Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Disney. My travel was paid for , for this trip.
It’s not often you get to interview the director of one of your favorite Disney movies. Today I get to share with you my Director Robert Stromberg Maleficent Interview. I loved it when Robert said “This is very intimidating by the way.” Why is everyone so scared of us lol? Maleficent opens in theaters tomorrow!
Was Angelina your first choice for the role of Maleficent or did you write this with her in mind?
She was actually already attached when, when Disney hired me.They were looking for a director,but she had wanted to do this character for a long time. So, lucky for me, I didn’t have to do much digging on that part. It was sort of this perfectly made iconic combination that I was blessed to have. I also wanted to mentions that just because you have this sort of thing that looks really good in the costume,this iconic figure, that wasn’t it. What really surprised me, which was great, was the emotional depth and richness of the emotional part of that character was, when you combine that with the image, that is what made it powerful.
So this being your first directorial debut, what was different from being on set compared to being in the art department?
I’ve always wanted to be a director. You know, I used to make kid movies when I was a little kid and I was a huge Disney fan. I had an art teacher who was an ex-Disney artist.I used to draw like crazy, images, including Maleficent when I was five, six years old. So I had always wanted to tell stories and be a director.
I got sidetracked by this pesky art direction stuff, but it was part of the journey. I’m glad that I did all that stuff because it prepared me not only being around these big movies but also meeting a lot of great directors. I met Peter Weir and we became close friends on a movie called Master and Commander. He taught me a lot about how to talk to actors and to get at an emotional level with them. Then I spent four years with Jim Cameron and that was useful in how to be strong when you need to be. Many times I worked with Tim Burtonand how an artist can direct. These are all directors but they do it in different ways. So I came into this with a lot of experience and, and not only that, you have to have emotion yourself. You have to have spent your life studying human behavior and really, really paying attention to why people react a certain way when they’re told something. I think if, it’s all those little bits of information plus all of the knowledge I got from just my experience with other directors.Then the confidence to be at the same level with somebody in finding the emotion of that character. That’s what made me feel comfortable in being a director.
What advice would you give to parents of children who may have an interest in going into film either directing or working in the art department, working in any capacity in this industry?
I think, it’s obviously very competitive. I’ve never done this because I wanted to be recognized. I’ve never done this because I wanted to make oodles of money. You do this because you’re passionate about it. You do this because creating is, is your world.I thought that was my world until I had my own kids, and then that opened up, for me personally it opened up the reason why I’m really here on this planet.
It’s not to make movies. It’s to, sort of, you know,to understand the love, you could say true love you have as a parent.
What was your favorite scene to direct?
I think there are many, many different, you know, special moments. But, I suppose the christening scene because it was in the film and we’re doing a retelling. So we’re not just doing a straight out of the box remake of that classic version. So it was very intentional that when you watch the movie you’ve learned a whole bunch of new material. When you get to that center point of the movie we shot that scene almost verbatim, word for word, from the classic cartoon version. That was so that you now had all this new, fun information that you had learned and you understand why that character is doing what she’s doing. And then you get to see what happens after that. So I think it wasn’t challenging but, for me personally as a film, Hollywood moment, just standing there, with several hundred extras in this huge set, and she came into the room in that costume. I was a big fan myself at that moment just in awe.
What was the creative process that you used creating the Moors?
Over the years I probably have a file full of just sketches and strange creatures and stuff that you wanna use one day. I always approach a movie using the world itself as a psychological steering device. So I think it’s really interesting, not just as a designer but to create fun things, there’s no rule book there. That’s what’s so fun about it, is you just do a sketch and oh, this is cool, and you know, three months later it becomes something real. But the interesting thing I’ve learned over the projects that I’ve done is how you can steer the audience and make the audience feel something, even if they’re not aware that, that’s how things are done. So, that was where I started. I’m a big fan of Eyvind Earle, but the look of the original design was a bit too stylized for this sort of emotional, organic, grounded-in-reality story that we’re trying to tell. So that would be distracting in this case. But it was important to me to keep the essence of what that design was that Eyvind Earle had done. So if you really look at the film you’ll see elements that you could say he would have done. Does that answer?
What was the most difficult thing to bring to the big screen for this film?
You know, it’s just getting through the film and still carrying a big, beating heart under your arm as you make it through this jungle is something. You know, someone once told me directing is like painting in a hurricane and it’s true. I can’t pick one thing that was challenging because, just making a movie at this scale, you’re just constantly juggling chainsaws and trying to draw pretty pictures at the same time. So I think the challenge is to bring all these huge, you know, elements together and at the end of all that, have something with a heart and soul and emotion and something that means something. I’m always amazed at how movies get made at all. There’s so many pieces that have to come together that it’s really a fascinating process. I’m still fascinated even though I’ve been doing this for twenty-eight years. I’m still as fascinated today as I was when I was five years old.
Were there things you felt absolutely had to be captured in this movie that was in the original movie?
Well obviously you’ve seen the film, right? So you know that we had to steer away from certain elements. But it was really important that you walk away from this film as a fan of the original film with enough that you can relate to the comparison. You could also walk away saying, “You know, I learned all this new, cool stuff, but it was still Sleeping Beauty. You know, we changed a certain amount of things, but, that was another delicate path is to because when you’re telling or retelling a story, you have to do things that are different to make the dots connect. It was really important to keep enough elements from the classic that, hopefully, the fans would respect that we tried to do and also, you would walk away saying, “I just saw Sleeping Beauty but I saw so many different new sides of it.” That was the intent.
Had you worked with Angelina Jolie before and if not,what was it like to work with her and direct her?
I hadn’t. I went to her house the first day I met her and what was really great is, we didn’t talk about the movie for the first hour, I think. I’ll never forget we just sat on some back steps in her backyard and watched her kids play out in the backyard. We talked about life and being a parent and just normal stuff. I think that’s why we connected is because we had to find out that we were both human beings first before we tackled human being problems. And that was a special moment for me because I wasn’t necessarily intimidated by her, but I had never seen the human, motherly quality in there before.
If you could get your hands on any other Disney classic film, what would you grab for first?
What do you guys wanna see? Just out of curiosity, I’ll ask you a question. So were you, (this is not a Disney film) were you disappointed in Snow White and the Huntsman?
Most of us answered YES! ???
So, somebody who didn’t probably stay more true to the Snow White that you love, I agree with you on that. As far as other projects, somebody else asked me that, you know, and I started looking at them again and I didn’t realize how much tragedy and, and just suffering there is in those, those things. But, uh, and, and, because we always just sort of remember the, we look back and remember these sweet movies. Um, so looking at, you know, Maleficent there, there are these similar things going on but, um, um, which is why, I think, it, it’s more interesting as a film to show the dark and the light and how it would — if you were to mention, if you were to look at this, you know, define, boil down this film in one sentence I would have to say it’s, it’s a tri- uh, you know, like, uh, human beings trying to find the essence of true love and what that means and whatever that is. Maybe it’s not the, the, the, the puppy love thing
that you think it is. Maybe it’s, uh, maybe we should look to our parents and, and, and maybe there’s a deeper love that we’re not seeing. And, and hopefully there’s a message in this movie is that it can open up, um, you know, some young one’s eyes to see a love in their parents that they didn’t see before. That’s kind of the message. And it’s really based on looking at my own daughter and, and feeling that feeling that I want, I hope that people will feel.