ARTS AND FEATURES — 26 May 2014

Lead

The cast of Disney’s latest epic Maleficent talk dark fairytales. By Shelley Marsden…

DISNEY movie Maleficent, out in cinemas on May 28, is Disney gone bad – in the sense that it explores the untold story of the mass media corporation’s most iconic villain from the classic Sleeping Beauty, and the elements of her betrayal that ultimately turn her pure heart to stone.

This year marks the 55th Anniversary of the character who put a spell on young “Sleeping Beauty” in the 1959 animated feature.  Since her introduction, Maleficent has been Disney’s all-time most popular villain. Now she returns in this live-action version of the classic story—and we learn a lot more about her that we never knew…

Starring Miss Hollywood, Angelina Jolie in the lead role (has there ever been a more beautiful and photogenic baddy? I seriously doubt it – though the fact that they didn’t have her green-skinned like the animated original helped too), this dark fairytale co-stars Irish-American actress Elle Fanning, Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville.

Driven by revenge and a fierce desire to protect the moors over which she presides, Maleficent cruelly places an irrevocable curse upon the human king’s newborn daughter, Aurora.  As the child grows, Aurora is caught in the middle of a seething conflict between the forest kingdom she has grown to love and the human kingdom that holds her legacy.  Maleficent realizes that Aurora may hold the key to peace, and is forced to take drastic actions that will change both worlds forever.

ENTER ANGELINA

This film is a visual feast, which makes a lot of sense when you know that its director – in this his filmmaking debut – is two-time Oscar-winning production designer Robert Stromberg (Avatar, Alice in Wonderland).

At the UK press conference for the movie, its star Angelina looking almost as unapproachable as her on-screen character (she wears icy blue contact lenses and hovers menacingly in her big black angel wings) in a white Versace dress and scarlet lipstick, revealed she had always loved the story of Maleficent as a little girl and has long been intrigued by her complexities.

“She was my favourite Disney character. I was afraid of her and I loved her…I was really moved by the script from first reading. It was like uncovering a great mystery.

“We all know the story of Sleeping Beauty and we all know Maleficent and what happened at the christening because we’ve all grown up with that. But what we’ve never known is, what happened before?”

Speaking of what she hoped audiences would take away, she said:  “I hope the girls, especially, will see the importance of having a sense of justice and a sense of what’s fair and what’s worth fighting for. They’ll see that they can be warriors and at the same time soft and feminine and deeply feeling, with all the complexities women have.”

As to what audiences can expect from Disney’s most iconic villain this time around, Jolie said: “People will see that she’s the same wicked Maleficent. What I loved about the original Maleficent when I was little was that she had a wicked sense of fun. She enjoyed being evil and she revelled in it. She still gets to do that and she will satisfy, hopefully, the people that, like myself, are fans of the original. But you get to learn more about her and how she became evil.”

Explaining how she approached her she said: “I wanted to make sure we didn’t lose her sense of wicked fun because I think it’s a very beautiful story. It’s kind of a different but classic fairy tale and it has a lot of heart. We want to revel in that and that was very important for me as well as that she was somebody that was relatable.”

Angelina also admitted that Maleficent was one of the most difficult characters that she has ever played because “she represents all sides of what it is to be human, even though she is not.” “For me, the journey of playing her has been much heavier, much more emotional, and much more difficult an experience than I expected”.

“There’s a part of me that plays big fun roles, but never this big. She’s slightly crazy, extremely vibrant, a little wicked and has a big sense of humour, so she’s quite full on. It’s one of those characters that, for me, you couldn’t do halfway.”

aurora

Bubbly blonde Elle Fanning (who Angelina described as “pure sunshine” from the moment she met her), said playing Aurora was a dream come true.

“It’s been sort of everything that I dreamed of,” said the young actress, sister of fellow actor Dakota whose breakout role was as Alice Dainard in J. J. Abrams’ sci-fi-drama blockbuster, Super 8.

“I think from the moment of putting on her first outfit, getting the hair and everything, it’s been really special to get to play such an iconic character.”

Ellie said audiences watching Disney’s new film would find out more about her. “In our film you get to see her have different emotions and really get the essence of her. I love how she’s very free spirited, and since she has been kept away from normal life, she’s very open to things and innocent. But that’s what makes her very likable and charming.”

She added: “Aurora exudes lightness and it’s so great in our movie that we have the dark and the light, total opposites, because they work so well together, like opposites attract in a way.”

Imelda Staunton – Knotgrass the pixie

Imelda Staunton, the British actress with Mayo roots, famed for her roles in Harry Potter and her Oscar-nominated turn in Vera Drake, plays lead fairy Knotgrass in a comical trio which also includes Flittle (Lesley Manville, Imelda’s best friend in real life – the on-screen chemistry is palpable) and Thistlewit (Juno Temple, of Batman fame).

The trio are Aurora’s father, King Stefan’s allies in the magical forest kingdom, and all three fear and feel alienated by Maleficent. They are chosen by Stefan to raise his infant daughter until the day after her 16th and, though their intentions are good, their childcare skills leave a lot to be desired.

Entertainingly sweet and totally inept, Staunton and her pals add some light comedy to the film. The pixies start out as tiny fairies with big opinions about what young Maleficent should and shouldn’t be doing. When King Stefan sends them off to raise Aurora in a forest cottage, they turn themselves into human size.

knotgrass

They may look like humans but are clueless about living in the human world without the use of magic. But big or small, magical or powerless, they retain their own distinct personalities.

“Knotgrass is the most important pixie in her own mind,” said Imelda. “She’s very bossy, very organized and has to control everything. So she is the self-appointed grown-up amongst them.”

Imelda was drawn to the imaginative retelling of the classic fairy tale. She said: “Good stories are always worth reinterpreting and always worth re-examining and, as is the case of this story, worth drawing other elements out of it and showing the story from a different point of view. It’s funny. It’s dark. It’s moving. It’s sad. It’s happy. It’s all those things that make great stories.”

Jolie has said she enjoyed the on-screen banter Maleficent has with the pixies, who are afraid of her and for good reason.

“Maleficent hates them,” Jolie said. “I get to banter with them and especially Imelda Staunton, as Knotgrass. So to actually be dressed in the horns and having my own crazy character moment and having her as a little fairy yelling at me in her crazy moment is one of the best crazy moments I’ve ever had on film.”

Sam Reilly – Diaval the raven

press conf

Talented Yorkshire-Irish actor Sam Reilly,34, first came to our attention as Ian Curtis in the Joy Division biopic Control (2007). Since then, he has starred in Brighton Rock, Byzantium with Saoirse Ronan and beat flick On the Road, as Sal Paradise. In Maleficent, he has graduated to the enviable role of Angelina Jolie’s sidekick as Diaval.

In the 1959 original, Maleficent’s constant companion, and conscience, was seen only as a raven, but in the new version he transforms into a man, or if it suits her a horse, a dragon or a wolf. During the 16 years that they watch Aurora grow, Diaval becomes somewhat fond of his terrifying companion.

“My character is essentially a raven but he’s quite a proud raven—bordering on vain,” said Sam. “He’s saved by Maleficent from a farmer and his dogs and he becomes her loyal ally who can fly to places and spy for her.

“Their relationship blooms and Diaval develops an affection for her. He’s the only character who’s capable of telling her when she becomes a little overwrought and who really knows what she’s thinking.”

The actor reckons Diaval is crucial as he helps to make Maleficent more relatable and more than a one-dimensional. He said: “Maleficent is a fascinating woman. In the relationship between Diaval and Maleficent, Diaval tries to bring out what he knows must be inside Maleficent.”

Maleficent opens in UK cinemas on Wednesday May 28, in 3D.

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