Maleficent: Interview with Angelina Jolie

maleficent_poster“Maleficent, ” starring Angelina Jolie in the title role, marks the 55th ain the animated feature released by Disney in 1959. Since her introduction, Maleficent has been Disney’s all-time most popular villain. Now she returns in this live-action version of the classic story—and there’s a lot about her we never knew.

“I loved Maleficent when I was a little girl,” says Jolie. “She was my favorite Disney character. I was afraid of her and I loved her.” This duality intrigued producer Joe Roth as well. “This movie is about a character we’ve only known as hard-hearted,” says Roth, “and our story answers the question ‘Why?’ I’d like audiences to feel like they’ve entered a world they’ve never seen before with ‘Maleficent’ and I hope they come away feeling like no one is beyond redemption.”

“Maleficent” explores the untold story of Disney’s most iconic villain from the classic “Sleeping Beauty” and the elements of her betrayal that ultimately turn her pure heart to stone. Driven by revenge and a fierce desire to protect the moors over which she presides, Maleficent cruelly places an irrevocable curse upon the human king’s newborn infant, Aurora. As the child grows, Aurora is caught in the middle of the seething conflict between the forest kingdom she has grown to love and the human kingdom that holds her legacy. Maleficent realizes that Aurora may hold the key to peace in the land and is forced to take drastic actions that will change both worlds forever.

maleficent_2_jolie“Maleficent” is directed by two-time Oscar-winning production designer Robert Stromberg (“Avatar,” “Alice in Wonderland”), in his directorial debut.

It is produced by Joe Roth. The screenplay is by Linda Woolverton (“The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast”) and the film is executive produced by Angelina Jolie, Michael Vieira, Don Hahn, Palak Patel, Matt Smith and Sarah Bradshaw.

Angelina Jolie in the role of the title character Maleficent was a decision made somewhere far above the normal casting confines. “Even before I became involved with this project, I’d heard Angelina’s name attached and I thought, ‘What perfect casting,’” recalls Stromberg.  “You can just look at her picture and Maleficent’s image and see it is a marriage made in heaven.”

MALEFICENT“I was really moved by the script from first reading,” says Jolie.  “It was like uncovering a great mystery. We all know the story of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and we all know Maleficent and what happened at the christening because we’ve all grown up with that. But what we’ve never known is, what happened before?”

Maleficent is a complex character with many layers; she is driven by revenge yet she fiercely protects the land she loves and all who dwell there. Speaking of the character and what she would like audiences to take away, Jolie says,  “I hope the girls, especially, will see the importance of having a sense of justice and a sense of what’s fair and what’s worth fighting for. They’ll see that they can be warriors and at the same time soft and feminine and deeply feeling, with all the complexities women have.”

As to what audiences can expect from Disney’s most iconic villain this time around, Jolie says, “People will see that she’s the same wicked Maleficent. What I loved about the original Maleficent when I was little was that she had a wicked sense of fun. She enjoyed being evil and she reveled in it. She still gets to do that and she will satisfy, hopefully, the people that, like myself, are fans of the original. But you get to learn more about her and how she became evil.”

Explaining how she approached playing Maleficent, Jolie relates, “I wanted to make sure we didn’t lose her sense of wicked fun because I think it’s a very beautiful story. It’s kind of a different but classic fairy tale and it has a lot of heart. We want to revel in that and that was very important for me as well as that she was somebody that was relatable.”

Jolie admits that Maleficent is one of the most difficult characters that she has ever played because “she represents all sides of what it is to be human, even though she is not.” “For me, the journey of playing her has been much heavier, much more emotional, and much more difficult an experience than I expected,” informs Jolie. “There’s a part of me that plays big fun roles, but never this big. She’s slightly crazy, extremely vibrant, a little wicked and has a big sense of humor, so she’s quite full on. It’s one of those characters that, for me, you couldn’t do halfway.”

If Maleficent has long been a symbol of the dark feminine, the character Aurora has always symbolized the light and innocent. In casting the role of the princess who falls under Maleficent’s spell, the filmmakers chose one of the most talented actresses of her generation, Elle Fanning.

Working with Elle Fanning

“Elle is Aurora,” comments Jolie.  “From the moment I met her, she is just sunshine. She’s a wonderful, sweet, intelligent young woman. Elle’s such a capable actress and a very strong person, which is nice because this Aurora is not just in love with the flowers; she is elegant and beautiful and delicate and loving, but she’s centered and she’s quite an impressive young woman. Elle is bringing all of that and a great deal of emotional depth and her talent, as an actress, has really surprised me.”

“Elle is fantastic and I have nothing but the highest respect for her,” adds her director.  “She’s not only beautiful but she’s a tremendous actress; she’s going to be doing wonderful things in the future and she’s a pleasure to work with on the set. She just brings a smile to everyone.”

For Fanning, winning this role was a dream come true. “It’s been sort of everything that I dreamed of,” says the young actress.  “I think from the moment of putting on her first outfit, getting the hair and everything, it’s been really special to get to play such an iconic character.”

Although most people know Aurora as Sleeping Beauty from Disney’s classic animated film of the same name, Fanning reveals that in “Maleficent” audiences will get to find out more about her. “In our film you get to see her have different emotions and really get the essence of her,” says Fanning. “I love how she’s very free spirited, and since she has been kept away from normal life, she’s very open to things and innocent. But that’s what makes her very likable and charming.”

Fanning adds, “Aurora exudes lightness and it’s so great in our movie that we have the dark and the light, total opposites, because they work so well together, like opposites attract in a way.”

Aurora’s father in the film, King Stefan, was driven by blind ambition to become king and stopped at nothing to achieve his goal. Sharlto Copley plays the complex character whose journey from innocent young boy to vengeful monarch is a revelation to audiences familiar with the original. Describing Stefan and his role in the story, Stromberg informs, “We meet Stefan, who is human, early on in the film, when he sneaks into the moors where Maleficent lives, and the two eventually become good friends. Over time, we realize that Stefan lusts for power whereas Maleficent is tied to the moors where she belongs, taking on the responsibility of protecting the creatures that dwell there.  We follow Stefan on a journey to the King’s castle, where he begins his quest for power, wealth and money.”

Co-starring in the film are Sharlto Copley (“District 9”), Elle Fanning (“Super 8”), Sam Riley (“On the Road”), Imelda Staunton (“Vera Drake”), Juno Temple (“Atonement”) and Lesley Manville (“Secrets & Lies”).

Behind-the-scenes talent includes Academy Award®–winning cinematographer Dean Semler (“Dances with Wolves,” “In the Land of Blood and Honey”), production designers Gary Freeman (“Saving Private Ryan,” “The Bourne Supremacy”) and Dylan Cole, two-time Oscar®-nominated costume designer Anna B. Sheppard (“Schindler’s List,” “The Pianist”), seven-time Academy Award®–winning makeup artist Rick Baker (“Planet of the Apes,” “Men in Black”) and editors Chris Lebenzon (“Alice in Wonderland,” “Frankenweenie”) and Richard Pearson (“United 83,” “Iron Man 2”).

Disney’s “Maleficent” opens in U.S. theaters on May 30, 2014, in 3D.