Saturday, February 7, 2015

Kenneth Branagh Says 'Cinderella' (with Lily James and Sophie McShera of Downton Abbey) is 'Not About a Man Rescuing a Woman' (Q&A)

by Alex Ritman 2/5/2015 10:00pm PST

Cinderella’s rags-to-riches fairy tale is not the sort of project many might expect to be helmed by someone with the more Shakespearean skill set of Kenneth Branagh, recently seen flitting between Norse gods (Thor), Chris Pine-fronted Tom Clancy actioners (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) and Swedish TV dramas (Wallander). But 64 years after Walt Disney’s animated version of the tale won the Berlinale’s very first audience award in 1951, Branagh, 54, is about to unveil the world premiere of his live-action retelling, with Downton Abbey’s Lily James in the title role and Cate Blanchett doing her best wicked stepmother.

THR caught up with the five-time Oscar-nominated actor-director, who lives with his film art director wife just outside London, to find out how a filmmaker noted more for his Henry V and Hamlet has taken on Cinderella and her ugly stepsisters.

Was making Cinderella something of a departure for you?

The fairy tale element was a surprise to me in that, although I’ve read them and enjoyed them, I didn’t ever think this was a subject I was likely to make a film about. But when you go back to the original source material, you become aware of how all-pervasive this Cinderella myth is. How many times do you read about “the Cinderella story,” the story of the underdog, the story of the ordinary human being, often subjected to cruelty and ignorance and neglect, who somehow triumphs?

How much did you deviate from the original Disney cartoon?

The animation actually took a number of liberties with the original story, which of course has been told and retold across every type of culture, with different names and even different types of cruelty. There are some in which the stepsisters cut their toes off in order to force their feet into the slipper. What we put front and center was a level of reality and psychological truth in the performances that would be surprising in the context of a fairy tale.

Did you feel much pressure when dealing with one of Disney’s prized characters?

Anybody who goes into the Disney world and takes on one of these live-action versions of an animated classic is always up against that kind of ancestry. But my entire filmmaking career and indeed my entire career has been in and around classics. Probably 90 percent of the stuff I make has inevitably been done before. … Whether it’s playing Hamlet, which has been on the go for 400 years, or pieces from the cinematic world that also have been essayed before, I feel released by that. What I think it confirms when people come back to the stories again is not that they’re tired, but that the themes and the stories and the character are ageless, and that they have a different kind of resonance for each passing generation.


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