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Robert Stromberg Interview about Directing Maleficent

Robert Stromberg Interview about Directing Maleficent

Already you have been able to read our interviews with Angelia Jolie who plays Maleficent, Elle Fanning who plays Aurora, Sharlto Copley who plays King Stefan, and tomorrow you can read about our interview with Sam Riley who plays Diaval. Today, I get to share with you our interview with the Director of Maleficent – Robert Stromberg. 

Q    :    Was Angelina your first choice for the role of Maleficent or did you write this with her in mind?

RS   :    She was actually already attached when Disney hired me.  They were looking for a director but she was already engaged with the character, she had wanted to do this character for a long time.  So, lucky for me  I didn’t have to do much digging on that part.  It was sort of this perfectly made iconic combination that I was blessed to have.

Just because you have this sort of thing that looks really good in the costume, this iconic figure, that wasn’t it.  What really surprised me, which was great, was the emotional depth and the richness of the emotional part of that character was, when you combine that with the image, is what made it powerful.

Q    :    So this being your first directorial debut, what was different from being on set compared to being in the art department?

RS   :    I’ve always thought that, uh, ’cause I’ve always wanted to be a director.  You know, I used to make movies when I was a little kid and I was a huge Disney fan.  I had an art teacher who was an ex-Disney artist.  I used to draw like crazy, images, including Maleficent when I was five, six years old.  So I had always wanted to tell stories and be a director.

I got sidetracked by this pesky art direction stuff.  But it was, it was part of the journey.  I’m glad that I did all that stuff because it prepared me not only being around these big movies but also meeting a lot of great directors.  I met Peter Weir and we became close friends on a movie called Master and Commander.  He taught me a lot about how to talk to actors and to get at an emotional level with them.

And then I spent four years with Jim Cameron and that was useful in how to be strong when you need to be.  And many situations, artistic, I worked with Tim Burton and how an artist can direct.  These are all directors but they do it in different ways.  So I came into this with a lot of experience and not only that, you have to have emotion yourself.

And you have to have spent your life studying human behavior and really paying attention to why people react a certain way when they’re told something.  I think it’s all those little bits of information plus all of the knowledge I got from just my experience with other directors.  And then the confidence to be at the same level with somebody in finding the emotion of that character.  That’s what made me feel comfortable in being a director.

Director Robert Stromberg Interview about Maleficent #MaleficentEvent

Elle Fanning (Aurora) and Robert Stromberg (Director)

Q    :    What advice would you give to parents of children who may have an interest in going into film either directing or working in the art department, working in any capacity in this industry?

RS   :    It’s obviously very competitive.  But you follow your passion. I’ve never done this because I wanted to be recognized.  I’ve never done this because I wanted to make oodles of money.  You do this because you’re passionate about it.  You do this because creating is your world.  And I thought that was my world until I had my own kids, and then for me personally it opened up the reason why I’m really here on this planet.

It’s not to make movies.  It’s to understand the true love you have as a parent.

Q    :    What was your favorite scene to direct?

RS   :    I think there are many different special moments.  I suppose the christening scene ’cause in the film, we’re doing a retelling.  So we’re not just doing a straight out of the box remake of that classic version.  So it was very intentional that when you watch the movie you’ve learned a whole bunch of new material.  When you get to that center point of the movie we shot that scene almost verbatim, word for word from the classic cartoon version. And that was so that you now had all this new, fun information that you had learned and you understand why that character is doing what she’s doing.  And then you get to see what happens after that.

So I think for me personally as a Hollywood moment, just standing there, with several hundred extras in this huge set, and she {Angelina Jolie} came into the room in that costume and I was a big fan myself at that moment just in awe.

Director Robert Stromberg Interview about Maleficent #MaleficentEvent

Elle Fanning (Aurora) with a creature from The Moors

Q    :    What was the creative process that you used creating the Moors and all the characters?

RS   :    Over the years I probably have a file full of just sketches and strange creatures and stuff that you wanna use one day.  I always approach a movie using the world itself as a psychological steering device.  So, in other words at the beginning of this film we start off and it’s sort of happy and sunny and everything else.

And the mood of the whole world goes dark with Maleficent and then comes back up again at the end.  So I think it’s really interesting, not just as a designer but to create fun things. There’s no rule book there.  That’s what’s fun about it is you just do a sketch and oh, this is cool, and three months later it becomes something real.

But the interesting thing I’ve learned over the projects that I’ve done is how you can steer the audience and make the audience feel something, even if they’re not aware that that’s how things are done.  So that was where I started.  I’m a big fan of Eyvind Earle, but the look of the original design was a bit too stylized for this sort of emotional, organic, grounded-in-reality story that we’re trying to tell.

So that would be distracting in this case.  But it was important to me to keep the essence of what that design was that Eyvind Earle had done.  So if you really look at the film you’ll see elements that you could say he would have done.

At this point Robert takes a pause and looks around the room and tells us “This is really intimidating, by the way”. and then laughs. 

Director Robert Stromberg Interview about Maleficent #MaleficentEvent

Maleficent Director Robert Stromberg

Q    :    What was the most difficult thing to bring to the big screen for this film?

RS   :    You know it’s just getting through the film and still carrying a big, beating heart under your arm as you make it through this jungle is something.  And I’m very proud of the fact, just in general.  Someone once told me directing is like painting in a hurricane.  And [CLEARS THROAT] and it’s true.

I can’t pick one thing that was challenging because just making a movie at this scale, you’re just constantly juggling chainsaws and trying to draw pretty pictures at the same time.  I think the challenge is to make it, bring all these huge elements together and at the end of all that, have something with a heart and soul and emotion and something that means something.

I’m always amazed at how movies get made at all.  There’s so many pieces that have to come together that it’s really a fascinating process.  I’m still fascinated even though I’ve been doing this for twenty-eight years, I’m still as, as fascinated today as I was when I was five years old.

Q    :    There’s a moment when Elle pricks her finger, and I thought I heard the original laugh of Maleficent, from the original movie.

RS   :    I can’t remember what version you saw or if it ended up there, but we did play with that in the sound design.  So it’s very possible that it’s still there.

Q    :    ‘Cause I was gonna ask if there were other things you felt absolutely had to be captured in this movie that was in the original movie.

RS   :    You know that we had to steer away from certain elements.  But it was really important that you walk away from this film as a fan of the original film with enough that you can relate to the comparison.  You could walk away saying, “You know, I learned all this new, cool stuff, but” it was still Sleeping Beauty.

We changed a certain amount of things, but that was another delicate path because when you’re telling or retelling of a story, you have to do things that are different to make the dots and connect.  And so it was really important to keep enough elements from the classic that, hopefully, the fans would respect that we tried to do that and also you would walk away saying, “I just saw Sleeping Beauty but I saw so many different new sides of it.”  That was the intent.

Q    :    Had you worked with Angelina Jolie before and if not, what was it like to work with her and direct her?

RS   :    I hadn’t.  I went to her house the first day I met her and what was really great is we didn’t talk about the movie for the first hour.  I’ll never forget we just sat on some back steps in her backyard and watched her kids play out in the backyard.  And we talked about life and, and being a parent and just normal stuff.

And I think that’s why we connected is because we had to find out that we were both human beings first before we tackled human being problems.  And that was a special moment for me because I wasn’t necessarily intimidated by her, but I had never seen the human, motherly quality in there before.

Director Robert Stromberg Interview about Maleficent #MaleficentEvent

Sam Riley (Diaval) and Angelina Jolie (Maleficent)

Q    :    You said you had to stay true to the original Sleeping Beauty but did you still have creative license in what you got to do?

RS   :    Linda Woolverton wrote the script.  I think we would deviate from that. A lot of times when you’re in the moment, it looks better on paper than it does when you’re actually seeing, um, how two characters are reacting to each other, or how a scene plays out.  So part of what you learn as a director is how to adapt in a situation and understand that something is just not right and to adjust it so that it is.

I always told people that whether I’m doing a painting, which is a compositional rhythm, or music is its own rhythm, a dialog can be a rhythm too.  And if it’s off, if one inflection is off slightly you have to recognize that because it, it makes a huge difference, difference emotionally in how you’re supposed to feel watching it.



Q    :    You mentioned possibly hearing the original Maleficent’s laugh.  Are there any kind of Easter eggs for us to look for in the movie that are…

RS   :    Good question.  Besides the Eyvind Earle elements, whether it’s just designs or other stuff, I know we did some stuff because I would tell the prop people to just put a little thing here. There are some things.  Log them and remind me, ’cause you guys are gonna find them. ‘Cause I love that stuff.

I love adding little bits ’cause when you catch it then it’s like, oh cool, look what they did.  ‘Cause I did that in Oz and I did that in Alice.  Like in Oz, you know, we put like a little figure of the Tin Man in the corner and just to see if anyone would notice.  Things like that.

Director Robert Stromberg Interview about Maleficent #MaleficentEvent

Director Robert Stromberg with our group

It was so fun talking to Robert Stromberg about Maleficent, his work as an Art Director, as well as many other things. I really loved how genuine he is and how he talked about his work and family.

You can read our interviews with Sharlto Copley {King Stefan},  Elle Fanning {Princess Aurora} and Angelina Jolie {Maleficent} as well.

You can follow along with all of our Maleficent experiences here

For more updates and info:

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Maleficent Movie Poster - Angelina Jolie

MALEFICENT is rated PG and
releases in theaters everywhere on May 30th!

Photo Credits: Disney and Louise from MomStart

Disclosure: The trip was sponsored by Disney and all posts I do on behalf of the trip are part of that sponsorship. However, all opinions are my own and they are not affected by that. I will only share information that I believe will be beneficial to my readers.

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Rebecca Swenor

Saturday 31st of May 2014

Them are so great questions to Robert Stromberg and interesting answers from him. Thanks for sharing. Can't wait to see the movie.

Jenna Em

Saturday 31st of May 2014

What a fantastic interview! I'm really excited to see Maleficant with my older kids.

Alaina Bullock

Saturday 31st of May 2014

What a great interview! I cannot wait to see this movie! From everything I have heard and read, it sounds fantastic!

My Kids Guide

Saturday 31st of May 2014

I wish I could have gone to see this. looks amazing night. It

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