Call it the Wicked effect.
Ever since the hit Broadway musical that told Wizard of Oz witch Elphaba’s side of the story, redeeming famous movie villains has been a major Hollywood trend, from a double dose of Disney’s Maleficent adventures to the Disney Channel’s popular Descendants trilogy to stand-alone adventures from DC antiheroes like Joker and Harley Quinn (Birds of Prey).
Rehabbing Cruella de Vil, though — a villainess known best for her desire to kidnap dogs and skin them from fur coats in 1961 animated classic 101 Dalmatians and its 1996 live-action remake starring Glenn Close — had to be an especially tricky proposition, even for the world-class mythology remixers at Disney.
Casting an actress as likable and magnetic as Emma Stone certainly helps.
“I don’t think that Disney would want to make a live-action version of a person who was like, ‘Let’s seriously skin some dogs.’ Like we want to see that,” laughed the La La Land Oscar winner Stone in a new interview with Yahoo Entertainment (watch above), where she was joined by her Cruella castmates Paul Walter Hauser (Horace), Joel Fry (Jasper), Kirby Howell-Baptiste (Anita Darling) and Mark Strong (John the Valet).
The script, as you would expect, finds clever ways to make the aspiring fashion queen Cruella — introduced as orphaned girl-turned-grifter — relatable. And as Stone implies, the prequel leaves open whether any animals are harmed by Ms. de Vil in the future.
“The thing that I kept repeating to myself over and over as the script went through different processes, because it took about four years to come to the final conclusion that we were making this movie, was that in 101 Dalmatians, the dogs are returned, they do escape, we don’t actually see her skin the dogs, so what could be the backstory to why she wants to steal these dogs, no matter what she’s saying? And I think this movie does enough to sort of open up the lens that it could go, potentially, either way.”
In preparing to play Cruella, there was only one previous iteration Stone would look at. “I did reference the animated version a bit just in physicality, but I really tried not to watch the Glenn Close version because I would just pale in comparison, so there was no point in trying to do a crappy imitation of what she already did incredibly well. So I just decided it was probably better to reinvent it in my own way.” (Stone says she did listen to a lot of Tallulah Bankhead, the Lifeboat actress who inspired the original Cruella in 1961, while Hauser says he cribbed his Cockney accent from Bob Hoskins’s pirate character Smee in 1991’s Hook.)
After four years of development, the production of Cruella — written by Dana Fox and Tony McNamara and directed by Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya) — was delayed two more months when Stone suffered a separated shoulder before shooting began.
The injury was originally reported as occurring when Stone fell off a friend’s shoulders at a Spice Girls reunion tour concert in London, but the actress says that’s fake news.
“It’s not true, I wish it was true. But it did bite into my Spice Girls concert experience,” she says. “The night before I went to the Spice Girls concert at the O2 Arena. … I ran in boots on a wood floor in a house and slipped and my arm went back and I broke my shoulder in two places. They had to postpone the movie six or eight more weeks so I could go to physical therapy and heal my shoulder because I couldn’t move my arm for a good amount of time.
“But the next night was the Spice Girls concert and we got a sling, and I was in so much pain because I hadn’t had the X-ray yet and I didn’t know it was a break, I thought it was some type of sprain, which it was not. And then the next day I went to the hospital.”
So the story of how Stone broke her shoulder is fake — but her continuing Spice Girls diehard fandom, that’s as real as can be.
Cruella opens in theaters and on Disney+ with premier access Friday.
— Video produced by Jen Kucsak and edited by Jimmie Rhee
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