“Maleficent” is a swirly watercolor spectacle where Angelina Jolie finds a pretty firm balance between sorcery and sensitivity. Though the movie remains true to the feel of a fable, there are plenty of character moments that seem unusual for such a splashy fairytale. The rapport between Jolie's commanding Maleficent and the precocious Aurora [Elle Fanning] almost manages to be sisterly, even though — as Fanning professed in a followup interview — Jolie still has the presence of “a god.”
Clearly the blend of fantasy and sincerity resonated with Jolie, who called screenwriter Linda Woolverton's script one of the most touching she'd read in years. HitFix took part in a roundtable interview with Jolie where she revealed why the spooky elements of the film aren't too scary for kids, how her daughter Vivienne performed for her brief stint in the film as 5-year-old Aurora, and why she's not sure she could return to the role of Maleficent.
(Certain minor spoilers about the movie follow.)
On whether she felt like a flamboyant Norma Desmond type upon stepping into costume:
There's no halfway [with the role of Maleficent]. If you're going to do it, you can't just kind of do it. You have to go fully into it and enjoy it. The original was done so well and her voice was so great. The way she was animated was so perfect. If anything, I was worried I'd fail the original. I practiced a lot with my children. When I got them laughing, I figured I was on to something — well, they laughed, they cried.
On her own daughter Vivienne being in the movie:
Well, Brad and I have never wanted our kids to be actors, but we also want them to be around film and be a part of mommy and daddy's life and for it not to be kept from them either. We just want them to have a good, healthy relationship with it. This came about because there were kids who came to set, and they'd see me, and I'd say hi to them. And they would cry. Actually, one child completely froze and then cried. It was like terror. I felt so bad, but we realized there was no way we were going to find a 4- or 5-year-old that I could be as strong with that would not see me as a monster. Suddenly there was Vivi running around like little Aurora, and everyone kind of thought, “Oh! The answer's right there.” But then I had to go home and talk to dad and — you know, it's our kid. The idea is sweet and so cute to us, as mommy and daddy, but the fact that she's in a film, and now it's the world of film. That took us a sec.
On Vivienne's first day acting:
The first day was the day she had to catch the butterfly, and she just really didn't feel like doing it. I actually was holding the pole with the ball on the end, kind of dancing and trying to make her laugh. Daddy was on the edge of the cliff she had to jump off, making faces and doing all these things. Her brothers and sisters were kind of edging her on. She was taking her sweet time and not wanting to do it twice, certainly. Then when we got to our scene, we kind of practiced it a little bit at home. I'd say, “I'm going to say, 'Go away.' And you try to give it back.” When we did it together, we had a good time. We played together. I was actually shocked she was doing so well. I thought, “Oh, she… went back and hit her mark! Frightening.”
On whether she'll encourage her children to act more often in movies:
I just want them to like it like this. I want them to do it for fun. If when they get older and they decide to be actors — I would just ask that that's not the center of their lives. It's an aspect, but I hope they do many other things with their lives and are involved with many other things because I don't think it's a healthy focus as a center of your life.
On how “Maleficent” is a departure for her:
I was so challenged by it. My kids are now all watching all these movies and wanting to play with mommy. It was perfect timing to have them all on set and being a part of the adventure with me. For me as an actress to do something where I'm not taking myself so seriously or doing it for myself or doing it for art — just to remember what it is to play and entertain and try something bold.
On the daunting aspects of “Maleficent”:
It was a bit nervous to take her on. I don't have a big theater voice. I don't do things that are kind of comedic. This is such a crazy idea. I'm a fairy? “How was your day, honey?' 'I was a fairy.'”
On how adults underestimate what children will appreciate about movies:
My boys saw an early cut of “Unbroken” [Jolie's upcoming directorial feature] the other day and I thought they would be talking about the sharks, but instead they asked me about one of the characters' deaths. I was very confused by that. Well, not confused. I was surprised. I think the depth, what children can handle and what they're interested in, is much deeper than I think what people assume. I think it's why sometimes we make things too simple for them. A film like this, people ask, “Is it too dark for children?” It's not. They want to understand things that frighten them. They want to see dark things that happen and how to rise above them. They don't want to be hidden from all things. [They don't want] everything sweetened.
On her whether she felt there were any parallels between a very brutal early scene in which Maleficent's wings are taken from her and Jolie's own double mastectomy.
The surgery was something I did that was a choice I made myself and something I was happy to have the option and healthcare to make the choice to be here longer for my children. It was a wonderful thing. What happened to [Maleficent] was more like a rape. It was something she had no choice in. It was done maliciously, with ill intent. I think people will see it and see, for children, it's abuse, it's being bullied, it's being hurt. For anybody, everybody at this table, it hurt us. It changed us. I think children will identify with that in different ways. It will upset them, but then they'll also get angry with her hopefully and want her to grow past it, then go on that journey and understand how you can evolve past that.
On the process of applying Maleficent's prosthetics:
The creation of it took a little time, like how to get [the horns] on my head and get them to stay on my head. We used my braids to nail it down. It was a headpiece with the horns; it wasn't like a headband. We kind of put my hair in this little balls and then you put the headpiece over it and pulled the braids through. We used them to anchor it. Then we had different horns. First they were too heavy, then we got them softer, and then we found ones that snap off because I kept banging into things. It all slowly came together, and we tried different things and some things didn't work. We had feathered hair at one point. We went that crazy. We were like, “Well, she's a bird. Maybe she has feather hair.” But when we got to it, we just wanted to have a character who — during the dramatic scenes — you can watch her and I can perform without people staring at the makeup. We really wanted to find a balance so it was kind of an enhanced face, but it still felt like a real face somehow. Not a real face, but that a soul could still come out of [the face.]
On what kind of nose prosthetics she had:
Well, my nose is just not very strong. It's a fine nose, but it can be a cute nose. I wanted her to have a stronger nose so that she has a bit more of a piece to make it less of a slope and more of a bump. We wanted to give her more angles and take all the softness out of my face and make everything sharper and stronger.
On whether she'd return to playing the character:
Nobody's asked me that. [Laughs.] Um, I don't know. I can't imagine. I'm not dead at the end of [the movie], so she's still there. I don't know. I don't know. I loved playing her.
On why she felt the story of “Maleficent” needed to be told:
Well, I wanted to do something that my children could see. I wanted to have fun and explore different art and performance in a way I hadn't done. Most of all I read Linda [Woolverton]'s script and I was really moved by it. I got really emotional by the time I finished it. I thought it was one of the best scripts I'd read in a long time because of the issues it dealt with. I thought it was, in fact, an important story to tell.
On the difference between directing her upcoming film “Unbroken” and her first directorial effort, “In the Land of Blood and Honey.”
It was daunting in a whole different way. “Blood and Honey” I wrote, it was in a few rooms, and there were different things to tackle. There were many things to balance. But getting into “Unbroken” — it's suddenly two plane crashes and shark attacks and 47 days at sea and three prison camps and the 1936 Olympics. You know, races? You wake up and think, “God, there's a way to direct races, isn't there?” This isn't just showing up to work and covering it this way or that way. This was something I have to really understand. I have to understand how they went in formation, who was where, how it happened. There was just so much more. There were just days I didn't know if we'd be able to track it all and accomplish it all. We didn't have that much money or that much time. It was a new scare.
On whether she was instrumental in choosing first-time director Robert Stromberg for the project:
Well, it was Disney's choice. He hadn't directed before, but he was very into the creation of the world. The script was so strong that we kind of felt that all the pieces would come together — because we had such a solid script. Even though he hadn't directed before, the script would help in a way direct itself and the actors would feel close to their characters. He did really have this focus on the creatures and what the world would look like and the feeling. I haven't seen the 3-D, but his history would be instrumental and making that work.