ComingSoon.net got the chance to sit down with the director of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil Joachim Rønning (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Kon Tiki) to discuss the latest Disney live-action release. He touched on some inspirational acting moments from Michelle Pfeiffer, talked behind the scenes about the filming of that incredibly tense dinner scene, and the importance of relatability in a special-effects heavy film like this one.
In Disney’s Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Aurora (Elle Fanning) and Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson) decide to marry and leave their royal nests–which doesn’t sit too well with either set of parents. Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) is cautious about Phillip’s intentions and Phillip’s mother Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer) raises concerns about Maleficent’s influence over Aurora–the kingdoms give to dark forces at play. Maleficent is still seen as a dark and dangerous foe to humans but when unexpected allies come forward to help her, the fate of the land is in her hands as an insidiously veiled threat rises.
ComingSoon: I was excited to see the ways that this film continues to open up the world around Maleficent with the Dark Feys and the Kingdoms. What was your entry point into this and what made you the most excited?
Joachim Rønning: It surprised me with the first film and what grabbed me the most was the emotional core of it, along with the relationship between Maleficent and Aurora. The parent and the child, in a way, and I’m a parent myself, and that was something I could really relate to. I think that going into this next installment that became the most important thing to me, was to continue their story. How it is for Maleficent to be the mother of a young woman…
CS: And to embrace the world that she comes from even though it still doesn’t accept her.
JR: Exactly. And Maleficent, as a parent would do anything for her child. She tries to change and become more human in order to make Aurora happy and then that backfires and she feels betrayed, but I think that’s the most important thing; the characters of this story and of course there’s spectacle and it’s a fairy tale, battles and all that, but it doesn’t really mean anything if you don’t relate to it.
CS: Yeah, I thought the most terrifying aspect of the film was the Queen, Ingrith, because she is so filled with fear and hatred that it surpasses her love for even her own child, and I think that speaks to a lot of stuff that’s happening today.
JR: Yeah, it was interesting developing Queen Ingrith and we don’t really look for references in today’s society but as we started developing the character I started thinking, there were definitely some resemblances going on. You know what Ingrith is doing is controlling the narrative in a way of our story and in today’s society by the push of a button and suddenly you’re on Twitter and you’re deciding and controlling the narrative and that can be used to spread fear, ignorance, divide and polarize. That’s what she’s doing, you know.
CS: Yeah and it’s present even in the dinner scene which is such an incredible piece of work, to see both Angelina and Michell at work is so great. Can you talk a bit about crafting that scene and what was most memorable? Did it really take a week to shoot?
JR: Yeah (laughing), it took about a week to film it. It’s kind of daunting going into it because it is a 10-page scene, which is 10% of the movie if you look at it in script form. At the end of the day, it was one of the best experiences on the whole shoot and almost the whole cast is there and they’re battling out and it’s all real. It’s not blue screen, it’s not green screen, there’s nothing of that. What you see is what you get, which is rare in these big movies because they’re very visual effects heavy.
CS: It’s so intimate.
JR: Yeah, and we built this huge dining hall and it was all there. I really felt that the actors loved it and I loved it.
CS: Was that scene shot early on in the process?
JR: I think it was one of the first scenes Michelle shot actually.
CS Wow, did it inform a lot of the discovery made with the characters, just being able to dive into the thick of it?
JR: Yeah, I did remember we did some different takes and we were aware that we’d be able to discover her voice as we go along, and it shows the level that Michelle Pfeiffer is on. She gave us a couple of different performances and where she wanted Queen Ingrith to be and discussed that a lot. Not every actor can do that, which is very impressive.
CS: Yes, I wanted to talk about where you pulled inspiration for the visual style. In the kingdom, I got some brushstrokes of inspiration from the original animated film, but the nest, where all the dark faes are living, was so unique aesthetically. I’d love to know more about where you pulled inspiration for those scenes.
JR: Yeah, I mean again, we’re talking years of developing the size and you’re sitting with a team of amazing production designer, you know. But what was important for me with the Dark Faes was to have them symbolize nature and have them represent different aspects of that nature. I love the idea of all these different parts of nature all in one place. Because it’s their nest of origin. The other part that was important, and that was something I developed, was the red dust bombs in the final battle. I wanted them to look like World War II where you see them over berlin where you have them (mouthing machine gun sounds) and there’s a very powerful image with the castle where red sprays over the blue sky and you almost see the Disney logo (laughter).
CS: (laughter) The logo, but dark. Speaking of things like the Disney logo, were there any fun Easter eggs that you were excited to put in? Was Michelle Pfeiffer’s fall a reference to her Catwoman fall in Batman Returns? (laughter)
JR: (Laughter) Well she did her own stunts so I’m sure… again it’s so impressive, you know. She was hanging on the wire all day and it’s not easy, you know, to be thrown around like that. But it was very important for her and I was very impressed all the way through.
CS: Cool, well thank you for taking the time and sitting down this us today.
JR: Thank you so much!
Maleficent Mistress of Evil is now in theaters!
(Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)