In Disney’s Maleficent, they focus on the titular villain who’s revealed to be much more. Elle Fanning portrays Princess Aurora who’s closer to the wicked fairy than expected and Sam Riley brings new life to a character that was once merely a sidekick. The actors spoke to the press about their take on the characters from Sleeping Beauty, working with Angelina Jolie and the challenges of CGI.
Elle, how did it feel to become a Disney Princess?
Elle Fanning : That was my dream when I was little. People would ask, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ And I would say, ‘A Disney princess.’ That’s the ultimate goal in life. I’m still like pinching myself to say that I’m Aurora. It’s so weird for me. A little girl came up to me the other day because she had been seeing the trailers and stuff. And she asked, ‘Are you Aurora?’ And I’m like, ‘I guess I’m Aurora.’ It’s crazy! Yeah, it was a really special thing. My first meeting that I had, because I heard that there was going to be a Maleficent movie, I was like, ‘I know it’s going to be from the villain’s point of view, but that means there has to be a Sleeping Beauty in it!’ So my ears perked up, but then, Rob [Stromberg] wanted me to come in for a meeting. He and Linda [Woolverton], the writer — and from that meeting gave me the part and they handed over the script. And that was kind of like handing over the crown.
Sam, in the film you serve as a kind of guardian to Aurora along with Maleficent. Did you play your character like a father figure? How did it feel to take on the role of the iconic dragon?
Sam Riley: I wouldn’t say a father figure, but that’s what’s interesting in this. Elle is an easy person to want to take care of. I wouldn’t say father figure but a Rockin’ Raven Uncle.
Well, I thought about it (being the dragon) when I was shooting because I had 30 days shooting or something. It was a longer shoot. While I wasn’t there, I realized they were doing the scene with the dragon and I was like Fuck!
The character of Aurora has a physicality to her that seems to pay homage to the Disney Princess legacy. Elle, did you go back and study archival footage of Helene Stanley and Mary Costa?
Elle Fanning : I’d seen the animated one so many times but I watched it again right before we started filming because she has certain hand gestures. Like the way she walks and her posture. So I tried to bring all of that physicality into this one because that’s what you fall in love with when you see her. You fall in love with kind of the outside because she’s kind of one-dimensional in the animated. So for ours, we tried to make her more layered and have that depth. But then on the outside, look like the character that you love.
Sam, what was it like to create the dynamic between Maleficent and Diaval? How important was it for him to be her Jiminy Cricket of sorts?
Sam Riley: She spoke about it when we first met. The beginning he swears to be the loyal servant. He’s scared of her and her power but we were saying– I’m her only company, really. We spend every single day for 16 years together. It would be fun to have moments where they bicker like an old married couple. He kind of knows what she’s gonna say. It’s fun getting to work with Angelina Jolie anyway, they were a lot of fun to shoot these moments to show a playful side of her. Be the conscience and the confidant.
Elle, what were the lessons that you learned from Angelina as both an actress and a person?
Elle Fanning : I feel like whatever she’s like wanted to do, she’s done. She’s directing and being a mom. It’s like she’s done everything, and she’s still not done with doing everything she wants. Everyone walks into a room and everyone looks at her. She’s so powerful. I got to know the side of her that was more sensitive and really playful. Like they would yell cut, and all her kids, they were on set all the time, they went to her. Like to see that, and learn she’s very into the detail of things. She’s very specific–like with her outfit. It really mattered, every little thing mattered. I learned from her that as this character’s going to live with her forever, in her acting career, for life. So for me, I took that away to always really pay attention to all the little details. They all come together.
How was the makeup experience for you, Sam, in creating the look for the raven-turned-human?
Sam Riley: At the beginning, they tried lots of looks that were very bird like, which was strange. It started out bird like and then they toned it down to where it is in the film. I was relieved because it meant less hours in makeup. It was still three and a half hours. The other thing that was challenging, they had this chest thing where they drew on a six pack which was cool. They’d stick this rubbery thing on and glue it. I’m ticklish as well–that was torture really every morning.
To Elle, what were the challenges of working with CGI?
Elle Fanning : You really just have to imagine and just go for it. You can’t do it just like halfway, a little bit. You have to just dive in and just really imagine the little creatures. You can’t get too caught up in the technicality of it. You can’t lose your character too. You can’t be thinking about, ‘Oh, what’s this one? What’s that?’
Sam, in order to nail the physicality of Diaval what kind of work did you do to capture the essence of a raven?
Sam Riley: In the original film, he doesn’t do very much. He looks half asleep half of the time and he’s never a human. I looked online at videos of ravens but I didn’t really understand how big they were. When I was at the studio in London, they arranged for me to spend some time with real ravens – one particular one, I can’t remember his name. He was big. They’re huge birds with a wingspan as big as my arms. I was quite intimidated at first. I watched him for a couple of hours and filmed him. I practiced walking like a bird to see if it was something I could incorporate, but it wasn’t very cool. Robert was telling me, when they created the CGI bird, they gave the bird qualities that I have as a human. So it’s kind of weirdly gone round in a circle.
Maleficent opens May 30th.