It’s not every day you get to sight the Director of Thor and Cinderella. Interviewing him for twenty minutes, was even more of a rarity. Today was my lunar eclipse, my once-in-a-lifetime, interview with the brilliant and witty Cinderella Director Kenneth Branagh.
The Director Kenneth Branagh interview took place at the luxurious Montage Beverly Hills. A hotel where loads of A-list celebrities stay to find their oasis in the craziness of Los Angeles.
The hotel had a calm to it, serenity and quietness that any busy celeb would come to appreciate after a long evening of publicity on the red carpet. From floor to ceiling, the hotel was styled in true old Hollywood vintage glam yet, it had a refined contemporary and modern feel.
Still, I felt like I had arrived at Prince Charming’s castle. A perfect setting for the cast and filmmakers of Cinderella to be interviewed.
My geek love affair with Kenneth Branagh began in 1994 with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Being a total horror movie culture freak, I had that whole extra special nerd thing rocking when I found out I’d be interviewing the Oscar-nominated and talented Branagh.
In 2002 he came back into my life when he played the utterly annoying and devious Professor Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and again in 2011 when he directed Thor.
Now with Cinderella on his mega list of talents, I am fairly certain there is nothing this man is incapable of.
My Interview Director Kenneth Branagh
The Casting Process
Kenneth: Well, I had an idea of how Cinderella should be. Thor took a long time to find the beautiful and sexy Chris Hemsworth, now officially the sexiest man in the world.
I thought I have good taste then clearly. Yeah, she had to be likable. You needed to want to spend those 90 minutes or whatever with her.
And because of the way we were slightly remaining the character’s personality, that she needed to have, you know, a good sense of humor, a kinda what we were calling a kind of an approachable beauty, and kindness and passion and strength and that could stand up, you know, in a scene with Miss Blanchett or Miss Bonham-Carter.
I heard Lily James’ voice first. I thought, God, that’s a beautiful voice. And then she was a beautiful girl. And then she was very patient across a lot of auditions and things. And eventually it just became clear that she was the one.”
Most Difficult Scene to Direct
Kenneth : I think probably the ballroom sequence 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, and then get them back on set before wasting too much time.
I knew that the dancing, and then the sort of staging, and the sense of how opulent it was, and getting a sense of the glamour 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.”
How Branagh Goes from Thor to Cinderella
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, a fairytale and such a famous one, uh, if that’s not a stupid way of putting it.
I remembered a couple of things from Cinderella. I loved the chase back 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.
So, I remember it being a bit scary and, uh, but very exciting and fun.
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. So that was very exciting.”
How did you choose the locations?
Kenneth : We all almost always have a location manager to whom you give a brief. Then they go off and help out, but you know, as being a small country, frankly, you end up knowing a few.
But essentially of course we built so much of it that we didn’t do too much inside real palaces.
So the whole of that ballroom is an entire construction on the 007 stage in Pinewood. The outside of Cinderella’s house was all built for real in a place called Black Park.
Then interestingly the forest where the prince and Cinderella meet is in Windsor Great Park, which is essentially the Queen’s back garden. She lives in Windsor Castle part of the time.
That park involves a group of oak trees that are over 600 years old. So it was very nice to be able to say to Lily and Richard,
you’re gonna do this magical scene in a magical place. ‘Cause these oak trees were here when Shakespeare was alive.”
The Message for Kids
Kenneth: 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.
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 include some of the difficult things that life throws up.
As long as, you know, it can be done lightly and there’s lots of entertainment.
What was your favorite iconic image?
Kenneth : I felt very secure in the world of Sandy Powell and her amazing, talent with the costumes. So the kind of balance between, you know, finding it–this– this sort of classical approach– you know, for instance, there was a big question about what color is that dress?
You know, does it stay blue? The original was blue.
And you felt quite a lot of pressure with the slippers because, you know, you’ve got ruby slippers. And you got other slippers in film history.
And it was gonna be a big moment. Sandy’s work with Swarovski, to find this kind of multi-faceted thing, which also has a heaviness, was really a stroke of genius.
When we saw it for the first time it was very gasp inducing.”
Cinderella at the top of the stairs coming into the ball was a favorite moment of mine. Or actually even just walking from the coach up the steps and into the palace I think the sort of moment where she comes into her own.
What brought you to cast Richard?
Apart from very blue eyes, and very tight trousers –they actually weren’t his own trousers. He had intelligence and wit, he relished the idea of how you might sort of play a gentleman. He wasn’t striving hard to be a certain modern kind of cool.
You know, I think both these actors, I love the idea that they were prepared to be uncynical in the film, and just sort of respond directly to each other and that gallantry, a courtship the desire to woo, to serve, to listen were things that he felt could be played very positively and would be very, very attractive and that in a way there was a natural disposition in the world of the piece that we presented for him to love.
Also that he was able to do that and not see that as suddenly rendering him the love interest. It was a very powerful thing to be somebody listening, looking, reacting, and trying to, with the screen time that he has.
And I think it’s very touching and wonderful chemistry between them.
I think he was somebody I felt could do this thing we needed to do of having a man who earned Cinderella’s respect and love.”
I hope this interview with Director Kenneth Branagh gave you a closer look at Cinderella and inner workings of Branagh.