Cruella de Vil always gets a bad wrap, the ruthless businesswoman who will stop at nothing to get what she wants is considered one of Disney’s most vilest (yest fashionable) villains. Her name literally translate to “devil.” But how did Ms. de Vil become so…Cruel?
Tragically orphaned at a young age and set adrift in 1970s London, Estella (played by Emma Stone) finds herself recruited to a life of a stealing by two child thieves and the three grow up together, creating a home “funded by” their life of crime. In an attempt to go straight and follow her passion for fashion design she lands in the company of the Baroness von Hellman (played by Emma Thompson) whose famous and glamorous couture clothes needs a new collection for the season. Revelations of her boss’ cruelty leads Estella to unleash her darkest qualities in a passionate journey for revenge as Cruella takes the stage.
In celebration of Disney’s next live-action punk-rock venture, a virtual press conference was held featuring the creative minds behind Cruella.
Craig Gillespie (Director) Jenny Beavan (Costume Designer) Nadia Stacey (Hair/Makeup) and Fiona Crombie (Production Designer) discuss how they turned a villain from the 101 Dalmatians cartoon franchise and 1995 live-action movie starring Glenn Close (who also serves as Executive Producer) into a fashion icon and misunderstood woman whose life was derailed during one savage event.
Gillespie admits his primary goal for directing Cruella was to create a movie that pushed the boundaries in filmmaking and character development. “Villains are always so fun to portray, because you just have more license to do things that aren’t quite appropriate or push the boundaries and create these larger-than-life characters.” For him it was “Really important [Estella/Cruella] was not black and white. Obviously no pun intended there with Cruella. But I wanted there to be this gray area and be able to empathize with the choices she was making and the situations she was responding to. I wanted to do it in a way that was really fun.”
Beaven whose creative designs were featured in Mad Max wanted Estella/Cruella’s fashions to represent not just the arc of the overall film but speak directly to the arc of the character. “It’s actually quite clear in the script. There’s a real arc for her [and] hopefully we found [it]. [Viewers] see her change from a child where she’s obviously anarchic and rebellious and does things to her school uniform much like I remember. My wonderful associate designer, Sarah Young’s sister, was quite an inspiration for that ’cause she used to turn her blazer inside out and various. But you just see how she develops. And I think when she gets to the baroness who is a little old-fashioned but a very good designer she learns quite a lot and hones her skill. You can use all the elements that are actually in the story to make that change come about very naturally.”
When it came to the inspiration behind the fashion, Beaven credited the script and the 1996 film starring Glenn Close. “I think she comes out of the script, actually, and the story. Because we know where she ends up, about fifteen years later as, you know, Glenn Close, obviously. And so there was definitely, in my mind…it had to just be possible that this character could become that character.”
“The inspirations were various because she’s so diverse in all her different looks and people have spoken of punk things. I think I just looked at so much stuff. And then out of it, you kind of pull what appears to be the narrative thread. I think the inspirations were various because she’s so diverse in all her different looks and people have spoken of punk things. I just, I think I just looked at so much stuff. And then out of it, you kind of pull what appears to be the narrative thread. So of course I looked at Westwood and McQueen and Galliano, and BodyMap, and sort of dug into my past at Biba and [was] just trying to really find all those funny things that we loved,” Beaven continued.
“But I also just wanted to do a homage slightly to this modern thing where we are now, thank God, reusing stuff, and making. And that’s the whole red dress thing, which she makes out of a dress she finds in Artie‘s vintage store. She’s taken stuff and sort of remade it and we did that lot,” Beaven finished.
Stacey chimed in with, “I kinda like the idea everything Cruella does has been collected from somewhere. You see those boards that she’s got all her newspaper clippings on and pictures and things. So she’s collecting things along the way.”
To help support the overall look of the film was Crombie, the production designer, who created a visuals feast of architectural inspiration and colors that celebrated 1970’s London; supported not just the fashion pieces but was the driving force behind showcasing the differences between of the haves and the have nots.
“I think the biggest challenge was actually the number [of] sets. The film has great pace, we move around a lot, and there’s lots of little moments that are important moments that require different sets. So we were very busy. There were 120-odd sets to do across the course of the shoot. And some of them are enormous. And some of them are tiny, like little rooms. But I think one of the things that I’m most pleased about with the film is the level of detail in every single one of those sets. I’m making a movie at the moment.”
Throughout the movie Estella struggles with trying to please the Baroness who she considered and icon until she realizes the Baroness’ true devious nature. During this emotional time, viewers watch as Stone tries to balance her two personalities: Estella, the supportive worker and Cruella the fashion icon determined to upstage the Baroness. This play with duality is easily represented in Cruella icon hair.
For Stacey who was in charge of the hair and makeup, she not only had to balance using hair and makeup as a deceptive tool but pay tribute to a character audience first saw in a 1961 cartoon.
“I think the biggest thing for me is that hair and makeup in this, which has never come off in a film before for me is that it‘s kinda used as a tool of deception. She’s got to disguise herself from the baroness. And so when we first see Estella, it needs to be believable that she’s a girl that’s growing in the time in London. And then she’s creating this persona in Cruella,” Stacey said.
“And so, when she first starts arriving to these red carpet moments, there’s a kind of mask-like quality in all the makeups as well, ’cause she has to disguise herself. So, I needed the difference to be huge between the two looks. So I needed to keep Estella quite simple so that we had somewhere big to go for Cruella. And I feel very much like Fiona at the moment as well, that it’s never gonna be the same again,” Stacey continued.
One of the standouts for Cruella is the soundtrack that features an array of classic rock songs form the 70’s that not just to help move the story along but also captures the look and feel of the movie. From The Rolling Stones to Queen, each song highlights the spirit of the production.
“I actually designed the movie knowing we’re gonna have music. So, you have to design shots that give space for music. And then very often on the set, I’ll be putting music I cut on the set as I go, so I’ll be putting music on the scenes as we’re shooting them. So, like, that Doors track, when we first meet the baroness, I threw on the day that we were shooting it and it never changed. There’s a great Nancy Sinatra song, which was kinda spontaneous when we were shooting, and she’s in the elevator, and so we did, like, four takes. And then I thought, feel like you’d be singing here, maybe. A song and I just went to my phone. I’m like, how about Nancy Sinatra’s “Boots Made for Walking?” And was like, “Okay.” And she came out dancing to that. There’s always music in my mind as we’re going through it and looking for opportunities throughout,” said Gillespie.
It wouldn’t be a Cruella movie if it didn’t include the iconic dalmatians. Like the cartoon, Gillespie wanted the dogs to be used in a realistic way to further the story. “Obviously the dogs are a large part of all of 101 Dalmatians. But I wanted to bring them in a more grounded way. We worked on story a lot with the role of the Dalmatians and her relationship to them. They’re very intertwined with Cruella’s emotional journey,” Gillespie continued.
“Having these mutts that were part of their crew and [having]been able to have fun with that and design these set pieces that were almost grounded in reality, and plausible for dogs to be able to do. They were supporting characters in a way, and they had their own personalities and concerns. They always have some great little moments,” Gillespie finished.
Cruella releases in theaters and on Disney+ PVOD on May 28th.