I think that my #CinderellaEvent weekend was better than any other weekend this year. Not because I got to see Cinderella and walk the red carpet premiere. Not because I went to a Glam Ball and got invited to a pre-reception. I mean those happen every weekend right? I am joking. Those things rocked my socks and I am still shocked that I was able to do so much in so little time. My weekend was better because I got to meet Kenneth Branagh, who on top of being insanely attractive, is the director of Cinderella. He is also the director of a little known movie named Thor. You have probably never heard of it. I have though and I love him for it so I went into Cinderella knowing that it was going to be splendid. I wasn't disappointed. Go see it when it releases March 13th! That is tomorrow if you didn't know so now you have awesome plans for the weekend. It is proceeded by the new Disney short Frozen Fever so you get to see two awesome shows for the price of one.
I got to interview Director Kenneth Branagh last weekend and he is just as attractive in person. Honestly I think half of the ladies swooned and the rest are probably not into great hair, great charisma having older men.
Question: Tell us about the casting process.
Kenneth Branagh: 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 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 needed to want to spend those 90 minutes or whatever with her. And because of the way we were slightly re-imagining 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 and kindness and passion and strength and that could stand up, you know, in a scene with Miss Blanchett or Miss Bonham-Carter.
And who also just had a kind of, a sort of simplicity without being, you know, sappy. A lot of it had to tick a lot of boxes. So it was gonna take a long time. And 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.
I think a lot of people simply believe that directors cast people because of their looks. Beautiful girls are a dime a dozen and you can find them anywhere. I think its awesome that he cast Lily James because of how nice she was. And she is quite nice which I found out when in my Lily James Interview. Kenneth Branagh was very patient when he was talking about this with us and he has such a nice strong voice. I am going to quit with my ridiculous crush descriptions soon I promise.
Question: Was there talk about telling the story from a different perspective?
Kenneth Branagh: For me, 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 try and 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, for instance, 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.
I know that they in developing this they thought about whether she could be in modern, wherever it might be, Brooklyn or whatever indeed there's tons of evidence of modern Cinderella stories where gender is changed or time is changed. I feel as though you get a chance to provoke and think differently if it’s through a classical perspective.
It’s in a way, to give a specific example, in putting Cinderella and the prince on horseback, even Steven, the same level, in nature, in this ancient forest I think kind of cleans it up. So I get to see more of the two of them. I get a sense of the feeling in the scene in this sort of primal relationship there than I might do even if I came up with the most fantastic and brilliant modern touches by having them meet in a restaurant or go on a bridge or on an airplane.
All of which would be entirely legit as well. You could have because the story is so flexible. It’s just that I'm not as drawn to that myself. I’m sure as Disney and other people pursue the idea of a live action version of fairytales that that's an absolute.
I think the cutest story he told was about the mice. Someone asked if the mice were sound bites from the original animation and it does sound like it in the film but there is an entire little film within the film. So when you see it, try to figure out what they are saying. Its like knowing a secret (that everyone will know soon) having him tell us about the ‘mini mice film.”
Question: Were there sound bites from the original animation?
Kenneth Branagh: No. 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 sped 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 that we went back and raided mice remarks from the original movie. But we do have a secret mouse play and screenplay inside the movie.
Question: What brought you to this project?
Kenneth Branagh: 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, and I remembered a of 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. 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 going to 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.
Question: What brought you to cast Richard?
Kenneth Branagh: I thought that he had sort of, apart from very blue eyes and very tight trousers. They actually weren't his own trousers. He had intelligence and wit. And also he relished the idea of how you might sort of play a gentleman. He wasn't striving hard to be a certain modern kind of cool.
I love the idea that [these actors] were prepared to be uncynical in the film 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 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 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. He didn't just get it because he had a big car.
I also like the fact that Richard Madden has very tight trousers and blue eyes. Someone even asked if his eyes were enhanced in the film during our Richard Madden Interview and he laughed and said they were all him. Kenneth talked about how his Prince should be and I think he picked the right person for the job.
Kenneth Branagh is well deserving of praise and he was kind enough to sit for a group photo with us even though he had a very busy day ahead. I sat on the same couch as him. I would say that I would never wash those pants again but that's silly and weird. I was very honored though. It was a lovely interview and I think that you should check out the hashtag #CinderellaEvent today and check out what other bloggers thought of the interview and some other questions I may have left out.
You can also check out the trailer for Cinderella which releases TOMORROW!