Two days after the new Disney film Cruella screened for critics, the studio invited press to two virtual roundtables, where the actors and artisans discussed the making of the film, as well as spilled some secrets behind its production.
The first discussion featured director Craig Gillespie, costume designer Jenny Beavan, production designer Fiona Crombie and hair and makeup designer, Nadia Stacey. Right off the bat, Gillespie noted how much fun it is to tell a story of a villain who is so much more complicated than you realize, unable to resist saying, “It’s not black-and-white—obviously, no pun intended there with Cruella!” Speaking of that famous black-and-white hair that defines Cruella de Vil, and the scene where hundreds of partygoers are all wearing the same Cruella wig, Stacey admitted that she had nightmares that all 120 wigs she ordered for the scene would come with the black and white on the wrong side, because the prototype she had ordered had come that way. Thankfully, they were all correct, but she suffered some sleepless nights worrying about it.
The giant cake in the ball scene is what kept Crombie up at night, as there was the constant threat of it collapsing under its own weight. It was a real cake that eventually became a stunt cake when it got crushed, but it needed to hold up through the scene first. They made two cakes, just in case, but they got the shot done in one take, which makes one wonder if there was a really well fed crew that day. Crombie noted that although the cake was challenging, the most difficult part of the production was the sheer number of sets she had to design—120 or so, from large-scale to small rooms, but all had to be intricately detailed, a fact she is very proud of. The experience has been so hard to shake that, on her current film, she says to herself, “I’m not busy enough. What’s happened?”
As far as the biggest challenge for Stacey—beyond those 120 wigs— was how the hair is literally part of the plot, as the wigs are used as a tool of deception for both Estella and Cruella. She’s got to disguise herself from the Baroness, and then create her persona with Cruella. And there’s the various red carpets, where Cruella needs a mask-like quality with the makeup to keep up the deception as Cruella torments The Baroness. “I’m never going to have that many looks to do again,” Stacey said.
As for Beavan, she said designing the costumes for the time period was exciting because she actually grew up then, and was in college in the era the film is set (the ‘60s and ‘70s), so she says she actually wore a lot of the same styles we see in the film. Beavan is grateful that there is a current trend of re-using things, because she was able to pay an homage to that in creating Cruella’s style. In a moment of reflection that bordered on declaration, Beavan admitted she is NOT a fashion designer, she is a storyteller, who happens to tell her stories through clothes.When asked about details of the “trash dress,” the signature dress that is the jaw-dropping fashion highlight of the film, Beavan notes it was made in two parts and is all practical, no CGI is used, in fact, no CGI is used on any of the dresses. They had to put Emma Stone in position and then add the train to the dress once she was in place. Perhaps the most remarkable revelation was that all three of the “photo bomb dresses” were unique—only one was made of each.
Stacey said she approached Cruella as someone who collected things along the way and that the best thing about working on this film was the total creative freedom she was given, “nothing was ever too much.” Gillespie in turn praised Stacey and all the departments who worked on the film, saying all the artists were “jammed to the gills with ambition.”
Gillespie credited his own ambition for the musical selections that are featured in the film. When asked about the song choices, Gillespie said he designed the film knowing there would be songs, even building scenes around them and playing them on the set while they shot the scenes. For the scene in the elevator, it originally didn’t have any music, but, as they were shooting it, he felt it was missing something. Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walking” popped into his head, so he found it on his iPhone and played it and it was perfect.
Speaking of finding something that was missing, when asked about the actress Tipper Seifert-Cleveland, who plays the young Estella, Gillespie noted that it’s very difficult to find an Emma Stone replica, so he felt so fortunate to have found Seifert-Cleveland, saying she had a “fire in her eyes” and a “spunk” that worked perfectly for the role. As for John McCrea, who plays Artie, Gillespie says McCrea brought so much to the film that they even brought him back for an additional scene. He noted that Artie is indicative of the David Bowie influence that the film has overall. Horace and Jasper are even more vital to the film’s emotional arc, as Cruella’s loyal friends/henchmen. Gillespie notes that the dynamic between the three was crucial to see on screen. The scenes with the three of them together were the only ones that were partially improvised, as he wanted it to feel natural when they were in the room together. Finally, when asked about the dogs, Gillespie noted that he wanted the dogs to be a part of the story in a very grounded way, saying the whole purpose was to have them “intertwined with her emotional journey.”
The second conversation featured co-stars Emma Stone and Emma Thompson, who were alternatively nicknamed various things during the discussion, in order to keep the two Emma’s straight, including “T-Rex,” for Thompson and “Stoner” for Stone, who admitted that was her father’s nickname through high school and college.
“I had such fun doing her, because I think I’ve been asking for quite a number of years if I could be a villain, a proper villain.”Emma Thompson on playing the villainous Baroness
Thompson was in fine form from the start. When asked if playing such a horrible villain was difficult for her, she replied “Oh, well, you know, I drew on the life, obviously. I think if my husband were in the room, he’d say, ‘And no acting required, really.'” She noted that her mother once told her that she’s made a career out of playing “good women in frocks,” so it seemed appropriate and fun to play a “bad woman in frocks.” Speaking of those frocks, Thompson noted “the dresses wore me” rather than the other way around. The two hardest parts of the costumes for her were the heels, as she doesn’t wear “anything higher than a flip flop” in her life, and the corset underwear, which she said was held together by something resembling “a ship’s rigging,” another self-deprecating reference, which was a recurring theme of the conversation, much to Stone’s amusement and eye-rolling disbelief.
Thompson’s self-flatulating continued when both were asked, who would win in a fistfight, Cruella or The Baroness and Thompson replied that all The Baroness would have to do would be to sit on top of Cruella, and she’d snap like a twig. Also referencing Thompson’s self-perceived large size, compared to Stone, Thompson noted the only way Cruella could physically topple The Baroness would be the way Luke Skywalker took down the walkers in The Empire Strikes Back.
Both actresses wanted the world to know that none of the dresses had any CGI, they were all real, practical and amazing. Stone especially wanted to point out the dress she wears that has to cover a whole car. It took a few takes for her to swing it all around to cover it the way she was supposed to, but she was blown away with the beauty of the costume. Stone admits the garbage truck dress was her favorite, but that “insane” skirt was a close second. That was one of those times when she really realized, “I am in a movie. This is not real life!” The costumes were so surreal for both of them, that they said they often would just stand in front of each other on set, admiring and posing for each other in full costume, like statues.
When asked about sharing scenes with Buddy and Wink, the two dogs who were occasionally altered by CGI but were always on set, Thompson jokingly admitted Wink was so popular, she tried to get him fired. “I had to get rid of this dog that was upstaging me and getting in my light.” Stone particularly noted that Bobby, the dog who plays Buddy, was the best-behaved and nicest dog she’s ever known, and she says she’s knows a LOT of dogs, so that’s really saying something.
“There is nothing more fun than pretending, it was so easy to pretend to be mean.”Emma Stone on playing Cruella De Vil
When asked about their performances in particular, Stone confessed that Cruella’s personality was a dream come true to play. She said she’s spent her entire career trying to contain her face, which is naturally very expressive, so it was nice to be able to be “big and unrestrained.” She loves Cruella for her independence and autonomy, saying playing her was “SO much fun to do!” Thompson similarly loved her character, because she admittedly doesn’t get a chance to play villains too often. “I had such fun doing her, because I think I’ve been asking for quite a number of years if I could be a villain, a proper villain.” It’s rare to be able to explore a dark side of a character, she says, especially when they are a mother. She really loved the challenge of exploring the concept of a bad mother. Stone admits that, even though Cruella is not an aspirational character, it is admirable how she turns her weaknesses into strengths.
Reflecting a bit on why she loves acting, Stone said that she’s by nature a very nervous person, and acting, especially improvising, allows her to be in the moment and she finds a calm in being focused and present. Thompson wasn’t as introspective when asked what she loves about acting: “there is nothing more fun than pretending.” She adds, “it was so easy to pretend to be mean.”
When asked if Stone loved the original 101 Dalmatians as a kid, she said what she remembers and loved the most from the movie was how all the dogs looked like their owners, and she remembers that she used to look for that in the real world.
Thompson said she shared many of the same déjà vu experiences with the clothes in the film as Beavan had noted, having been born in 1959, to which Stone teasingly exclaimed, “a world record! The earliest anyone was ever born!” The rivalry continues, obviously.
Walt Disney Studios will release Cruella on Disney+ with Premier Access in most Disney+ markets and in select theaters on May 28, 2021.