Set in 1970s London against a backdrop of the emerging punk scene, the Cruella prequel directed by Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya) is unlike any other Disney live-action adaption. Like Halston or The Devil Wears Prada, is is a fashion film, focused on egotistical daring genius. Part heist movie, part punk-rock homage it focuses on Estella’s apprenticeship at one of the top couture fashion house headed by a savage narcissist named The Baroness (Emma Thompson who would terrify Miranda Priestly).
In celebration of Cruella’s release, Disney held a virtual press conference with actresses Emma Thompson and Emma Stone about embracing their inner villains, the fashions and more.
“When I drew on the life, obviously. I think if my husband were in the room, he’d say,’And no acting required, really.’ I had such fun doing her, because I think I’ve been asking for quite a number of years if I could be a villain, a proper villain. And I spent decades playing what my mother used to call, ‘Good women in frocks.’ And now I got to play a really evil woman in frocks. But oh, boy, the frocks. I mean, they wore me, actually, really is what happened. I had just the best time and every time [Emma Stone] and I would come on set, we’d just look at each other and walk around each other, like we were sculptures or works of art or something, which we were. I mean, it was in a way, everyone created the Baroness, and then I sort of stepped in and just said the words,” Thompson.
Unlike the Cruella De Vil characters we’ve seen in 101 Dalmatians, viewers see Cruella struggling to do good there’s an understanding how her life circumstance results in her embracing her inner madwoman. As a character, Stone created a journey for Estella/Cruella where her inner voice and talent tries desperately to be expressed but she’s penalized for it because it’s outside of the constructs of society at the time. She’s in this rigid English system where she fights to fit in ultimately embracing who is truly is: ‘I’m Cruella. Born brilliant. Born bad. And a little bit mad.’
For Stone she found that dynamic ” interesting, because there is a sort of rejection of Estella that comes at a point, and Estella is sweet, but, she’s not fully embodied. So I would say there is something about Cruella that’s pretty enticing, because she just kind of is who she is. She’s in full acceptance and autonomy there. So I am kind of interested in that Cruella world, but that said, she does some things [and crosses] some lines I don’t think I would necessarily cross. But to be honest, I sort of prefer Cruella.”
“It’s very nature versus nurture, this story. So what she would find a weakness early on or what her mother would deem a weakness early on with just her ability to really hit the ceiling quickly, her kind of volatility, her reactiveness, becomes sort of her strength through her creativity and through her genius. It’s interesting. I think it really is a movie about how your weaknesses do sort of become your strengths, in a way,” said Stone.
As for Thompson, she had no problem becoming the harden Baroness, “She is hardened, completely, and believes in hardness. She thinks that’s the only way, and that’s what is so kind of unusual about her, actually. Like Emily, I am very interested in the dark side of a female character, because they’re so rarely allowed to be dark. You know, we’re all supposed to be nice and good, aren’t we? And bad mothers are simply unforgivable. I mean, nobody can find words for the bad mother.”
“But the Baroness is just so single-minded, and she says this wonderful thing. She says, ‘if I hadn’t been single-minded, I might have had to put my genius at the back of the drawer’ like so many other women of genius, who died without producing anything and without using their genius. And actually, it is a very good point. So whilst, as Em says, I wouldn’t necessarily walk that path, her commitment to her own creativity is rather admirable, I think, and difficult, probably,” Thompson continued.
“There is nothing more fun than pretending, and, I found pretending to be mean–well, it came horribly easily. I was very well brought up by a very kind and wonderful woman, my mom, and my dad, a wonderful man. I was surrounded by lovely, kind people, and my experience of people who were truly mean like that and truly hard and narcissistic is quite rare. But there are quite a number of them in show business–mentioning no names–and some of those people have come to light recently.”
“So, awfulness in any profession, in any walk of life, is always possible, and I suppose the Baroness is a mixture of all kinds of people. Venal, she’s quite venal, but her greed is really just for herself. It’s like she can’t bear anyone else to succeed in any way. She has to destroy all the competition, instead of thinking that the competition might bring her game up, might make her better. So in fact, she appears and presents as this very strong personality, but in fact, of course, she’s very weak and contains the inevitable seeds of her own destruction, because she can’t acknowledge talent in any other person. So when she finally sees someone who’s not only talented, but actually more talented than her, and younger and more beautiful than her, she finds it very difficult indeed,” Thompson finished.
Disney’s Cruella is in theaters on May 28th and on Disney+ POV.
To learn more about Cruella check out our interview with the creative minds behind creating the movie.