Kenneth Branagh was the absolute perfect choice as Director of CINDERELLA. I believe that his exceptional experience with directing and acting in many William Shakespeare play adaptations (Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Othello, Hamlet, Love’s Labour’s Lost, and As You Like It) was exactly what was necessary to modernize Cinderella while keeping the mythology and magic of this story that dates back to 7 BC.
I had the absolute privilege to interview Kenneth Branagh with 24 other bloggers while in Hollywood for the Cinderella World Premiere.
Disney invited me to Los Angeles on an all-expenses paid press trip, in exchange for my coverage. All opinions are my own.
Interview with Kenneth Branagh, Director of CINDERELLA
Kenneth talks about how his experience with updating Shakespearean work was similar to his work in CINDERELLA.
Q : Was there talk about telling the story from a different perspective?
Kenneth : For me, I mean that’s what Chris Weitz’s screenplay had, and that’s what I liked. I remember saying to, uh, Ali Shearmur, our producer, at the, uh, 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– there’s a– there’s a reason why that’s happening. And– and my experience has– has been to try and let, uh, the work of great storytellers do as much work as possible and then try and amend and adjust as best you see fit from– from– from your own perspective.
Um, I– my experience, for instance, in Shakespeare and I’ve– 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 of, uh, a play called Love’s Labour’s Lost as a kind of Hollywood musical. So it shifted it by, you know, 300– 350 years and to some extent did tell it from a different kind of viewpoint. And I think a lot of people– they 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.
But I have found– I certainly, you know, I know that they in developing this they thought about whether she could be, you know, in modern, wherever it might be, Brooklyn or whatever the– and– and in– indeed there’s tons of evidence of modern Cinderella stories, you know, where gender is changed or time is changed. But, um, I feel as though you get a chance to, uh, consider, provoke, and think differently if it’s through a classical perspective.
It’s in a way in the– it’s the same– to give a specific example, in doing it this way, in putting Cinderella and the prince on horseback, even Stevens, the same level, in a– 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, um, modern touches by having them meet in a restaurant or, you know, go on a bridge or on an airplane.
He goes on to talk about how they reinvented Cinderella while keeping the spirit of the 1950 Disney animated film.
Kenneth: I think the real– the real, uh, sort of reinvention is the character of Cinderella and her kind of proactiveness. You know, she doesn’t just wait around but also this– this uncynical belief in the– in the power of kindness and courage.
And one of the things we really wanted to do was just make sure that– that that was not something that the kids were being sort of lectured with that they could– it was done lightly enough from a character who seemed to embody it in a– in a– in a way that, um, still allowed her to be happy and free and intelligent and smart and, you know, have a– you know, have a kind of– to be fun, I mean not suddenly be all self-righteous and pious and everything. So I think that that was something we tried very hard to do. Um, and the hardest, hardest, hardest decision in the whole movie was– I know it’s a bit of a Disney cliché ’cause they’ve been doing it since Bambi, uh, was losing parents.
As you will have spotted, we got three out of four of the parents of — just like, you know, so I, you know, I feel responsible for a kind of attack on the grown ups. But– but, and it’s tough. You know, I mean it’s tough. But it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful. In the first ten minutes where Mum goes, my God, you see– you see the– you see the shoulders heave. If you sit at the back of the auditorium and you see a lot of arms go around, you know, small people, either reach up or vice versa. And by the time Dad loses– the son loses dad the three-quarters of the way through the movie..
When you see the boys and the– doing that as well, it’s– it’s– so we didn’t want to– we– of course, we didn’t want to traumatize young people. But at the same time as I was mentioning earlier, you know, this sort of responsibility you have if you get the privilege of making a Disney movie is there is a way to maybe just find a compassionate way to talk about things that includes some of the difficult things that life throws up. As long as, you know, it can be done lightly and it– you know, there’s, uh, lots of entertainment and everything else.
I thought that Kenneth directed the death scenes amazingly and Lily James (Cinderella) was phenomenal in her performance.
Q: What brought you to this project?
Kenneth: I think it was the surprise of being asked. Uh, 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, uh, if that’s not a stupid way of putting it. And, um, and a, um, and a fairytale and such a famous one, and I remembered from, uh, I remembered a of couple things from Cinderella. I loved the chase back from the, you know, 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, uh, at which she’s lying in bed.
Cinderella brings her some tea. Uh, so I remember it being a bit scary and, uh, but very exciting and fun. And, um, 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. Uh, so that was very exciting.
I loved his comment on how this was an enormous challenge since when the “lights go down…everybody from 5-95 knows what’s going to happen.” Could you imagine the pressure he was under to keep to the original storyline while updating it to be new, fresh, and relevant for 2015?!
Q: Why Cinderella?
Kenneth : Um, uh, well, I mean it specifically came my way. So it wasn’t– the– for me, the surprise was being asked to– to do this– this specific one. Um, partly I think people feel an incredible ownership of the story. I think it’s very personal to a lot of people. I think that there’s, uh, um, there’s a relationship to the underdog or the outsider or however we chose to categorize her that seems to represent us, our hopes and dreams and aspirations.
And there was a chance to do that but sort of recalibrate them. So in the scene between the, uh, the sisters and– and, uh, Cinderella, you know, Cinderella says, uh, what about the prince? What do you think he’ll be like? And they said doesn’t matter what he’s like. He’s a prince. Um, and, anyway, all men are stupid. Uh, the– the idea of working out whether it’s possible to, you know, present the Cinderella who may feel differently about that was I think, uh, important, break some of those kind of types.
Um, but I– I think the, uh, my– my just experience, even just making that– that ball scene, um, across– you know, we had hundreds of extras. And we had hundreds of crew people and lots of people who had sort of been there and done that, were very jaded in the film business perhaps you might say who were extremely moved by this image of somebody who gets their shot, who gets a chance to be happy, who gets their trip to the ball, you know, whether that’s, uh, literal or a– or an image. And– and so I think it– the change for– to be involved in something as important to people, as symbolically important to people, as simple as it appears to be, uh, was very enticing.
We all want to see the underdog win. I loved the scene when Cinderella found out that she could go to the ball. The scene when she arrives at the ball is magical, it couldn’t have been better!
The entire trip to Hollywood felt like I was going to the ball – I think all of the bloggers would agree. It was a fantastic magical time. We were able to interview amazingly talented individuals. Oh, you’ve gotta check out the CINDERELLA Line at Kohl’s too. They have beautiful clothes for kids, teens, and women. I loved this Cinderella tank with Dana Buchman sweater, and Vera Wang jewelery that I wore during the interviews.
CINDERELLA is not all about the ball. It’s also about what happens before the ball and how she lived her life by this motto: Have Courage and Be Kind. There were many difficult parts of her life story, but she always held true to that motto.
Q : What was the most difficult scene to direct?
Kenneth : I think probably the ballroom sequence, um, 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. Um, and– and, uh, and then get them back on set before wasting too much time. And, uh, uh, 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 glamor 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. Um, so it was trying to keep that big large-scale ambitions with just wanting the human dynamic of the boy meets girl moment.
Don’t forget, CINDERELLA opens in theaters TOMORROW, March 13, 2015! Also, FROZEN Fever short will air right before CINDERELLA, it is the only way you can see this Disney Short!