a man who earned Cinderella’s respect and love.

 

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Disney’s live action Cinderella opens March 13, 2015 – Don’t miss it!

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Trackbacks

  1. […] we don’t get to know his name.  I can build a character from scratch and I can do that with Branagh. There’s no one better to kind of take me through that than him. A lot of my Prince is based on […]

  2. […] Alternate Opening: Ella’s Childhood View moments from Ella’s idyllic childhood that do not appear in the movie. With an introduction by Director Kenneth Branagh. […]

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