There’s a reason we’re getting two Snow White movies in 2012, let alone a handful of other TV and film fairy tale adaptations – fairy tales are timeless. Even if it isn’t a straightforward retelling of a house servant becoming a princess, a sleeping beauty being awoken by a prince or, for that matter, a young woman saving the day with a band of dwarfs, fairy tales can remain intact through their morals and lessons, allowing them to either change with the times or perhaps come to life in an entirely new setting.
And the moral of the story is …
At the start of our day at the La Cité du Cinéma, the same Montreal location director Tarsem Singh
used to make Immortals
, Mirror Mirror
producer Bernie Goldmann opened the visit explaining, "It’s a story that’s existed for 5 or 600 years, and it’s existed for 5 or 600 years because it’s a great story and it’s about great universal themes."
One of those universal themes is the importance and loss of beauty. Goldmann elaborated further, explaining that once the Mirror Mirror team isolated that idea, it became more about the concept that there’s something special and important about everyone. "If you can find that thing that’s special about yourself, that makes you unique, then you can use that to your advantage and that’s what Snow White learns, that’s what the dwarfs learn and that becomes the emotional center of the movie." He added, "It’s a good message for kids, it’s a good message for young girls and, more than anything, as a parent, as a grandparent, you want people to come away from the movie feeling empowered."
Keeping Things Fresh
Goldmann also pointed out that it was of prime importance not to turn it into just another retelling. “It has all these great symbols. It’s got the apple, it’s got the mirror; how do you use all of these conventions and symbols that we know and love, but use them in a new way?”
For Armie Hammer
, this proved to be an essential opportunity because it allowed him to take his character from a mere symbol to a fully realized element. "In the original Snow White
story, the Prince is nothing; he comes in, he kisses the girl, happily ever after." Who’s Hammer’s Prince? Let’s call him the existential crisis Prince. Hammer explained, "He’s had every opportunity afforded to him, he knows how to fight, he knows how to dance, he knows how to do everything a prince would know how to do, but he doesn’t know what his skills mean in the world."
Over in the art department, Goldmann provided visual examples of the expansion, but preservation of the original story. He pointed out the mirror in the Magical Cottage, "The mirror existed in the fairytale for 500 years; the Queen talked to the mirror. In this version of Snow White, the Queen goes into the mirror, so she goes into a mirror world, talks to a reflection of herself, a reflection that keeps moving around, so it’s actually a world of the mirrors and we play with the idea of mirrors and how we see ourselves and those voices inside of our head and what motivates us." Look forward to a double dose of Julia Robert in Mirror Mirror because not only does she play the Evil Queen, but her reflection, too.
Julia Roberts Unleashes Her Inner Evil Queen
Speaking of that Queen, so how about Julia Roberts
? Singh laughed and proudly exclaimed, "What about Julia Roberts? What can I say?" Roberts was actually the key to casting the entire movie. Singh recalled, "When they asked me to do this, the first thing I said I’d figured out before I even read the script was, I bet you there’s woods in it and how do I do woods? And the second thing was, who was the queen?"
Due to the fact that Mirror Mirror’s got a love triangle, Singh first needed to cast his Queen, then his Prince and finally Snow White so as to avoid any absurd age gaps. Singh recalled, "When I got Julia, it ticked every box and I had no idea the kind of pressure that gets lifted off you if you have an 800-pound gorilla like Julia in your corner." He added, "Once she came on, everything just parted like the sea for Moses."
Growing up with a father like Phil Collins, you’d think his daughter, Lily, would be immune to being star struck, but this is Julia Roberts we’re talking about here. Collins remembered feeling anxious and excited wanting to show her seasoned co-star "respect in a scene. I wanted to be as present as I could be for her on and off camera, and be as professional as I could and not show her that this was only my fourth film." Collins was very well aware of the immense opportunity she had and made a point to come to set even when she wasn’t in a scene just to watch Roberts. "She comes in knowing exactly what she wants to do and she’s at the height of it right away. It’s not like you go one or two takes; she’s right there in the first take."
As for Hammer, naturally, he enjoyed the romance between the Prince and the Queen. He laughed, "My first day of filming I had to do a romance scene with Julia and I was like, is this really about to happen?" Both Collins and Hammer noted Roberts’ ability to be in character one minute, but ditch the ferocity and seriousness of the Queen in an instant. Hammer explained, "She’ll glare at people and you’ll go, ‘Oh, jeez, I’m so sorry,’ but then she’ll snap out of it and break into that iconic Julia Roberts laugh!'
Snow White Lily Collins Style
Singh says it best, "Purity is Snow White." He keeps it short and sweet when he talks about his Snow White, Lily Collins
, "Lovely eyebrows." Collins herself jumped on the eyebrow train and noted, "He’s a very visual director so he knew exactly what he wanted Snow to look like and apparently he responded well to my eyebrows." So who is Mirror Mirror
’s Snow White beyond those eyebrows? Someone who is very much connected to Collins.
What little girl doesn’t grow up idolizing Snow White? Collins, explained, "I think everybody has a little bit of Snow White in them," and I’d have to agree. Collins continued, "I always had a vision of who she would be in my head. I wanted to make it a universal character for little girls, but also people of any age could enjoy and see a part of themselves in." Toss in a little Katharine Hepburn and a little Audrey Hepburn and you’ve got Mirror Mirror’s Snow White – and some Lily Collins, too, of course.
"We filmed the beginning of the movie when I first got here and I was very excited, but also not knowing anything coming into this experience and being very wide-eyed and excited, and that’s how Snow White is at the beginning." Collins added to the connection between her and the character, "She’s that innocent girl who comes in and is willing to try new things and experience life and at the end she grows into a young woman and I feel like I’ve really matured as the character, but also learned a lot about acting while I’ve been here through watching people."
As for her evil twin, Kristen Stewart in Snow White and the Huntsman, well, she’s about as far from an adversary as they come. Collins looks at the double dose as a good thing, that "gives the opportunity for two stories to be told at the same time. Kristen’s is a darker, edgier version and then ours is a comedic-adventure-fairy tale with wonderful, magical elements to it." She also added, "I’m really excited for Kristen; I think she’s perfect for the other version."
Seven New Dwarfs
As much as the tale is about Snow White, it’s also about those dwarfs. Cue memories of the gang from Walt Disney’s version trotting along and singing "Heigh-ho." "The dwarfs, in Walt Disney’s movie were characters that were kind of defined by one name, one characteristic and sang a couple of songs and on you went from there," Goldmann recalled. While the Disney movie is a wonderful film, Goldmann notes, "It’s a very very different time in movies and a very different time for audiences, so there’s different pressures in making a live action movie and making a live action movie for today’s audiences." Say goodbye to Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy, and Dopey and hello to Wolf (Sebastian Saraceno), Will Grimm (Danny Woodburn), Chuck aka Chuckles (Ronald Lee Clark), Butcher (Marty Klebba), Half-Pint (Mark Povinelli), Grub (Joey Gnoffo) and Napoleon (Jordan Prentice).
Taking a cue from the dwarfs’ knack for stealing in older versions of the fairy tale, the Mirror Mirror team stopped to consider why the dwarfs would have stooped to that level. Goldmann explained, "They’re not beautiful people and so they’ve been banished to live in the woods. They’ve become thieves, turned against society because society’s turned against them and thematically they come together with Snow White because she too has been banished."
Turns out, their thievery made for the perfect outlet for one challenge Singh had to overcome. "The problem that I had was when they said you need to do some sort of action." To come up with an idea, Singh wondered, "What are you trying to compensate for? Hair loss problem? You wear the biggest wig you can. Short guys, what do they want to do? They just want to be tall!" And so in came stilts and a talented stunt team. The journalists stood on the sidelines as a group of stunt actors boarded their stilts and took to the set to run through a series of shots for the Prince’s first run-in with these not-so-little bandits and, sure enough, just as Singh described, "They’re really fast, they can move, they can fight, they can do everything." While the battle scene isn’t particularly aggressive, it’s an exciting show of swordsmanship and, as Singh called it, "fun and boingy" action.
Something for Everyone
Sticking with Mirror Mirror’s theme of there being something special about everyone, the filmmakers believe the movie is very much for everyone, too. Goldmann hopes the final product will spread that message and, "If 10 people walk away with that, that would be awesome! If one person walks away with it, that would be great, too!" He added, “I think there’s a responsibility in making movies for kids and for families, that you want to deliver something like that. You don’t want it to be an empty experience. You want there to be heart and center to it and we’re endeavoring to deliver that.”