Rupert Sanders Is Ready To Lose His “Cinematic Virginity” To Snow White & Charlize Theron Says She’s Basically Playing A Serial Killer
Comic-Con may be over but what we saw in San Diego is a strong indication that the box office will continue to take a beating from the superheroes, fairy tales and other high concept offerings over the next year or so. Despite all the talk about studios staying away this year, the convention was still a major circus and the films that did show up tried to grab some positive attention from the notoriously fickle crowd.
As transparent as the marketing and pandering can get, especially during the panels where all cast and crew have been coached on exactly which topics to hit and which to avoid in order to stay on the good side of fanboys and girls, the whole thing still kind of works. This writer went into Saturday’s panel for Universal‘s “Snow White & The Huntsman” with next to no interest in it and damn if it didn’t end up winning him over, along with the rest of the packed crowd inside Hall H.
The film, a dark twist on the classic fairy tale, will be the feature debut of British commercial helmer Rupert Sanders and features “Thor“‘s Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman, Charlize Theron as the Evil Queen, ‘Pirates 4’‘s Sam Claflin as the Prince and Kristen Stewart as Snow White herself. Since the film doesn’t start shooting until next week, there wasn’t any official footage to show but the filmmakers did bring along a reel of Sanders’ commercial work, some images of the cast in costume (which you can look at here) and perhaps most effectively, a “stylistic piece” teaser assembled by the director just in time for Comic-Con. Rupert Sanders was on hand with cast members Stewart, Hemsworth, Theron and Claflin along with producers Joe Roth and Palak Patel and are the highlights from their talk about the upcoming film.
1. Though filming won’t begin for a few weeks, Rupert Sanders did assemble a “down and dirty” 2 minute teaser to give an idea of what he intended to do visually with the film and the dark, surreal footage won over the audience.
Sanders prefaced the teaser by saying that he’d shot the the clip over just a few days without any of his principal cast just to give fans at Comic-Con an idea of what he was trying to achieve visually with his adaptation. He’d stressed that though 90% of it was shot by him, he’d nicked a few shots from other films as well as the music just to fill in the gaps but that obviously none of this would be in the final film. It proved to be quite an effective reel, dark and moody, with sinister narration over surrealistic imagery including the Queen dissipating into a flock of birds and being submerged in a milky substance.
It was a remarkably polished sign of things to come that showed off the director’s chops as a visual stylist. Though Sanders knew it was risky bringing rough footage to the notoriously vocal folks at Comic-Con, he thought it would be good to show people that the story wasn’t going to be “a girl sitting by a well with little tweetie birds.” The commercial director will certainly make a visually ambitious film but let’s just hope there’s a great script underneath to really bring the tale to life.
2. Producer Joe Roth admits that this film is attempt to reproduce the massive success of “Alice In Wonderland”
Between 2009’s “Alice In Wonderland,” Sam Raimi‘s upcoming “Oz: The Great And Powerful” and this latest version of Snow White moderator and EW writer Dave Karger asked what about these classic tales appealed to Roth who joked, “I couldn’t think of anything else to do,” before admitting to coming up with the idea by “reverse-engineering from ‘Alice’,” by trying to duplicate the massive success of that film. Regardless of what critics thought of Tim Burton‘s gaudy film, it still made over a billion dollars at the worldwide box office and that’s not the kind of money Hollywood likes to ignore. In lieu of a successful sequel, the producer mused that an idea has to be something that people all over the world are familiar with in order to reach the largest audience possible. “You need to come up with an idea that everybody knows, every generation, in every language… and use that as a starting point.”
Roth also admitted they had initially been looking for an unknown to take the lead prior to casting “Twilight” phenom Kristen Stewart because he was “trying to copy what they’d done on ‘Alice’ with [casting] Mia [Wasikowska]” but he came around because he was excited to be able to be the “first one to get her out of the [‘Twilight’] franchise.”
With the film set for a June 1, 2012 release, the filmmakers knew this was the last chance to get the film before an audience at the convention. By next year’s Comic-Con the film will have been in theaters for about six weeks and Roth said he hoped would have racked up around “700 million dollars” by this time next year. Time will tell if the film becomes the global smash the producer is hoping for or whether counting his chickens before they hatch will become a cautionary tale.
Regardless of the initial motivation for adapting the property, the mega-producer has certainly assembled an impressive cast and crew to bring the tale to life and in the end, it’ll be up to them whether the film lives or dies at the box office.
3. Though much has been made of the two ‘Snow White’ films currently in development the filmmakers don’t seem worried about the competition.
One of the most ironic bits of scheduling at Hall H was putting “Snow White & The Huntsman” directly after the panel for “Immortals.” The reason being that ‘Immortals’ director Tarsem Singh just happens to be the filmmaker helming the other version of Snow White with Lily Collins as the titular heroine and Julia Roberts as the Evil Queen. While we can only dream up a scenario where the two filmmakers threw down backstage, the producers said they weren’t worried about the other version.
Roth described them as being “very different pieces” and said that he thought their version was “on the scale with ‘Lord of the Rings’ in terms of size and scope. It’s a tough, rough, active, male/female picture.” Though he said he couldn’t speak for the other version Roth said that the images he’d seen of the other film (which EW ran recently) seemed like a “softer version.” Whether audiences will want to shell out for two versions of the same story also didn’t seem to worry the producer.
“People don’t remember that Tom Hanks did the fifth body-switching movie when he did ‘Big,’” Roth said. “I was at Disney when we did ‘Armageddon,’ and there was another movie that Paramount/Dreamworks did called ‘Deep Impact,’” he said describing 1998’s competing asteroid disaster movies that were released just 7 weeks apart but both managed to be hits. Roth said he did a little research on his own afterwards and found out that “people were more likely to come see ‘Armageddon’ if they’d seen ‘Deep Impact.’ People are either interested in kinds of movies or they’re not.”
4. Director Rupert Sanders, who has quite an impressive resume of commercial work, said that working with a classic story like Snow White was a great way to “lose his cinematic virginity.”
The first footage shown during the panel was a small sampling of work from director Sanders’ commercial career including famous spots for Halo 3, Nike and Monster. This managed to be quite an effective introduction for the under-the-radar filmmaker to the audience. Asked why he chose to make this his debut film the Sanders said he was excited to be able to work on such a large canvas with material that would give him a lot of room to play on peoples preconceptions of the story.
“I had actually wanted to do a war movie so it’s quite weird that I ended up with ‘Snow White.’ But what really excited me about it was the opportunity to create a world on a massive scale. Our movie is filled with giant battle scenes and exploding black knights, but I think the fundamental thing that is so great about it is that you have a story that all of us have in our hearts. Everyone’s read the story, everyone’s seen the cartoon, it’s very much a part of who we are,” he explained. “It’s a very complex way of dealing with mortality and to be able to play with some of those images: the mirror, the apple, the shape shifting Queen, it was such a great opportunity for me to really do what I do best which is create very large landscapes full of emotion. There are a lot of films that look great but there’s no heart to them… and it’s amazing to be able to give people an emotional ride as well as just a visual one.”
Roth said that he’s been pursuing Sanders for a long time, and when Snow White came along he knew that the helmer could create something truly unique, if not “definitive.” “I was chasing after Rupert for a few years, like a hot girl,” Roth confessed. “I had seen his work, and when I developed Snow White, he was the first guy I had in my mind because his commercials were just unbelievable. And one of the things we did when we were developing this is that we wanted to make a definitive version of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale.”
5. Kristen Stewart is pretty excited to be wielding a sword
Kristen Stewart was initially reluctant to take on Snow White before discovering how substantive the character was constructed.
After “Twilight,” Stewart said she wasn’t eager to tackle another character immortalized in literature. But Snow White’s character itself won her over. “Snow White wasn’t something that initially I was jumping at, but she’s got this amazing ability to channel fear of things that people are very afraid of into this very focused, really charged driving energy,” she observed. “She’s also the people’s leader, and she doesn’t let her heart cloud her mind, and she doesn’t let her mind get in the way of doing what she feels is important.” She also admitted there was a more tangible reason the role appealed to her: “Also I get to have a sword.”
Claflin even hinted that his Prince Charming might not “necessarily as charming as one would hope.” Theron, who plays the Evil Queen, said she thought Stewart would “give her a run for her money” but was ready to go toe-to-toe with her. “I’m ready for it, bitch. Let’s go,” the Oscar winner said to cheers from the crowd.
The director gave the crowd a first look at the eight dwarves which includes Ian McShane, Toby Jones, Bob Hoskins, Eddie Marsan, Stephen Graham, Ray Winstone and Nick Frost. Slightly spoiling that they won’t all make it, he says that “they’re very tough East End villains in their day jobs but they’re coming together to be very tough group of East End dwarves. This is my desperation to make a war movie. I’ve cast my British SAS Squad with this great actors who are very funny, very tough and together they’re just unstoppable.”
6. Already a franchise veteran, Chris Hemsworth thanks dumb luck instead of a calculated career plan for his run of big movies.
Like Stewart, Chris Hemsworth was caught off guard by the project’s take on a familiar story.
With “Star Trek” and “Thor” under his belt, Hemsworth has enjoyed a meteoric rise to success in a series of projects that put him squarely in Fanboy Central. But he insisted that taking on a third fantasy-themed project was more a byproduct of luck and personal interest than any sort of career plan. “The last couple years I’ve just been trying to get a job,” he said with a laugh. “The fact I’ve fell into films like this that were cool fantasies and had a sense of adventure was a huge bonus, because growing up, they were the ones I most enjoyed watching.
But this cast and the director were hugely appealing, and this story was different from the Snow White we grew up with. To take that fantasy and adventure and set it in a darker version, that was exciting.”
7. Charlize Theron says The Queen in this version of Snow White is basically a serial killer
Despite its supernatural storyline, Charlize Theron saw playing the Queen as a return of sorts to her more serious, dramatic work.
Theron is certainly no stranger to fantasy and science-fiction projects, having been in “Aeon Flux” and “Mighty Joe Young” among others, but she said that she resists formalizing the process of selecting roles. “It’s weird,” she reflected. “I usually get asked the question a lot why I play a lot of strong women, and I don’t like to compartmentalize it. But the biggest thing is getting an understanding of the world and the circumstances.” In the case of the Queen, she said that she wants to humanize the character in much the same way she did Aileen Wuornos in “Monster,” albeit without quite the same sort of physical transformation.
“It was important for me to understand this as a fable – to not see her as a bad person, but understand where she came from. I don’t think this is going to be ‘the queen, and she’s evil.’ A lot of her circumstances lead into her actions,” Theron said. “But trust me, she’s dark. I’m pretty much preparing to play a serial killer.”
—Additional reporting by Todd Gilchrist; Photos: Kevin Winter; Getty from JustJared