The live version of the Disney classic returns tonight on M6. And it is its director who speaks of it best.
Update July 21, 2023: Cate Blanchett come back tonight Cinderella on M6. The channel will broadcast the live-action remake of the Disney classic, directed by Kenneth Branagh and released in theaters in the spring of 2015. At the time, First had met the director to talk about this project in the vein of Maleficent, The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast…
For us, you were the director subscribed to Shakespeare. We are a little lost now: who are you and what happened?
(He’s laughing) It’s funny… People tell me that I have a predilection for the classics. People ask me why I’m not doing anything new. I did adaptations of Shakespeare and it took me a while to move on. It was a long period, where I worked with the same people. When I starred in my first film, I thought I would never do another. Become a director, I could not imagine it. But from my second film – a TV movie in fact – I started asking questions. I was 21 years old. ‘Why are you doing this, what is this machine?‘ Then I created my own film school for the next six or seven years. I knew I was interested in the profession, but I really started acting in cinema films, which came as a surprise. It lasted for a while. Not so successful, to be quite honest. I shot with excellent directors but not necessarily in their best films. It was interesting, fascinating. At the same time, I mainly produced adaptations of Shakespeare. Then the failure of Love’s Labors Lost (Love’s Labour’s Lost, 2000, editor’s note) was a big disappointment for me. I loved this movie and it hurt me that it didn’t work. It was definitely a turning point, I took some time to realize again. And then exciting projects came to me. The idea of being behind the camera has become more logical, more natural. And I had played a lot. I was older, more sure of my experience. Becoming a director was possible, and not only with Shakespeare. There have been different chapters in my creative life.
Why is there no song in the live version of Cinderella?
And Cinderella is a new one?
In a way, yes. In the summer of 2008, I started the series Inspector Wallander’s Investigations (where he plays Kurt Wallander, editor’s note). It was surprising to some compared to what I had done with Shakespeare. But the character of Wallander is very cinematic, naturalistic, true. He gets naked. And I was ready for that, my work was entering a new phase where I was no longer afraid of being scared: I wanted to be. I kind of left my vanity aside. And it coincided with the Marvel movie, Thor. Three Hollywood films at the same time as Wallander as an actor, I believe that I have managed during the last seven years to lead a parallel path, being both passionate about the profession of actor and that of director. How does this relate to what I’ve done before? I do not know. And maybe this chapter is over, because I have no idea what will happen next. But to answer your first question: I don’t know what happened! (laughter)
I find it hard to see a connection between your last three films: Thor, The Ryan Initiative and now Cinderella. Is there something that brings them together?
(He hesitates) What contributes to the pleasure I take as a director is to reconnect with the child that I was, who watched films on television and often in the cinema. I liked all genres, as long as they were real cinematic experiences. In the late 1960s, of course, there were the james bondbut also movies with Matt Helm or Derek Flint. Spy Movies That Certainly Sprouted The Ryan Initiative in me much later. I also loved family movies, like The melody of happiness Or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. And there were comics also at the time, including Thor which I (he clears his throat, thinks, a little embarrassed, editor’s note)…that I was buying. So if there were to be a connection between these films, it would be a return to childhood love. Those dazzling, magical first moments. My Cinema Paradiso moments.
What was the first film you went to see at the cinema?
I remember the ritual of going to the cinema, Royal Avenue, in Belfast. It was maybe in 66 or 67, I went to see The great Escape. Films back then were full of vibrant colors. The screen size and opulence were part of the experience. We lived in a very small house, we were working class. Going to the cinema transported me.
We also find these colors, this opulence in Cinderella.
Yes. I didn’t have all that in my life at the time. It’s a sensory experience: the characters, the words, the narration… There’s something unspeakable behind it all. The shoulders of Cate Blanchett, the sparkle of those pearls, the movements of that dress… I can’t find that on my phone. I don’t find that in the theater or in a book. It is something unique. Why people should go see Cinderella ? Because you won’t see Cinderella in the cinema like elsewhere.
Contrary to Maleficentyour Cinderella is very classic. Why respect history so much and what was your leeway with a studio like Disney?
They had already found an artistic direction. Another director had already been involved and I don’t know the details of all that, although I imagine that the two visions came into conflict. If we want to make a different version of Cinderella, the possibilities are limitless. But in my experience with the great classics, you can bring them out into the open with a slight twist in the story, without totally changing them. I’ve done that with Shakespeare in the past. Love’s Labors Lost is an interesting example: I introduced a real concept of realization (the film takes place in the 1930s and is a musical, editor’s note). And some said: ‘Oh, I wanted traditional Shakespeare…‘. Almost as if the idea was too radical. I may have been too clever. With Cinderella, I felt that the psychology of the characters was so strong that the biggest change I could make was to reinterpret the heroine. That she is no longer a simple victim. May this girl have faith in human nature, in the idea that being kind to others is the way forward for everyone, rather than fighting. While continuing to have the strength to resist, but in a non-violent way. For me, that was the radical twist. The people say : ‘We know the 1950 film so well…‘ When was the last time you saw him? If you watch it again, you might see that it was a good time to make a new version of Cinderella.
So a dark version of Cinderella would have been easier to do than yours?
It’s easy to dismiss things that speak of innocence and sincerity. Its purity can seem nunuche and unrealistic. Some think she should just pie her mother-in-law. I didn’t want to make a story where a female character becomes strong by borrowing male attributes. By giving him a gun, or something like that. What was difficult was to make this goodness charismatic and sexy. We live in a cynical world, where everything has to be ironic. I have a classic approach. If that’s not brave, it’s at least unusual these days.
You didn’t want to do Thor 2, after performing the first. Do you now regret saying no to Marvel Studios?
No, I have good relations with everyone there, Kevin Feige (the boss of the studio, editor’s note) is a friend. They were very understanding and kind when I told them that I wasn’t ready to come back immediately for two and a half years. Although the idea of being involved in a trilogy was very appealing, I wanted to have more time to plan things than is possible with these kinds of productions. I was asked recently if I would like to do a superhero movie again. Yes, that would be great. But there are no ongoing discussions about it and I’m not doing anything to make it happen. I am delighted for them and I look with pride at the very small stone that I was able to place in the building of this remarkable cinematographic movement. When we were doing Thor, only a few movies were released. Today we have the impression that they just decided to build all that one day, by snapping their fingers. But they know how risky it was and how much work it took to get there. I was there when it was still very risky and it remains a memorable moment for me.
Thor: from Sam Raimi to Kenneth Branagh, a superhero returned from hell
Do you make blockbusters so that more people can see your work, because you need recognition from as many people as possible?
I’ve always wanted people to see my work, that’s important to me. Of my last six films, the first three have been seen by very few people. And we could very well say that these are not films that people wanted to see, huh! But whatever the reason. We want to make films we believe in. Even in the heart of the Marvel machine. You have to believe in yourself.
When one of your films flopped, do you understand why if you take a step back? I am thinking in particular of The Ryan Initiative which was a real flop.
Sometimes it’s a mystery, we are perplexed. Before the release of The Ryan Initiative, we did test screenings and the results were incredibly positive on a fairly large audience, it wasn’t just young people. In the end, he did not have the success that everyone hoped for. And some will certainly tell you that they know very well why, but from my point of view, it just didn’t catch on and there are still post-match analyzes to be done on this subject. Sometimes we flop and sometimes – thank God – we release a very small film that snowballs and it’s a real surprise. In today’s world, there are a lot of movies and they stay in theaters for a short time. But at the same time we have social networks and if we like something, we can share it with the whole world.
Kenneth Branagh: “I tried my best to avoid clichés in The Ryan Initiative”
Will your next film be your own work and not a studio film?
I believe, probably (he is looking for his words, editor’s note)… I need variety and surprises. Because of the magnitude of my latest films, my gut tells me I need to go for something smaller. I think. But you never know, a surprise can always happen. I’m writing something right now and I’m having a lot of fun with it. We’ll see.
What is your screenplay about?
It’s very personal… I can’t tell you more!
Interview by François Léger
What do Cinderella and Downton Abbey have in common?
Trailer of Cinderella :