Cast: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine
Director: Rob Marshall
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Family
Synopsis: 'Into the Woods" is a modern twist on the beloved Brothers Grimm fairy tales, intertwining the plots of a few choice stories and exploring the consequences of the characters' wishes and quests. This humorous and heartfelt musical follows the classic tales of Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Jack and the Beanstalk (Daniel Huttlestone), and Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy)"all tied together by an original story involving a baker and his wife (James Corden & Emily Blunt), their wish to begin a family and their interaction with the witch (Meryl Streep) who has put a curse on them.
Rob Marshall, the talented filmmaker behind the Academy Award®-winning musical 'Chicago" and Disney's 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," helms the film, which is based on the Tony®-winning original musical by James Lapine, who also penned the screenplay, and legendary composer Stephen Sondheim, who provides the music and lyrics. Produced by Marshall, John DeLuca, 'Wicked" producer Marc Platt and Callum McDougall.
Starring Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick and Chris Pine, 'Into the Woods" is a humorous and heartfelt musical that follows the classic tales of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel"all tied together by an original story involving a baker and his wife, their wish to begin a family and their interaction with the witch who has put a curse on them.
Into The Woods
Release Date: January 1st, 2015
Careful the things you say, Children will listen.
Careful the things you do, Children will see. And learn.
Careful the wish you make, Wishes are children.
Careful the path they take – Wishes come true, Not free…
-'Finale/Children Will Listen"
The Beginning Of The Journey
Twelve years ago, following the phenomenal success of the big screen adaptation of the Broadway musical 'Chicago" (which won six Academy Awards®, including Best Picture), director Rob Marshall sat down with Stephen Sondheim and expressed an interest in directing a film version of one of the legendary composer's stage productions. At the top of Sondheim's list: 'Into the Woods," one of his most acclaimed – and poignant – works, and one which he thought would be a perfect fit for Rob Marshall.
Rob Marshall and his producing partner, John DeLuca, had been fans of Sondheim and James Lapine's landmark musical since it opened on Broadway at the Martin Beck Theatre in 1987. In describing the piece Rob Marshall says, 'The story seamlessly intertwines Sondheim's emotional, funny and brilliant score with James Lapine's intricate and masterful book, which is a modern twist on several beloved fairy tales, and is entertaining, while examining complex themes like the consequences of wishes, the parent/child relationship, greed, ambition, loss, and, perhaps most importantly, unconditional love and the power of the human spirit."
Then in 2011, on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Marshall heard President Obama addressing the families of the victims. In an effort to console them, President Obama said, 'You are not alone...No one is alone." The phrase 'No One is Alone," which is also one of the most moving and memorable songs from 'Into the Woods," struck a chord with Rob Marshall, and in that moment he knew that the time was finally right to bring the beloved musical to the screen.
'In many ways, I think -Into the Woods' is a fairy tale for the 21st century post 9/11 generation," Rob Marshall says. 'Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine were way ahead of their time when they wrote it. The comforting knowledge that we are not alone in this unstable world gives us all that glimmer of hope."
For Stephen Sondheim, '-No One Is Alone'" was written as a community song. 'I believe Arthur Wing Pinero said that in writing a play, you tell the audience what you're going to do, you do it and then you tell them that you've done it. If you tell them that you've done it, then it makes a package," he says.
"-No One Is Alone' tells them that we've done it," Stephen Sondheim explains. 'This is what the show has been about. No one is alone: we are all connected in some way and we are all responsible for each other's actions. It's something I believe firmly and it's something that's worth writing about."
Rob Marshall and John DeLuca took their passion project to Disney, and immediately knew they had found the perfect company to bring the stage musical to life. 'We were thrilled that the company embraced the project the way that they did," says Rob Marshall. 'They were truly interested in expanding the definition of what a -modern fairy tale' film could be."
Producer Marc Platt, who joined the duo in making the film, says, 'Disney is a company that historically tells the classic fairy tales, so moving forward it should also be the company that finds new, contemporary and unexpected ways to tell these stories."
So after 27 years, the long-awaited classic was set to begin its journey forward. 'The Woods of our story is universal, and can mean so many things," Rob Marshall says. 'It is the place you go to find your dreams, confront your fears, lose yourself, find yourself, grow up and learn to move forward. It's all part of life. So -Into the Woods' we go, again and again..."
Anything can happen in the woods…
Once upon a time in a far off Kingdom when the Baker (Tony Award® winner James Corden) was just a child, his Father (BAFTA Award winner Simon Russell Beale) was caught stealing magic beans from the vegetable garden of the Witch (three-time Oscar® winner Meryl Streep) next door. As punishment for losing the precious beans, the Witch was placed under a curse which made her hideous in appearance. The Witch, in turn, cast an evil spell on the Baker's household, cruelly insuring that the Baker and his Wife would forever be incapable of having a child.
Years later, when the Baker and his Wife (Golden Globe® winner Emily Blunt) learn of the curse, they venture into the Woods to seek out the ingredients which will both reverse the spell and restore the Witch's beauty. By the time the blue moon rises in three days' time, something which only occurs once every 100 years, they must return with four items: a cow as white as milk, hair as yellow as corn, a cape as red as blood and a slipper as pure as gold.
On their journey into the Woods, they encounter: Cinderella (Oscar® and Tony® nominee Anna Kendrick) fleeing the Palace in a pair of gold slippers; Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) on her way to Granny's house while being pursued by the Wolf (three-time Oscar nominee Johnny Depp); the fair maiden Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy), held captive by the Witch in a tower with no doors; and young Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) en route to the market to sell his cherished cow, Milky-White, to appease his exasperated Mother (seven-time Emmy® winner Tracey Ullman). Each one on their own quest to fulfill a wish.
The third midnight approaches, and the Baker and his Wife, having produced the required ingredients through a combination of theif, bribery and deceit, deliver them to the Witch. Soon the Witch's curse is lied, rendering her beautiful once more. The Baker and his Wife magically give birth to the child they so longed for. Cinderella breaks free from her evil Stepmother (Emmy® and two-time Tony Award® winner Christine Baranski) and stepsisters Florinda and Lucinda (Emmy winner Tammy Blanchard and Lucy Punch) and marries her Prince (Critics' Choice Award nominee Chris Pine). Rapunzel is freed from exile by her Prince (Tony nominee Billy Magnussen), and the giant beanstalk which sprouted from the magic beans Jack received in exchanged for his cow, has led to riches beyond his Mother's wildest dreams.
However, just at the moment of happily ever after, a terrifying, vengeful Lady Giant (Tony® and Olivier Award winner Frances De La Tour) climbs down from the beanstalk, wreaking destruction on the Kingdom, the village and the enchanting forest. Forced to face the consequences of their desires, the group of characters who have befriended one another in the Woods, must come together and take responsibility for their actions before they can defeat the Giant. Only then, will they discover the significance of each of their individual journeys.
Directed by Oscar® nominee and DGA Award winner Rob Marshall and produced by Emmy® winner and Golden Globe® nominee John DeLuca, p.g.a., Rob Marshall, p.g.a., Marc Platt, p.g.a. and Callum McDougall, 'Into the Woods" brings the Tony Award®-winning musical classic and such memorable songs as 'Children Will Listen," 'On the Steps of the Palace," 'No One is Alone" and 'Agony," to life on the big screen. The film is based on the musical stage production by eight-time Tony, GRAMMY® and Oscar-winning composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim and Tony winner James Lapine, who also wrote the screenplay.
The film's outstanding team of creative talents includes: Academy Award® winner Dion Beebe, ACS, ASC as director of photography; Oscar® winner Dennis Gassner as production designer; three-time Oscar winner Colleen Atwood as costume designer; Emmy® nominee Wyatt Smith as editor; Oscar winner Peter Swords King as makeup and hair designer; Emmy winner Mike Higham as music producer; Tony® and Emmy winner Paul Gemignani and Mike Higham as music supervisors; and Emmy winner Matt Johnson as visual effects supervisor.
Princes wait there in the world, it's true.
Princes, yes, but wolves and humans, too…
'Stay With Me"
Assembling An Unforgettable Cast
'Into the Woods" is a contemporary retelling of the classic fairy tales, and while the story has a substantial number of principal characters, due to the size of the roles and the intertwining narrative, it is truly an ensemble cast. Fortunately for the filmmakers, there was no shortage of talent looking to be involved.
Producer Marc Platt, whose list of credits include Broadway's 'Wicked" and diverse films ranging from 'Legally Blonde" to 'Drive," explains, 'It was actually a rather easy task to accumulate this magnificent and gifted group of actors because everybody desperately wanted to be in the movie. The opportunity to perform -Into the Woods,' engaging with Stephen Sondheim's music and Jame Lapine's book, is a great gift, and when you add the opportunity of working with Rob Marshall on a musical, it was like holding up a magnet for actors."
Meryl Streep, who won her most recent Oscar® for her performance as Margaret Thatcher in 'The Iron Lady," was the first actor to come on board. Meryl Streep, who had turned down similar roles in the past, broke her bias to star in 'Into the Woods" as the Witch who longs for beauty and companionship. Speaking about why this Witch is different from those that have come before, she says, 'I changed my mind when this role came along because this Witch is quite different. First of all, she transforms. Her whole reason for being is to reverse a curse that has been placed on her; she sets in motion all sorts of devices and causes a dramatic upheaval in everybody's lives."
'This is a musical with a brain," she says. 'There is an intelligence at work because it is Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. It is visually fun and emotionally satisfying, but it also has this other element that engages us as artists and makes us want to bring everything we can to it."
James Corden, whose credits include the fi lm 'Begin Again" and Broadway's 'One Man, Two Guvnors," was cast as the Baker, the character desperate to rescind a curse. When casting the role, Rob Marshall was looking to find someone that was still relatively unknown to American audiences, someone who could play the everyman. 'James Corden is an extraordinary actor, and the scope of his talent is truly overwhelming," says Rob Marshall. 'He has this incredible humor and physical comedy which we all knew from his great work on stage, but I didn't realise the great depth he has as an actor…. and he can sing, too."
Emily Blunt ('The Young Victoria," 'The Devil Wears Prada"), plays the Baker's Wife. 'My character has a desperate yearning for a child," Emily Blunt says. 'Because of the curse that has been placed on her family, she must venture into the Woods to secure a list of items given to them by the Witch, so she becomes this tenacious and determined character who is willing to go to any lengths to get what she wants."
She continues, 'Eventually we see her unravelling. She is innately a good person, but gets swept up by the Woods and their potential."
In 'Into the Woods," the role of Cinderella, who wishes to go to the King's Festival, is more modern, complicated and flawed then the iconic character with whom audiences are most familiar. Anna Kendrick, whose credits include 'Pitch Perfect" and 'Up in the Air" and who was cast as Cinderella, was attracted to the role because she is different from the archetypal portrayal of the fairy tale persona. 'What is unique is that this -Cinderella' story comes directly from the Grimm version where the tree at the grave of her Mother gifts her the dress and shoes that she wears to the Festival," she says, 'So in some ways she has access to a kind of magic when she really needs it."
Anna Kendrick continues, 'What happens after she marries the Prince is where it gets interesting: Cinderella really starts to find her voice and rejects what she thought she wanted, which also means admiting she made a mistake. She is not a blameless victim though; she has to own the fact that she wanted something so badly without really thinking about what it was she really needed."
In discussing how he envisioned the part, Rob Marshall says, 'I was looking for something very specific, which was a combination of humor, a strong voice and a modern sensibility. In many ways, Cinderella is the most complex character in the piece because she can't make a decision, constantly wavering about what she wants, and Anna Kendrick showed a great deal of vulnerability and depth, which was incredibly impressive."
For the role of Cinderella's Prince, who longs to find a bride, Chris Pine was cast. The actor, who is perhaps bestknown to audiences as Capt. James T. Kirk from 'Star Trek," describes his character by saying, 'The Prince is one of those characters that we all think we know, but in truth we don't really know all that much about him."
He continues, 'One of my favorite lines in the script is when Cinderella tells him that he needs to step up to the plate and be a good King and his response is, -I was raised to be charming, not sincere,' which basically sums up who he is."
When James Lapine wrote the part, he intended for the Prince to be the run-of-the-mill storybook character. 'He has been raised to be a Prince, and that is all he knows… vulnerability is not part of his nature because he's so used to getting everything he wants," James Lapine explains. 'So to finally be rejected opens him up to his vulnerability and takes him from being a fairy tale character to a more human scale."
When Chris Pine first came in to read for the part, Rob Marshall had no idea as to his full range as an actor. 'I didn't know he could sing, I didn't know he was funny, I didn't know any of that," he says. 'I just knew he was a wonderful actor, extremely smart and an incredibly handsome man. And I quickly found out that he could do all of those things, and more."
Anna Kendrick was pleasantly surprised to see what a gifted comedian Chris Pine was. 'He is obviously very charming and handsome, but I loved that he played the Prince with such clever humor," she says. 'He may be momentarily thrown when things go awry, but then he just immediately launches back into the affected Prince voice and mannerisms, and it is very funny."
When it came to casting the roles of Jack and Little Red Riding Hood, it was important to Rob Marshall that both parts were actually played by kids (as opposed to on stage where they are typically played as older), since the story is very much about parents and children. Daniel Huttlestone, who charmed audiences as Gavroche in the Academy Award®-winning musical 'Les Miserables," was cast as Jack, the care-free boy who yearns for adventure.
In discussing his casting decision, Rob Marshall says, 'Daniel Huttlestone was 13 when he came in for his audition and sang -Giants in the Sky' in a higher register since his voice had not changed, and it was so beautiful and disarming."
Tracey Ullman, the celebrated multi-media performer who has starred in such films as 'Plenty" and 'Bullets Over Broadway" and who took on the role of Jack's poor, exasperated Mother who dreams of a life free from poverty, was equally as enthusiastic in her praise of Huttlestone. She explains, 'Despite his age, Daniel Huttlestone has a strong work ethic and a very mature understanding of what he is doing, and he gets the privilege of it."
The film's other young cast member, 12-year-old Lilla Crawford, who had previously appeared on Broadway in 'Annie," makes her feature film debut in the role of Li.tte Red Riding Hood. The actress was cast following a nationwide casting search. Rob Marshall says, 'John DeLuca and I had seen Lilla in James Lapine's production of -Annie,' and she was fantastic. We couldn't believe that someone that young could carry a show, but she was an extraordinary singer, actress and comedienne and way ahead of her years, which is exactly what Little Red should be."
'Little Red Riding Hood is a naïve, pubescent little girl wearing a red cape, which I believe represents her passage into adulthood. Until the Wolf comes along, she believes that everything and everyone is good in her life and everyone is to be trusted," says James Lapine. 'Then she goes through the painful passage of learning that she can't trust everyone, which is a difficult thing to teach children and a sort of sad thing to teach children: that they have to be careful."
When Rob Marshall approached Johnny Depp ('Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," 'Alice in Wonderland") about bringing the predatory character of the Wolf to life, the actor was quick to sign on. Having worked with Rob Marshall on 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," Johnny Depp shares a similar sensibility with the director, and says, 'I'd shoot the phone book with Rob Marshall if he asked. He's the real thing."
In discussing the character of the Wolf, James Lapine says, 'The Wolf is the feral creature in the storytelling. He's the unguarded, animalistic presence embodied, rather amazingly, by Johnny Depp, who we also see as seductive. It's the seduction of the wild."
For Christine Baranski, who has a prior history with both Stephen Sondheim ('Sweeney Todd" at the Kennedy Center and a concert performance of 'A Li..le Night Music" at the Roundabout Theatre Company) and Rob Marshall ('Chicago"), she didn't have to think twice about agreeing to play the wicked Stepmother to Cinderella. 'It is tremendously exciting that this is being made into a movie musical because we are dealing with a fairy tale universe which lends itself to fantastic visualization," Christine Baranski says. 'I can't imagine a better director than Rob Marshall to visually conceive this, with Stephen Sondheim's magnificent music and lyrics, and some great movie actors bringing all this psychological depth to the roles."
For the roles of Cinderella's evil stepsisters, Florinda and Lucinda, played by Tammy Blanchard ('Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows") and Lucy Punch ('Bad Teacher"), the filmmakers were looking to cast actors who were attractive but could also be funny and bring a sense of darkness to their characters.
MacKenzie Mauzy, who appeared on Broadway in 'Next to Normal," was cast as Rapunzel, the sheltered young woman who longs to experience the world beyond her tower. According to James Lapine, 'A lot of fairy tales are about maturation, and Rapunzel represents the teenage girl who wants to sneak out of the house and have a life of her own, out from under her parent's thumb."
He continues, 'Many times teenagers who have already gone through puberty feel bound…they feel adult, even though they're not, and want to do adult things, so this storyline is still very relevant today."
Billy Magnussen of Broadway's 'Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike," plays Rapunzel's dashing Prince. The younger brother of Cinderella's Prince, Magnussen had great fun with the role and appreciated the arc of his character. 'My character wants to be gallant and charming, but he's just a little off, which is funny," he says. 'But his heart is in the right place... all he really wants is to take Rapunzel away from her tower so they can find happiness together." Adds James Lapine, 'Rob Marshall really understood the importance of putting together an ensemble cast that would gel. Everyone in the company was so thrilled to work with Rob Marshall and work with this material, and I think it really shows on screen. You can feel their love and passion for what they're doing and for each other and for the story they're telling."
Witches can be right, Giants can be good.
You decide what's right, You decide what's good…
'No One is Alone"
The Significance Of Fairy Tales
When Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine first sat down to discuss 'Into the Woods," their intention was to create a provocative musical based in a fantasy world where the characters embarked on a quest. The duo, who previously collaborated on the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical 'Sunday in the Park with George," started off with a number of traditional fairy tales, combining them with a new tale about a Baker and his Wife. The end result is a beautiful, moving story with contemporary themes that are elegantly told through the classic characters of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood, which collectively explore what happens after 'happily ever after."
Fairy tales date back to the early days of recorded history, and have been passed down from generation to generation ever since. While on the surface their intention may appear solely as a source of entertainment, they also serve as an important tool on an educational and emotional level due to the insight they offer as to the human journey. Psychologist Bruno Bettelheim wrote extensively on their psychological depth in his book 'The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales," where he advocates the power of fairy tales to help children come to their own conclusion as to their true meaning.
Meryl Streep echoes his beliefs, and says 'Fairy tales evolved as cautionary tales. They were told to scare children away from the dangers they would encounter in their lives and to encourage young women to marry rich men. Everyone is encouraged to find a prince and live happily ever after, and sometimes it doesn't work that way."
Bringing the fairy tales into a realistic setting, which was one of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's original goals, was one aspect the talent found very appealing. Anna Kendrick explains, 'There is a reason why most high schools just do the first act, because the first act ends with happily ever after. But really, the second act is what makes this story incredible, weighty and substantial."
Johnny Depp concurs, and says, 'I loved the idea of taking all these fairy tales that we've grown up with and bringing them all to life in one large musical. We get to know more about them which turns out to be even spookier and funnier than imagined, so it's just a brilliant idea. And it's so beautifully put together."
Stephen Sondheim elaborates, saying, 'James Lapine did something nobody's done for 500 years with the -Cinderella' story. He has her leaving her slipper behind on purpose, which is really smart, because that's how she finds out if the Prince truly loves her or not."
As the Prince who woos Cinderella, Chris Pine was not initially familiar with 'Into the Woods" as a stage musical, but after reading the film's script was immediately captivated by James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim's themes and techniques. He explains, 'They have taken fairy tales, which are presented at the beginning of the story, and created an amalgam of all their different worlds and stories, and from there it just gets deeper and more complex. In many ways this film is about growing up, as the characters learn how spectacular life can be in all its forms and manifestations. It's about discovering the world."
I thought one was enough, It's not true: It takes two of us…
'It Takes Two"
The Legendary Partnership Of Stephen Sondheim And James Lapine
'Into the Woods" opened on Broadway on November 5th, 1987, at the Martin Beck Theatre. The production, which ran for 764 performances, won Tony® Awards for Best Score (Stephen Sondheim), Best Book of a Musical (James Lapine) and Best Actress in a Musical (Joanna Gleason as the Baker's Wife). Among other awards, the musical received five Drama Desk Awards, including Best Musical and a GRAMMY® Award for Best Original Cast Recording.
Since that time, 'Into the Woods" has been produced around the world, including a 1988 U.S. national tour, a 1990 West End production and Broadway and London revivals, in addition to a PBS television production and a 10th anniversary concert.
Creating a complex stage production like 'Into the Woods" proved to be an incredibly arduous endeavor. Stephen Sondheim explains, 'You sit and talk about the show to whoever's writing the book for many weeks, and decide how the story's going to be told. The most important thing is that the two of you have to be writing the same show. Your attitudes toward the story and toward the characters need to be the same."
James Lapine had always been interested in fairy tales and Jungian psychology, and the idea of doing a fairy tale as a musical was very appealing to both Stephen Sondheim and himself. 'I set out to write an original fairy tale, but since fairy tales are by nature, short, I soon realised that expanding one into a full-length show was stretching it beyond what it was meant to be," he explains. 'Then I hit upon the idea of taking several fairy tales and putting them together with an original tale, which became our story of the Baker and his Wife."
James Lapine's frame of reference was the Grimm and Perrault stories, while Stephen Sondheim was mostly familiar with them through the animated movies, so James Lapine wrote the first scene, which interweaves three of those stories, and told Stephen Sondheim it would be next to impossible to musicalise. 'No one loves an impossible challenge more than Stephen Sondheim, which was a great way to get him to do it," James Lapine says. 'And he turned around and wrote that wonderful opening number, and we were off and running."
During the development process, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine had numerous discussions about what the show's central message should be, but soon came to realise there could be multiple messages. Stephen Sondheim says, 'We didn't sit down and think that's what we're going to say, but if you tell me what happened to you on the bus today, I can make a moral out of it. Any story, anything that happens to you, has substance to it. A story doesn't have to prove a point, but it has to have a point."
For Stephen Sondheim, he feels the show is about community responsibility. At the beginning of the story the characters think only of themselves and it results in disaster, but as the story progresses, everyone realises they must come together as a community to correct their errors, and to Stephen Sondheim, that message was universal. For James Lapine, it's the fact that you can't always equate nice with good, and being careful about what you wish for.
'We don't think enough about what we want…I think we know we want X, Y and Z, but we don't think about why we want it and how our lives might change if we succeed in getting it," JamesLapine explains. 'The story is about the consequence of our ac..ons, no matter how small they might be."
From there, the discussion turned to whether the story should be a musical or not. Some stories don't need music just for the sake of music, and for Stephen Sondheim, all the songs have to be necessary. And often times in musicals, it is through songs that the audience gets to know the characters. James Lapine explains, 'It's very important for Stephen Sondheim to make sure that his music and lyrics meld with the spoken word and the story that's being told. He has an extraordinary ability to get inside a character's head and to speak in their voice; to take dialogue and monologues and turn them into song."
According to Stephen Sondheim, whose celebrated works include such legendary musicals as 'Company," 'A Little Night Music," 'Pacific Overtures" and 'Sunday in the Park with George," a good musical has to be something where, if you were to take the songs out, there would be holes in the fabric. 'Quite often, you can't put into words why something should be a musical, but I do know that if the songs weren't in -Into the Woods,' it wouldn't be a very good show," he says. 'It has nothing to do with the quality of the songs, but the fact that these characters are singing people."
The winning combination of Stephen Sondheim's songs combined with James Lapine's story is one of the reasons the musical has been so cherished and revered over the years, and when discussions about adapting the stage production for the screen first began, it was important to the filmmakers to continue that essential collaboration.
For that reason, James Lapine was brought on to adapt his story for the big screen. Producer John DeLuca says, 'The voice of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine is so inextricably bound that we felt we needed him to bring it to life on film. And he came on board with the most open mind I've ever seen from a writer."
Says Rob Marshall, 'It was wonderful to work with James Lapine because I had admired his work for years and, of course, he was the author of the stage play. I felt it was important to work with the original creators of the piece in order to retain the integrity and substance of the work, while of course reimagining it as a film. I was so impressed with how open James Lapine was to trying new things, and how he instinctively understood that what works on stage would not necessarily translate to film."
Rob Marshall continues, 'For example, Cinderella's -On the Steps of the Palace,' was originally written as a presentational song where the character speaks directly to the audience, explaining what has just happened to her. Obviously, that can't be done on film, so we reconceived the song so that everything happens in the actual moment when Cinderella gets stuck in the tar on the steps. She has a split second to make a decision, so we froze the action so that it all takes place within that second and the song becomes an internal monologue. And then Stephen Sondheim brilliantly adjusted the lyrics so that it all takes place in the present."
Equally as important, was lyricist and composer Stephen Sondheim's involvement. Rob Marshall explains, 'Actors love singing his material because in a way, he is an actor himself, in that he writes for and about the character (their wants, their needs, their fears, their vulnerability and their joys). What's beautiful about a Stephen Sondheim song is that it's never just a song about something generic, it's something very specific, and things change during the song. The beginning of the song is not the same as the end of the song… it's a journey of sorts, and that's why the songs don't step outside of the scene, but live inside the piece so integrally, which is part of the genius of his work."
A long-time fan of Stephen Sondheim, Anna Kendrick, who was cast as Cinderella, explains what makes his work so aweinspiring. 'Stephen Sondheim is a dream for actors because the performance is written into the music. That is not to say you don't have freedom. It is not about sacrificing honesty and performance for the beauty of a song," she says. ''On the Steps of the Palace' is a great example of the genius of Stephen Sondheim's work. You see every thought that is in Cinderella's head and how she feels. It is all written into the melody, the tempo and the lyrics."
Johnny Depp, agrees, and adds, 'Stephen Sondheim's work is just magnificent…he's a living legend. His compositions and his ability to translate into song what the characters are feeling, is just miraculous. His material is very complicated to read and very complex to sing. If you're not a trained singer you have to really dig in deep to find those things that help you feel and understand the meaning of each lyric. But there's something very exciting about challenging yourself to see if you can get to that place."
According to Stephen Sondheim, one of the things that's always hardest in a musical is to answer the question, 'Who are these people?" for the audience. The opening number is the most important part of any musical because it lays out the ground rules for the audience. 'You have to introduce the major characters; you have to give the audience a feel for the kind of show they're in for," he explains.
For this reason, the film's opening number was particularly complicated to write because it necessitated telling three stories and introducing each story to the audience. He explains, 'It would be extremely boring if you started with a scene with the Baker and his Wife and they sang a song. Then you have a scene in Jack's house and they sing a song. And then you have a scene in Cinderella's house and they sing a song, by which time you've forgotten who the Baker was. You've got to tell the audience that these are the people you're going to be watching all evening, all of them, and they are of equal importance. Each has a separate story entirely."
He continues, 'Music can fill in gaps quickly because you can make a transition from this subject to that subject in two bars, whereas otherwise it would require five lines of dialogue. So -Into the Woods' is a compression: by the time that number's over, you've met all the main characters. At the same time, you want the audience to know that it's going to be fun and funny. They're at the edge of the diving board and ready to go."
Producer Marc Platt adds, 'When you take Stephen Sondheim's incredible, sophisticated, intelligent and moving lyrics and James Lapine's very witty and moving book and you dress them up in the telling of fairy tales with music and comedy and joy, you get a wonderful, satisfying and provocative, theatrical experience."
He continues, 'And because it's a world created in the Woods, we were always confident that we could develop a cinematic grammar which would deliver the essence of the material as it appeared on stage, and yet introduce a cinematic experience that would be unique in its own right, and still very true to the integrity and the meaning and the power of the source material."
'Stephen Sondheim's work is going to live on for a very long time because it is always revealing itself in interesting and complicated ways, and he speaks not only with great wisdom and intellect, but also with a very big heart," says James Lapine. 'There's a sense of humor in what he does but also a sense of passion that touches people."
He continues, 'Music reaches people in a way that is ineffable. You can't describe in words the effect music has on us, and Stephen Sondheim brings that element of emotion and joy and pain and mystery to every score."
You can't just act, You have to listen.
You can't just act, You have to think…
'Finale/Children Will Listen"
The Visionary Direction Of Rob Marshall
From the moment 'Into the Woods" debuted on stage, it was universally hoped that it would one day become a film. But it needed an experienced director like Rob Marshall to pull together all the complicated and complex elements of making a film musical and to understand how to translate the story to the screen. According to James Corden, 'This is an ensemble, and every character's story has a beginning, middle and end. You are creating this magical, fantasy environment that is also a big glorious musical, so it really takes a special talent to gel those worlds together."
While Rob Marshall's list of credits as a director includes the films 'Chicago," 'Nine," 'Memoirs of a Geisha" and 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," he is an accomplished theater director and Emmy®-winning choreographer as well. It was credentials like these, which made him uniquely qualified to bring 'Into the Woods" to life on the big screen. Stephen Sondheim explains, 'Rob Marshall has a theatre background, which is crucial, and he's a choreographer, which is also crucial, because this kind of musical needs a director who knows how to stage numbers."
He continues, 'The songs in -Into the Woods' are part of the context, the ploting, the ambience and the texture. But when the action stops for the song – Cinderella describing her experience at the ball, or Little Red's experience in the Wolf's stomach – those are numbers that have to be inventively staged. Rob Marshall is one of the few directors who can do that well."
A long-time admirer of the original stage production, Rob Marshall was immediately drawn to the project. 'I've always loved this show, ever since I saw the original company in 1987," he says. 'It was a beautiful, joyous and important piece, and I remember being completely transported by it. It was this unique combination of characters coming together and creating a tapestry of classic stories of an incredibly profound nature, exploring what happens after -happily ever after.'"
He continues, 'It's okay to wish and want and hope and dream, but this piece deals with the reality of the world and the struggles and hardships that we face along the way, and I think it's important for people today, children especially, to understand that."
James Lapine was thrilled to see Rob Marshall at the helm, saying, 'We were so lucky to have a film director who is technically and creatively adept, but at the same time, who understands the thrill of stagecrate and knows how to tell a musical story."
''Into the Woods' is a story that needs to move…it's a quest musical. The characters are going after something that they're passionate to get to, and you have to keep the tension and the suspense and the drive intact," says James Lapine. 'And I think that's something that he really understands – how to put together short takes, short scenes and moments that drive to other moments that all add up to a surprising end."
When producer Marc Platt read the first 20 pages of James Lapine's screenplay for 'Into the Woods," it was easy to visualise cinematically, and the way Rob Marshall filmed it exceeded his expectations. He explains, 'The prologue is around 16 minutes long, it is all music, and yet it is introducing you to each character and their conflicts in the film. It begins with people going about their daily lives in the village and ends up with our main characters heading -Into the Woods,' off on their journey. Rob Marshall has constructed it as a seamless, cinematic journey."
For Rob Marshall, one of the joys of working on a film musical is the rehearsal period. On 'Into the Woods," there were six weeks of rehearsals before principal photography even began, and it's during that time that a company is created. He says, 'Since this film is an ensemble piece, it was important for everyone to work together to create a cohesive piece."
'Rob Marshall comes from musical theatre and he comes to the project so prepared," Tracey Ullman explains. 'During the rehearsals we all sat around and sang and read the material, which is exactly what you do when you are pu.tting on a stage show, and when we got to the locations we knew the timings and we could get right into the take."
She continues, 'Being a musical, each scene was choreographed to a greater or lesser degree. There is a fine line. It needs to be naturalistic for film but with a push because it is a musical and the performance needs a little line. Some moments have been more choreographed than others but always beautifully and in a really interesting way. It is nothing stagey or theatrical; it is just a feeling, a flow of movement with music."
According to producer John DeLuca, the rehearsal period was not so much about blocking the actors' movements, but about getting to know the text and giving the actors the chance to get to know and become confident, with their character's journey. 'This was a time when everyone could experiment with their characters and toss around all these different ideas to see what would stick," he says.
And Rob Marshall's style of directing was very much admired and appreciated by the talent. Meryl Streep says, 'Rob Marshall has a percussive sense of the movement of the piece, like a conductor. He has got the rhythm of it in his body."
'He is a former dancer, so I think it is really important for him to keep the incipient heartbeat of the piece beating and pushing forward; musically, emotionally and visually," she continues. 'He is the ideal guy to do that. It's all about the work and making it happen."
Emily Blunt was equally as profuse in her admiration, saying, 'Rob Marshall is a very specific director in that he knows exactly what he wants, which is so reassuring with a musical because you want someone who's going to tell you when it's too much or it's too little, and he has a really delicate hand."
Adds Johnny Depp, 'His approach is very pure, and his vision of the author's work and the choices that he made were very beautiful and emotional. He has a fine understanding of subtext and a very unique way of approaching it, and he knows that some..mes what is not said is just as important as what is actually said."
According to James Lapine, 'I really enjoyed the opportunity to write it with him and realise the vision for the material that excited him. He had to tell this story and make it his own. I think if you write something that's really strong, it can stand up to all kinds of interpretations, and having the film made was a wonderful opportunity to see it translated into another medium."
Rob Marshall also won the respect of the cast and production team for his keen eye and attention to detail. Marc Platt explains, 'He cares about every detail in the film, beginning with each word and punctuation point in the screenplay, proceeding to the development visually of the story from a design point of view, lighting, wardrobe and performances."
He continues, 'Beyond that, Rob Marshall is joyous about the work he does, and that joy is infectious and permeates, not just me, but the design team, our wonderful crew, each and every actor and, therefore, every performance. Working with Rob Marshall, one must be on one's best game but you know that the effort, passion, creativity and vision are going to be poured into every single frame of the film."
'Rob Marshall is a born nurturer, and as a director, he is the perfect parent for everyone on his creative team, his crew and his cast," says John DeLuca. 'He is able to work with every single actor, individually yet collectively, and give them all the trust and confidence they need."
A film is successful when all the requisite creative elements are in place, but with a complex production like 'Into the Woods," it required handling and care to ensure that all the creative and technical were merged cohesively. From the flawless integration of the footage shot on location and on soundstages to the precise mixing of the talent's pre-recorded musical tracks with the live-to-camera recordings, it was essential that these various worlds came together seamlessly, while keeping the audience immersed in the story at all times. And it was due to Rob Marshall's incomparable talent that this was the case.
Says John DeLuca, 'I think it is just instinctive with Rob Marshall. He's so musical and he's got such a great eye for color and for rhythm and dialogue. He has an amazing, amazing ear… I sit and watch him, and even though I went to music school, I'm continually dumbfounded by the things he hears and how he approaches music. It's wonderful to be able to witness first hand."
Into the woods, and who can tell
What's waiting on the journey…
'Prologue: Into the Woods"
Bringing The Woods To Life On Screen
When filmmakers began their initial discussions as to where to shoot the film, it was determined that England's preserved history and enchanting energy was the perfect place to create a world where fairy tale characters come to life, and the country's lush, picturesque landscapes, numerous castles and stately manors offered a wealth of possibilities. And Rob Marshall felt that it made sense to shoot as much on location as possible.
In the story, the Woods are almost a character of their own. According to Rob Marshall, they are a metaphor for many things in life: it's the place you go to find your dreams, fulfill your wishes, confront your fears, lose yourself, find yourself, grow up and learn to move forward. 'It's the cycle of life in the sense that we grow up and realise that life may not be all that you thought it would be, but it's something that everyone must experience…there's no shortcut," he says. 'So we go into the Woods to find all those things and hopefully come out a better person."
Principal photography kicked off deep in the ancient forest of the Ashridge Estate on the outskirts of Berkhamsted, in September, 2013. The forest, which is one of the oldest, most historic wildlife areas in the region, was used as the se..ng for the song 'Giants in the Sky," performed by Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), after his measly handful of beans produces a magical beanstalk. Hambleden Village, near Henley on Thames, doubled for the Baker's village at the edge of the Woods.
Hambleden has long been a popular location with filmmakers, who have flocked to the Oxfordshire town to capture its charming, historical streets.
A turn-of-the-century barn located a short distance from the village, was converted into the ramshackle farm home of Jack, his Mother (Tracey Ullman) and Milky-White. Tracey Ullman was amazed with the extraordinary attention to detail she found on the location set, and says, 'The set dressing was unbelievable. There was a beautiful chair under the nook with my character's knitting beside it, little notes to myself on a desk, and even a little broken mirror (to signify our bad luck), which gave our characters a real world to live in."
As suggested by the film's title, a majority of the story takes place in the Woods, and for this reason the locations department spent countless hours scouring the British countryside searching for a variety of wooded exteriors. Fortunately, they found Windsor Great Park, located on the border of Berkshire and Surrey, and were able to make ample use of the park's thousands of acres of forest, which included some very impressive oak trees (which are similar in look to the tree used in the title treatment for the original Broadway musical), many of which were over 800 years old.
The park's Bear Rails stood in for the woods surrounding Granny's house, where Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) sings 'I Know Things Now." For the exterior shots of Granny's home, and more specifically, the entrance, the art department created an extension to one of the thickest, gnarliest tree trunks in the area and outlined it with a little door. The Cascades Waterfall, located in the park, served as the setting for the song 'Agony," performed by Cinderella's Prince (Chris Pine) and Rapunzel's Prince (Billy Magnussen), in response to their frustrations over romance.
For the scenes taking place outside the door-less tower holding Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy) captive, the production built a structure inside the ruins of the 18th century Waverley Abbey, located in Farnham, Surrey. 'The sets had the sense of a fairy tale, but at the same time were very real and haunting," says MacKenzie Mauzy. 'Our set designers did such an amazing job that it was hard to tell the difference between my character's tower and the ruins of the Abbey, itself. You instantly become part of that world, because it seemed so real."
Byfleet Manor located in Byfleet, Surrey, stood in for the exterior of Cinderella's (Anna Kendrick) home, and the site where the Prince and his Royal Guard discovers her foot fits the golden slipper.
Scenes for the King's Palace, where Cinderella's marriage to the Prince takes place, were shot on location at Dover Castle, one of the great landmarks and symbols of England. The majestic castle guards the Strait of Dover, the narrowest point of the English Channel.
The Production Design:
For production designer Dennis Gassner, who won an Oscar® for his work on the gangster drama 'Bugsy," the challenge on 'Into the Woods was two-fold: effectively melding numerous fairy tales into one, while finding something fresh and unique to bring to the audience. Dennis Gassner drew inspiration from the work of acclaimed English book illustrator Arthur Rackham, using some of that approach as a jumping off point for his designs, combining fantasy with reality to create a heightened surrealism, finding the touchstone which is the truth and which then sets the tone of the film.
That touchstone turned out to be the Angel Oak tree from South Carolina, an ancient and visually distinctive tree which ended up becoming the foundation of the film's look. From there, Dennis Gassner and his team began scouting locations in the U.K. with similar trees and building sets to match the trees they found.
In discussing his creative process he says, 'My job is to support the story with imagery from scene to scene. I have to figure out the tone of the characters' lives and why it is that they wish for something, and then determine the best ways to interface with the other creative departments. -Into the Woods' is all about wanting more and then discovering that the journey was the whole point, or learning the joy of the journey.'
He continues, 'Each character goes into the Woods through a natural archway, which Rob Marshall called the rabbit hole, and once they go through it, everything is different. It is magical, scary, exciting, unique and organic, and it has its own life."
According to Stephen Sondheim, 'That's the feeling the filmmakers caught on film: the denseness of Woods, and that feeling of enclosure and darkness and that anything can happen."
In addition to the enveloping sense of darkness created by the Woods, Dennis Gassner was able to instill a sense of magic to the surroundings. Emily Blunt explains, 'Dennis Gassner did an extraordinary job on the sets through the use of real shrubbery and real flowers, which he added to help illuminate the trees and make them look truly enchanted."
'Into the Woods" marked the production designer's first collaboration with Rob Marshall, and he found the director to have a kindred creative spirit. Says Dennis Gassner, 'Both of us have a focus and intensity to create something that is unique, and Rob Marshall is relentless in finding it, as am I."
While a good portion of the film was shot on practical locations, there was a substantial amount filmed on soundstages as well. As a result, the filmmakers were constantly having to adapt certain looks, as they would see things on location and would need to modify the sets accordingly.
According to producer John DeLuca, 'One of our major concerns from day one was how to shoot the film to make our locations in the woods seamlessly blend with our constructed sets. We needed to make the two worlds gel so the audience was never aware, and we had daily conversations about the best way to keep those two worlds as one.
Rob Marshall elaborates, saying, 'It was also decided early on that we would avoid the use of green screens as much as possible, because I believe it's harder for actors to imagine themselves in such a specific world when you can't truly visualise where you are. So the majority of our sets were practical sets."
The logistics of filming on location in England in the fall required meticulous planning, as the filmmakers had a small window in which to make the film before winter set in. As a result, all the location work was scheduled early on in the production schedule when there were still leaves on the trees. The set for the Woods, which are the film's centerpiece, were built on Stage H at Shepperton Studios outside of London, whose soundstages have played host to films ranging from 'Alien" and 'Blade Runner" to the 'Harry Potter" series.
Rob Marshall explains, 'In those Woods we needed many different areas, so we worked tirelessly to examine where each scene would play and determine where the correct terrain should be. We had to figure out the stylistic tone of the Woods before the Giant comes and destroys everything."
He continues, 'We were able to create a combination of real and fabricated woods while installing a sense of light and magic in the lighting and camera movements."
'The sets were all just stunning," says Emily Blunt. 'They built this absolutely enormous set with real trees that looked kind of magical and slightly otherworldly, and Dion Beebe, our cinematographer, designed lighting which was absolutely stunning, and made everything look as magical and real as possible…. it was just so clever."
The filmmakers wanted the look of the film to be stylised, but with a texture and a feeling of something real at the same time. Says producer Marc Platt , 'The level of craftsmanship on Dennis Gassner's team is nothing short of extraordinary. They have built the most magnificent trees and depth of field and atmosphere down to every minute detail of a real forest."
Says Dennis Gassner, 'This is an organic experience; There is a life to designing that I can't describe, because it grows and manifests itself on many different levels, with all the ideas coming from the stories and the songs. It has been a long journey going down this road with Rob Marshall and it has been truly magical."
Cinematographer Dion Beebe, who received an Oscar® for his camerawork on Rob Marshall's 'Memoirs of a Geisha," is well known and respected within the industry for his inventive use of the camera and his ability to bond with the actors and make them feel comfortable on a set. As difficult as it is for the talent to be delivering lines in front of the camera and crew, he feels it is his responsibility to help the actors do their job with as little intrusions as possible, like mapping out a sequence and how it's choreographed to give the actor as much freedom as possible.
This usually takes place during the rehearsal process, which has become a trademark of every Rob Marshall film, something Beebe likes to refer to as 'an intense workshop of the movie." 'Regardless of whether it's a musical or not, Rob Marshall will get his principals together weeks prior to the commencement of photography and he will block through the movements with his cast where they fi gure out how the set works," he says. 'When we're filming a sequence that is going to be especially demanding for an actor, we want them to feel they have the space to let go with their characters' emotions. We block out all their movements to camera so that we have a very clear floor plan as to what their journey through that sequence is physically. It should be a comfortable situation where they can be free to effectively work and adapt within that space."
He continues, 'Then we can anticipate which cameras and lenses to use and how we place those cameras so we're prepared to capture all the coverage that Rob Marshall needs from that specific scene."
Equally as difficult for the actors, is working within the confines of a story where the narrative and the music are so creatively intertwined. With Stephen Sondheim's work, the power of the music and the lyrics and the message in those lyrics are a fundamental element in the telling of the story, so the filmmakers needed to create a world on screen where the audience could accept song as dialogue.
As a result, it was important to Dion Beebe and his team that the camerawork did not overshadow any of those elements, which presented a challenge in that he wasn't able to fall back on any of the traditional camera tricks. 'Our challenge with -Into the Woods' is that we had actors going mid-dialogue into song," Dion Beebe says. 'The transitions were immediate, in a sense that one minute they're in a conversation and the next minute that character is in the midst of a song, so we had to be creative in how we shot those transitions."
According to Rob Marshall, who also worked with Dion Beebe on 'Chicago" and 'Nine," a good musical must looks seamless to the audience. He explains, 'We didn't want the scene to stop before the song begins, and a lot of that has to do with how the camera moves. Dion Beebe understands that deeply. He is a painter with light and motion. We have done many films together and understand each other well, so it was invaluable to have him on board."
In explaining how Rob Marshall works as a director, Dion Beebe says, 'For Rob Marshall it's all about telling the story with music, not making a musical. It's important to him that there's an emotional arc for each of the characters, so my job as a cinematographer is to be able to contribute to that by creating a visual arc that complements and supports that journey."
For Dion Beebe, he sees the characters in 'Into the Woods" as having three parts to the journey on which they embark. 'We're going into the Woods, then we're in the Woods, and then in the final act when the Woods have been devastated and transformed, we're in the -beyond-happily-ever after' stage."
One fundamental element for the look of the film was that all the practical locations, especially the real forests, the castles and the characters' homes, suggested a sense of deterioration, which meant that Dion Beebe's camerawork could not make anything look too polished or clean. He explains, 'Rob Marshall wanted an element of history to the sets so it was obvious to the audience that these locations had been there a long time, which was a way of grounding the fairy tales to a time and place that was dated."
This applied to the sets as well, since approximately 70 percent of the film was shot on the major set piece of the Woods on Stage H at Shepperton Studios.
In describing Dion Bebe's work as a cinematographer, Chris Pine says, 'Dion Bebe's visual aesthetic is stunning. What he has done in terms of creating this world and the way he uses light and colors, is truly remarkable. Visually, it is such a treat, it's so rich and full of color."
For costume designer Colleen Atwood, who won Oscars® for 'Alice in Wonderland," 'Chicago" and 'Memoirs of a Geisha," the chance to design for characters who are all from different fairy tales, was incredibly appealing. And the fact that 'Into the Woods" would be Colleen Atwood's fourth collaboration with director Rob Marshall, was icing on the cake.
She explains, 'From the very first time I met Rob Marshall, we really hit it off, and since that time we have developed a real shorthand. Rob Marshall embraces the design process, and at the same time he never dictates what he wants."
Colleen Atwood's inspiration for all her designs were the Woods, and many of the character's costumes included the texture of wood in some way. For instance, the Witch's costume worn by Meryl Streep, was actually made from many pieces of leather that were stitched on to chiffon and then combined with leather that looked like cracked bark. Those pieces were then mounted onto net to help simplify movement for her character.
'When you work with an actress like Meryl Streep, you collaborate on what she is actually going to be doing in the costume," Colleen Atwood explains. 'The movement is part of her character, and early on she knew that as the Witch she was going to be crouched down and have a stance that was almost like a spider."
She continues, 'When the Witch transforms in the film, I took the same theme but refined it a little bit with satin and finer fabrics. I exaggerated the shoulders and puffed it up and made it a different color."
In describing Colleen Atwood's work, Meryl Streep says, 'Colleen Atwood is a tornado. Her work is so imaginative, free and dramatic, and at the same time, she is well known for her attention to detail and some of the work is so carefully thought out, delicate and beautifully made."
'I was just blown away by the intricacies of Colleen Atwood's work and how everything was rooted in this natural world of earth and the Woods," producer John DeLuca says. 'She always works from character, and her imagination constantly inspired us and all the actors, as she pushes outside the box with the most exquisite taste."
In creating a unique fairy tale world, the decision was made not to root the film in one particular time period, but instead to embrace the 'mash-up" nature of the piece where all the different characters and stories collide.
When it came to creating the look for Johnny Depp's character, the Wolf, Colleen Atwood's muse was the actor himself. A big fan of Tex Avery, the animator who created the notorious wolf character in a zoot suit from the MGM cartoons of the -40s and -50s, Johnny Depp wanted to play the part in a zoot suit. Fortunately, the filmmakers loved the idea.
In explaining his inspiration for his character's costume, Johnny Depp says, 'When I was first approached about the role, I just had this burning sort of vision in my head of the Wolf, and all I could think of was the wolf in the zoot suit in the Tex Avery cartoons: a hip, big, bad wolf with a fedora and a zoot suit and a cat chain, and the second I mentioned my idea to Colleen Atwood she got very excited. And from there she went to work, and she did it up exactly right. She was right on the money… and as usual, she totally nailed it."
Colleen Atwood elaborates on the costume, and says, 'The idea with the Wolf is that he is the Wolf of Little Red Riding Hood's imagination, so we didn't want to put Johnny Depp in a wolf suit or give him a fur collar. I showed him an idea I had of embroidering the pattern of fur on to a piece of very thin wool cloth that I could then have tailored into a zoot suit."
She continues, 'I collaborated with an embroiderer to get the feel of a piece of fur that was flat, that could move and wasn't too thick. Then I saw an old thread wig from the -20s that I took as my inspira..on for the tail and the collar of the suit. I also really, really wanted his ears to come out of his hat. We made it extra playful by having his claws coming through a pair of white gloves and his boots, which were made to look like paws."
For the characters of the Baker and the Baker's Wife, played by James Corden and Emily Blunt, Colleen Atwood's approach was akin to a wholesome Victorian couple, but the designer was careful to not make them look too put together. Emily Blunt explains, 'The Baker's Wife needed to have a sort of slightly-flustered look, and Colleen Atwood was masterful at not only creating beautiful costumes, but at hiding the fact that I was pregnant during the shoot, the irony being that I was playing a character who desperately wants a child, while I actually had a child inside me."
Colleen Atwood also enjoyed being able to draw inspiration from different places and time periods, and in the case of Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) and Jack's mother (Tracey Ullman), she modeled them after 'turn-of-the century, poverty-stricken, rural folk." Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) and Cinderella's Prince (Chris Pine), on the other hand, are what she refers to as 'romantic nouveau."
'The wardrobe is beautiful and so detailed. In some ways it is true to period, but with a great twist, almost like a serious study on period clothing blended with high fashion," Anna Kendrick says. 'We are in a fantasy, musical land, and every character is from a slightly different era, which has been amazing for our creative team as it gives everyone a real freedom to put elements of all kinds of different fashions together.
The character of the Stepmother, played by Christine Baranski, has some of the more flamboyant costumes in the film, and in Colleen Atwood, the actress found the perfect collaborator.
'When I first spoke to Colleen Atwood, we both had the same take on -the stepfamily,'" says Christine Baranski. 'We felt that if they were a modern family, they would have their own reality TV show. They're over the top, they've got money, and they are very narcissis..c and obsessed with their hair, makeup and fashion."
For the character of Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Colleen Atwood stayed within the parameters of the late 1930s fairy tale illustrations, but for Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy) and Rapunzel's Prince (Billy Magnussen), she went with more of a bondage/Medieval-type vibe. According to MacKenize Mauzy, 'My costumes had all these ropes almost tying me down, which were symbolic of my life in the tower. But more importantly, when I put that dress on, I just felt like Rapunzel."
Billy Magnussen, who was dressed in black leather from head to toe, agrees, and says, 'I put on those leather pants and immediately felt like they were totally right for my character. I loved it. Colleen Atwood's work really is beautiful, she just adds these layers and it informs me and helps my character to come alive."
The Hair And Makeup:
With a project of this size and scope, the hair and makeup were of equal importance to the production, and for hair and makeup designer Peter Swords King, who won an Oscar® for his work on 'The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," this meant working closely with Colleen Atwood and her costume department. He explains, 'I take the lead from Colleen Atwood once she's done with all the costumes so I can see what kind of look she was going for. It's a very collaborative process, but I want to make sure we don't have 18th century costumes with 19th century hair."
Peter Swords King, who previously worked with Rob Marshall on 'Nine" and 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," came to the production straight from the set of 'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" in New Zealand, and it was a refreshing change of pace for him. 'I'd been doing dirt and grunge for several years, so it was nice to be able to do loads of beauty makeup and stuff," he says.
As with Colleen Atwood, he was thrilled to be able to create looks from a number of different time periods, due to the story's fairy tale elements. 'In reality this is a period film with a very contemporary feel," Peter Swords King says, 'So I had some freedom to do whatever made the most sense for each of the individual characters."
He continues, 'This is a Stephen Sondheim musical which has very modern music, so it gives you the perfect leeway to actually play with the looks."
Says Rob Marshall, 'Peter Swords King is wonderful, because no one works better with actors than him. He is able to take what the actors feel about their characters and bring it to life, while implementing his own taste and artistry, because you want to believe these characters are real people."
There was one character that Rob Marshall had a specific look in mind for, however: Rapunzel. Most people remember Rapunzel as having hair so long that guests can use it to climb up the tower to visit her, and Rob Marshall told Peter Swords King from day one that he wanted the hair to be at least 20 feet in length. At one point the hair was going to be loose and fl owing, but they eventually decided to go for a single braid. Peter Swords King says, 'It was more traditional, but it actually makes it a bit more practical and believable as well."
To create the 20-foot braid, the production brought in real blonde hair from Germany – about six pounds worth – which was then hand-woven with very strong cotion and braided into MacKenzie Mauzy's real hair. The producers suggested using acrylic hair at one point, but Peter Swords King recommended against it, as he knew it would look too shiny on camera.
MacKenzie Mauzy spent the entire production, as well as several weeks of pre-production, wearing the braid, as she wanted to be sure it looked as if she'd had it her entire life. 'It felt very odd at first, but when it was cut off I realised I had become strangely attached to it," she says. 'It wasn't a wig, it was like a giant extension that they braided into my real hair, and it looked very real."
For the Witch, Meryl Streep's two looks were created by J. Roy Helland, Meryl Streep's long-time hair and makeup designer, who won an Academy Award® for Best Achievement in Makeup for Meryl Streep's performance in 'The Iron Lady." According to Meryl Streep, 'I really depend on Roy. It's exciting, every time we get into a new project we're full of anxiety wondering if we have pushed it too far, but it is really fun to work that way."
The Witch at the beginning of the story was created by applying prosthetic pieces to Meryl Streep's forehead and chin and inserting a mouth piece with crooked teeth. For the look of the transformed Witch at the end, Meryl Streep is basically herself with beautifully-coiffed turquoise and silver streaked hair with perfect white teeth, almost like a blue enchantress.
When it came to creating the hair and makeup designs for Johnny Depp's character the Wolf, the task lay in the skilled hands of Johnny Depp's personal makeup artist, Joel Harlow ('The Lone Ranger," 'Alice in Wonderland"). Joel Harlow won an Academy Award® for his imaginative work on 'Star Trek" and previously transformed Johnny Depp into the iconic Captain Jack Sparrow in all four 'Pirates of the Caribbean" films as well as the Mad Hatter in 'Alice in Wonderland," among others.
'Joel Harlow is a genius," says Johnny Depp. 'He's just the best. He's like the modern day version of the classic old-school makeup guys from the days of Lon Chaney, where the process was very collaborative."
To complete the look of Little Red Riding Hood's dastardly stalker, Joel Harlow inittally devised a full prosthetic piece for Johnny Depp. But after a series of camera tests, the look was scaled down to more of a suggestion of a wolf through the use of shadows and lighting. 'The end result is fantastic," says Peter Swords King. 'His hair is short and dark and he has a big moustache and bushy eyebrows, and his hat has ears on it, which makes for a very mysterious look."
When the audience first sees Cinderella, played by Anna Kendrick, the young woman turned scullery maid has ratty hair and is covered in soot. In explaining the look, Peter Swords King says, 'We need to empathise with Cinderella at the beginning of the story, so she has to look dowdy and sad. Anna Kendrick is gorgeous naturally, so we just made her look a little dirty and had loose strands of hair hanging down around her face."
For Cinderella's more polished look when she heads to the Palace where she will meet the Prince, the filmmakers had originally envisioned Anna Kendrick with her hair pulled up on top of her head in a very elegant style, but quickly decided it was far too complicated a look for her. 'After watching early takes of Anna Kendrick's performance we decided to keep her look as simple and modern as possible," Peter Swords King says, 'So we literally pulled her hair back in a high ponytail with a little tiara, and she looked perfect. It was the whole concept of less is more, and in this case it worked beautifully."
The looks for the two Princes in the film, Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen, were much easier to create. For Chris Pine, the Prince who woos Cinderella, Peter Swords King gave him a very regal look. 'Chris Pine is so good-looking already that all we really did was give his hair some highlights and style it with a lovely sort of swept-back big cliff at the front," he says. 'And his sparkly blue eyes and white teeth combined with a little razor stubble gave him just the right mix of rugged and handsome." For Billy Magnussen, the Prince who falls for MacKenzie Mauzy's Rapunzel, he stuck with the actor's natural blond look.
Like Colleen Atwood, Peter Swords King had the most fun with the characters of Cinderella's Stepmother and her stepsisters, as he was able to create elaborate looks for the trio, for which he was predominantly influenced by the -60s and the 18th century. 'For the Stepmother, Christine Baranski's hair was piled on top of her head in an 18th century style with modern-fringe bangs that swept across her forehead, almost into her eyes," says Peter Swords King. 'It was the perfect look for her."
For Lucinda, the evil stepsister played by Lucy Punch, her hair was curled and then piled up on top of her head and accentuated with feathers. Her makeup was dark and more modern. 'We went very -60s with Lucy Punch's look," he says. 'She had big eyelashes but very minimal eye makeup – hardly any shading so she looked very monochrome – and we kept her lips very natural looking."
Tammy Blanchard, who plays Lucinda's sister Florinda, had a look that was more 1940's. 'She has very dark eyes highlighted with big eyebrows so we kept all her makeup dark and painted her lips and fingernails dark red with a bit of gold," he says.
The Visual Effects:
One of the advantages of bringing a story like 'Into the Woods" to the big screen is being able to effectively create a world in which the characters live. When the filmmakers have needs beyond the confines of practical sets, that is when visual effects supervisor Matt Johnson steps in. 'My role is to provide effects to the film without the audience realising any of the shots have been enhanced in any way," says Matt Johnson, whose credits include 'The Golden Compass," which won an Oscar® for Best Visual Effects.
In 'Into the Woods," these effects included many of the classical fairy tale elements which are key to the story, like a computer-generated beanstalk that sprouts up to the sky, a 60-foot giant trampling through a forest, the magic transformation of Cinderella's shabby dress into a beautiful new gown, and the vortex tornado that swirls around the Witch whenever she appears and disappears (something the filmmakers affectionately referred to as 'Meryl Streep Magic"). While the effects were computer generated, they still felt very real, because Matt Johnson and his team understood how it should work and only used the effects when they were truly needed.
The style of computer generation employed was a mixture of old-fashioned practical effects combined with cutting-edge visual effects technology. Matt Johnson explains, 'Rob Marshall is quite fond of many of the old, classic films, so we're bringing elements of that into this one. For example, many filmmakers would have wanted the Giant to be a computer-generated creature, but Rob Marshall was keen to get an actress (Frances De La Tour) so as to get a really great, human performance."
This feat was accomplished by creating an entire miniature forest with miniature trees for Frances De La Tour to march through, smashing and knocking them over, which is similar to techniques used in 1950s films. But with 'Into the Woods," the footage is blended with CGI to provide more of a modern feel.
In describing the effect process, Matt Johnson says, 'The first bit of the job is actually planning how you are physically going to do what is required for the shot and what techniques can be used, for instance, is it going to be CGI or green screen or miniatures."
He continues, 'Once that has been decided, we start filming. During principal photography I'm on set working with the director to make sure we are shooting everything we will need in the cutting room. Then it is off to post production where we put the movie together, working with the film's editor to help shape the film and bring it all together."
'Into the Woods" was Matt Johnson's first collaboration with Rob Marshall, and he was impressed with the director's vision. He explains, 'Rob Marshall has a very clear idea of what he wants, and he will keep going until he gets it, because he knows what he wants it to look like on screen."
Music supervisor and music producer Mike Higham worked with Stephen Sondheim on the film version of 'Sweeney Todd," where he had an amazing experience, so when Stephen Sondheim suggested him for 'Into the Woods," he leapt at the offer. 'Musicals don't come around very often and working on Stephen Sondheim is always challenging musically," he says, 'It stretches my musical theory to the limit because it is really complex."
As a music supervisor, Mike Higham's role is very hands-on. He explains, 'I am at the rehearsals so I can see how each song is going to play out, how each of the actors tick and how it is all going to work when we come to actually shooting the film."
As the music producer, Mike Higham's role involves literally producing the songs for the soundtrack of the movie. He continues, 'I need to make all the tracks as good as they can be in the shortest time possible because of the time frame in which we are working."
For Mike Higham, the two roles go hand in hand, as he feels the secret to the success of integrating the music seamlessly into the film is one person overseeing the whole process: from recording the orchestra and actors to being present on the set, to ensuring that everyone is delivering that performance to the camera."
Keeping the dialogue and the music flowing throughout the fi lm is one of the biggest challenges. 'There is a curse with musicals where people are acting and then they suddenly burst into song and it sounds a bit weird because you've gone from the dialogue on a sound stage straight into this beautiful pristine studio recording," he explains.
To make the scenes feel as effortless as possible, Mike Higham took one of two different approaches: having the actors sing the first part of the song live, and in many cases the entire song, or taking the last part of their spoken dialogue and bringing it into the studio to improve the quality. And Mike Higham was impressed by the depth of Rob Marshall's musical understanding, especially in the recording studio.
Says Mike Higham, 'Rob Marshall has an unbelievably good ear and I was really surprised at how good he was at choosing the perfect moments from each actor's recording. I worked very closely with him and his choices were deliberate; he had a clear vision of what he was looking for when the cameras rolled." When Rob Marshall first approached Emily Blunt about the film, he told her that he was not looking for a singer, but for an actress, so she went to the audition and sang 'Moments in the Woods," which is the Baker's Wife's big number, and got the part.
She says, 'From there I took singing lessons, which helped a lot, but at the end of the day I kept coming back to the idea that they really wanted me to act in the musical numbers. It was a little terrifying when we first had to sing in front of everyone, but we all knew immediately that we were all in the same position."
Rob Marshall had always thought Emily Blunt would be perfect as the Baker's Wife, but didn't have an inkling as to her talent as a singer. 'When she came in and sang, I couldn't believe it," he says. 'By the end of the song I literally found myself crying because I was so happy that someone had all the ingredients required for the Baker's Wife."
Stephen Sondheim wrote the song 'Moments in the Woods," for the Baker's Wife as a vehicle for the character to express her desire for romance. He explains, 'James Lapine had this nice idea of having the Baker's story intertwined with Cinderella's story, and by the end of the song, she comes to terms with how important her life with the Baker is, though it is just as a Baker's Wife, whereas she could be dallying with a Prince. She understands the difference between the two."
'The most exciting part for me was recording it with Stephen Sondheim and the specific notes he gave us about how he likes his lyrics to be sung," says Emily Blunt. 'So for someone like me who does not consider themself a singer, it was really reassuring to have Stephen Sondheim come in and tell us to not worry about making it sound pretty, but to make it sound real. I think he really likes having actors who can kind of sing rather than singers who can kind of act, so it was just excitung and bizarrely wonderful."
Meryl Streep, who was cast as the Witch, was already familiar with the stage show and Stephen Sondheim's work when approached about the film. 'I went to see the musical when it was on Broadway, with the great Bernadette Peters playing the Witch, and I thought it was fantastic. There is no one like Stephen Sondheim. There is no one who writes sing-able, character-driven music that tells a story. The wit, the intelligence and the daring in his music is unparalleled, so I was really happy to have the chance to work on it."
Emily Blunt agrees, and says, 'This is probably one of the most human of all of Stephen Sondheim's musicals, and I like the fact that it challenges you to think. The majority of the songs we see in musicals have a rather simplistic outlook, whereas Stephen Sondheim's songs are more like monologues or conversa..ons in that they don't sound too perfect or too lyrical or too melodic."
In discussing Meryl Streep's talent as a singer, Stephen Sondheim says, 'Meryl Streep has an ability to find colors in a lyric that I've rarely come across. She would do a number of takes on the songs in the recording studio and every take was different in some way. She would take the lyric and with each take, try it from another angle. You can listen to all the takes and no two are alike in terms of tone. It's subtle, but they are distinctly different."
According to Stephen Sondheim, most actors can deliver a variety of different takes when recording dialogue through tone or vocal inflec..on, but it is infi nitely more difficult with a lyric because lyrics are limited by the rhythm, stress and intona..ons of the music.
The music for the film was pre-recorded over a two-week period at Angel Studios in London. When putting the 56-piece orchestra together, Mike Higham hired some of the best musicians from the London Symphony Orchestra and London Philharmonic to help give the soundtrack a lush sound.
For Tracey Ullman, who plays Jack's Mother, it was an amazing experience. 'We recorded it over a weekend so they could get the very best of the London musicians. Stephen Sondheim was there, and it was lovely to see the violas and the clarinets – everyone standing around just really into it and enjoying the moment."
Emily Blunt agrees, and says, 'One of the most fulfilling experiences in my entire life was getting to play this part and be able to sing with confidence, and I will never forget the day when we first sang with the entire orchestra… it was amazing."
She continues, 'If you're someone like me who is not used to singing, you really have to nail it, and there was something so thrilling about that because you are emotionally invested in the lyrics so you have to make sure your brain is agile so you can make sense of the words and portray them to the best of your ability."
Music supervisor Paul Gemignani has worked with Stephen Sondheim numerous times in the past, during which time they developed a close rapport and shorthand, and while 'Into the Woods" was the first film he had done with Rob Marshall, they had worked together on Broadway many times. 'Having come from the world of theater, Rob Marshall understands all the intricacies involved with a musical, and approaches everything from a collaborative standpoint," Paul Gemignani says.
Paul Gemignani's primary responsibility during production was coaching the actors on all the music, both in the rehearsals and the actual recordings, and on 'Into the Woods," the talent performed the songs through a number of different ways: singing live to camera on set, singing to pre-recorded music in studio, and singing live with the orchestra, also in studio.
'The key to the musical performances," says Rob Marshall, 'Is that, whether they're pre-recorded or sung live, they all must feel live, as if they're happening in the moment. The audience should never know. That's the goal."
'With most films it is the camera which tells the story, but in a musical featuring songs and lyrics from a master like Stephen Sondheim, it is the songs which progress the story," says Paul Gemignani. 'And thanks to Rob Marshall, our actors had the chance to do honest to God singing live with a full orchestra, and it is rarely done that way anymore."
In discussing what makes the soundtrack so unique, Meryl Streep says, 'I really love the music from -Into the Woods,' in fact I actually love it more every time I listen to it. When you first encounter the music, it's arresting but on the second and third listening it has more and more to give you. I remember coming out of the theater on Broadway and singing to myself -No One Is Alone'… that song just pierces you the first time you hear it."
At one point during production, Rob Marshall gave all the actors the pre-recorded songs on an iPod, which was especially helpful – and somewhat intimidating – for Chris Pine, who plays Cinderella's Prince. 'You have no idea how absolutely mind-blowingly complicated it is to hit notes, whilst giving it bravado and acting with precise emotions," Chris Pine explains. 'What Anna Kendrick has managed to do with her Cinderella character is just profoundly cool... It is like watching a martial artist."
'Agony," one of the show's most popular songs, is a humorous approach to the two Princes. According to Stephen Sondheim, 'James Lapine wanted to characterise the Princes because they're two important characters, and we felt they should have a song together: these two brothers trying to one-up each other."
He continues, 'So the notion of -I have a more beautiful girl than you,' came to me because they both find these extraordinary women, Rapunzel and Cinderella."
For Emily Blunt, the song 'No One is Alone" made her cry when she first heard it, particularly given the circumstances of her character, the Baker's Wife. 'I think it's a song that speaks to a lot of people who've lost somebody that they love and they don't know how to move forward," she says.
Another song that is central to the story of 'Into the Woods" and to the characters of the Baker and his Wife, specifically, is 'It Takes Two," which is about the couple coming to realise how much they rely on one another. 'They learn the fact that they cannot have a child is caused by a curse on the Baker's family and they have to go into the Woods, and just the way everybody else goes into the Woods, they each come out a diff erent person," Stephen Sondheim says.
He continues, 'They fi nd the objects of their quest, but more importantly, they find each other, so to speak. I think it's the first time in their lives that they've done anything together beyond baking and selling and cleaning. So the song is a song about two people who, in a sense, are meeting for the first time, which is the best thing that can happen in a marriage a..er a while. It's about the refreshment of a marriage."
For James Corden, who was cast as the Baker, he was particularly fond of Jack's song, 'Giants in the Sky," performed by Daniel Huttlestone. 'It has always been one of my favorite songs in the show, but I've never heard it sung the way Daniel Huttlestone does it," he says. 'In the film, he sings it to my character and it was just a thrilling moment for me."
He continues, 'There are few things better than watching someone very young and very talented being very brilliant at something, and I felt like that all day. I was looking at him thinking, -I'm watching a superstar in the making.'"
Mike Higham remembers shooting 'Giants in the Sky" on loca..on on the first day of principal photography, and says, 'Daniel Huttlestone came out and jumped on one of these huge, beautiful trees and I immediately saw what this film is going to look like. It is a really classy, classic and timeless piece. I think it is going to be something very different and really special."
Once principal photography had wrapped, the film's talented editors and sound team went to work. Editor Wyatt Smith, who previously worked with Rob Marshall on the Emmy® Award-winning NBC special, 'Tony Bennett: An American Classic," as well as 'Nine" and 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," could speak knowledgeably on the issues that were important to Marshall, which made him the ideal partner.
'Wyatt Smith understands music and dance, which is why it was so important to Rob Marshall and myself that he be a part of -Into the Woods'" says producer John DeLuca. 'Here was a film with wall-to-wall music, for which Wyatt Smith has an excellent eye and ear, and he was just as excited and tireless and tenacious as Rob Marshall was, and he was there for us until the very end."
Adds Rob Marshall, 'Wyatt Smith is an extraordinary man because he knows music and performance so well and knows how to cut rhythmically, and it's very important that you don't see the editing: it should feel fluid as if it is all one piece."
The sound team was faced with their own set of painstaking – yet exhilarating – tasks: combining the cast's numerous vocal takes, live and recorded, to create the most beautiful, polished end product. And of utmost importance to Rob Marshall was ensuring that the audience could never tell the difference everything should feel live.
Says Rob Marshall, 'I have a magnificent sound mixing and sound editing team, and as you can imagine on a musical, they are extremely important. Because Stephen Sondheim writes all his songs as if they are scenes and not musical numbers, we needed mixing and sound editing teams that knew how to create this very real, yet magical world in the Woods where the audience can hear every lyric."
He continues, ''Into the Woods' is a very lyric-heavy piece, and the story and the characters live in Stepehn Sondheim's brilliant, brilliant lyrics, so you don't want to miss a single one of them."
And you know things now that you never knew before…
'Giants in the Sky"
Into The Theaters
'Into the Woods" is a joyous, unique cinematic experience which takes familiar characters and sends them on unexpected journeys, but there is also a great profundity that underlies the material. According to producer Marc Platt, 'Inside the story there is a tremendous metaphor about life and loss, parents and children, and whether we repeat the sins of our fathers or choose another path. That metaphor is very relatable and relevant to everyone, young and old. When you take all those elements and dress them up in the telling of fairy tales with music and comedy, you get a wonderful, satisfying cinematic experience."
Adds Meryl Streep, 'Musically it is challenging and thrilling, and so this is what I hope for the audience: that they too will be thrilled and challenged."
'Beginning with the film's opening 20 minutes you feel like you've just been shot out of a cannon," says producer John DeLuca, 'And from there you just hold on for a joyful and meaningful ride full of humor and zany characters, who we genuinely care about as well."
The filmmakers were in agreement that everyone who worked on this film, from the principal actors to the extras, to everyone who had a part in bringing this story to the screen, that all were striving for perfection every day, intent on honoring and respecting the material.
Production designer Dennis Gassner says, 'I think the audience will get it. They will understand that people have worked really hard for them and will get to experience something that is incredibly beautiful and vivid as a piece of art."
'The one thing I love about this film is that there's so much entertainment in addi..on to the many diverse levels it operates on," says Rob Marshall. 'It's such an exciting journey because it contains all these diff erent characters intersec..ng in the Woods with wonderful songs, yet it also says something profound, moving and important about life.
Into The Woods
Release Date: January 1st, 2015