Maleficent hits theaters this weekend and press got a chance to talk to director Robert Stromberg and Sharlto Copley (King Stefan). Both discussed what the picture means to a more modern age and how Angelina Jolie was truly meant for portray Maleficent as a hero. They shared anecdotes about their method and how they approached their respective roles as director and actor.
Angelina has a wonderful duality to her character, Robert, what impressed you most about working with her on this film?
Robert Stromberg: When I first learned I was doing this film, she was attached. There was this visual part which is perfect. Of course it works. What I was pleasantly surprised was the depth of emotion of the character that she had been preparing for a long time to bring that to this iconic image. It’s this superpower. We had talked at length about how we wanted to escape from this one dimensional character which you can argue the character is in the classic telling of this. Her character goes through so many emotions but we wanted her character to be dark but explore how to have fun with evil and then to have redemption, regret and other emotions.
Sharlto, King Stefan is an exciting role for you because you get to flesh out the character more than past stories have done. What was your approach to building him?
Sharlto Copley: I suppose I don’t like generally playing villains, which is interesting. What attracted me to this was, I suppose, the idea of playing a character that in a very female-centered form, is almost like a cautionary tale to men; I sort of saw it like that. I always have to find some sort of way in to play the character that I think is true to human nature, not just one person. For me, it’s so universal what I’m actually drawing on to play him; I’m just doing it in an extreme way. So the man who works his whole life and make a hundred million dollars but has traded his wife in for someone younger and never spends any time with his kids – all he ever really gave them was money and maybe started with the best of intentions years ago of wanting to be the good husband and provide is an example of that you’ll see all around you. For me, Stefan is an extreme example of that sort of male drive and ambition and ego, if it runs away with itself, what it can do, and often actually does do.
Maleficent resonates with the theme of female empowerment. With modern day sensibilities, what were the challenges in bringing that to life?
Robert Stromberg:I was drawn to the strong female character. Maybe I picked up a little something from James Cameron because he loves the strength in female characters. We had discussions about that in the past. She is a superhero in her own right, but the strength of being a female and how to stay strong yet find the softer emotional attachment, it was a really interesting conundrum. It was fun to play with that.
To Sharlto, given the legacy of Sleeping Beauty, were you happy to see the approach here? That it’s not necessarily about evil but about second chances and righting a wrong?
Sharlto Copley: I think fairy tales over ages have interesting messages. I resonate with the idea of love saving you from pain and darkness, which is does. So in the story, it saves Maleficent from that, but it doesn’t save Stefan – he’s too far gone. The way I played him and certainly how I saw it was that he always loved her, the whole way through, but he had compromised something that he could never come back from; the guilt of that drove him literally crazy. All he could do now was hang on to that typical go at power; he couldn’t allow himself to be wrong and go back and let love same him, basically. That was attractive to me; the idea of that message in the tale was interesting to me.
To Robert, when you take on something like this with a fandom, how much do you let that effect you when you’re making creative decisions?
Robert Stromberg: It’s extremely important to me, not just visually, because style-wise I love what Eyvind Earle had done, but it just didn’t fit what we were trying to do. It was still important to me to feel the essence of that design within the world. It was important to keep essential elements there. As a matter of fact, Angelina and I, the christening scene is the center point of the movie. We filmed it almost verbatim – word for word – from the classic animated film. But we told this whole back story and learned all this information. When you get to that point in the film, it’s like, ‘Okay, now I understand why she’s doing all this.’ It was critical they can see this iconic character they loved in all her glory but now they have an understanding why she became that and who she was.
To Sharlto, how was working with Angelina?
Sharlto Copley: What was interesting to me was that Angie has, I think, an enormous range as an actress to play very soft and vulnerable if she wants or very hard.There are very few actresses who can do that whole range. And there’s fewer, still, movie star actresses who are known and loved by people that will choose a role where they are going to say, ‘I hate you,’ to a baby and know that they can come back from that and know that the audience will know there’s still heart there. There was a lot of back story with the characters that doesn’t make it into the cut of the film in the end which was a lot of fun, which was the degradation of their relationship whereas he’s getting older and suddenly he’s feeling inadequate because he doesn’t have wings and he wants to be the man in this relationship. So we had a lot of fun, playful, off-camera all the time arguing from the position of our characters.
Robert, How was Angelina able to handle the physical nature of her role in regards to flying and such?
Robert Stromberg: She was gung-ho to do everything. There are limitations. There’s a point where we realize some things have to be either a stunt person or CGI – not just for the obvious reasons of danger but so we can do some things we can do with the character that would take her into that superhero quality to it. There are some of the fight scenes she did a lot of it. But then you get into some shots that require almost acrobatic-like moves, we had to talk about other ways to accomplish that.
To Sharlto, when Aurora comes into Stefan’s life again, why doesn’t remain focused on revenge instead of embracing her?
Sharlto Copley: I think that was one of the issues with the film, when we got to that scene as well, there was a lot of deciding how human to let him get, because of course the other whole option for the film was that he does let love save him. But really his function in the film is to show you he has the choice — let love save you or don’t. So if he starts to let it save him, then he’s got to be saved. And then it’s a different thing and his function in the film is different. Having said that, it was easy to play the scene because you again are just drawing on real life. Again, very typically you’ll find that male mentality of like, “Well, I’m providing for my children by looking after them, by giving them money, by protecting them.” It’s like they didn’t actually want your money. They wanted your time. They wanted you to be there as a father. So in his mind, he’s protecting her. He’s in the middle of a crisis. There’s an attack coming. He’s doing the right thing by saying, “Go put her in her room!” and has become, by that stage, completely paranoid about this battle that is coming.
Maleficent opens this weekend.