[Article] Embracing the Gray of CRUELLA in Latest Reimagining
Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures
This Friday will see the release of the Disney live-action film, CRUELLA. The film, which centers around one of cinema’s most notorious villains, the legendary Cruella de Vil, is set in 1970s London amidst the punk rock revolution. CRUELLA follows a young grifter named Estella, a clever and creative girl determined to make a name for herself with her designs. She befriends a pair of young thieves who appreciate her appetite for mischief, and together they are able to build a life for themselves on the London streets. One day, Estella’s flair for fashion catches the eye of Baroness von Hellman, a fashion legend who is devastatingly chic and terrifyingly Haute. But their relationship sets in motion a course of events and revelations that will cause Estella to embrace her wicked side and become the raucous, fashionable, and revenge-bent Cruella.

Nightmarish Conjurings recently attended the press conference for the much-anticipated live-action film. While attending the conference, we learned what it was like for Emma Stone to embody both Estella/Cruella, bringing a darker tone to the film, and why Emma Thompson tried to fire a dog.

When it was announced that Disney was going to be making a live-action film about Cruella, battle lines were drawn. There were those who were excited to see another Disney villain’s story come to life while others had trepidations, mainly due to Cruella’s desire to wear the skin of Dalmatians for a coat. Enter Director Craig Gillespie, known for the award-winning film I, Tonya as well as 2011’s remake of Fright Night. With all the notoriety and hatred Cruella receives, one must wonder, why focus a film on her?

“Well, 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. It was really important to me that this was not black and white. Obviously, no pun intended there with Cruella. But I wanted there to be this gray area and to be able to empathize with the choices that she was making and the situations that she was responding to and I wanted to do it in a way that was really fun,” explained Gillespie.

Emma Stone as Cruella in Disney’s live-action CRUELLA. Photo by Laurie Sparham. © 2021 Disney Enterprises Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Talk to most horror fans and they’ll tell you that they enjoy Disney films because, for some, growing up and seeing images of the Chernabog from Fantasia or Pinocchio transforming into a donkey were enough to terrify and fascinate the mind of a young child. But with CRUELLA, it just feels different than other Disney [villain] films. Even Emma Stone, who plays the titular title role of Cruella De Vil, was surprised at the darker tone of the film.

“They really let Craig and Tony [McNamara] write and make what they wanted to make. I think it’s definitely dark for a Disney movie. It’s darker than I’ve seen in a Disney movie for a good long time.”

Previous iterations of Cruella have been shown in both the animated classic and the 1996 remake of 101 Dalmatians starring Glenn Close. But in Emma Stone’s portrayal, we see everything that made Estella become Cruella. When speaking about which character was more of a challenge to portray, Stone stated, “It’s interesting because there is a sort of rejection of Estella that comes at a point. Estella is sweet but she’s not fully embodied. 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. That said, she does some things – some lines that I don’t think I would necessarily cross. But, to be honest, I kind of sort of prefer Cruella.”

However, while fans/non-fans are looking to Cruella as the villain, they’re missing the big bad right in front of them. In walks the Baroness, a completely new character to this universe and one that is both fearsome and magnetic. And who better to play her than the iconic Emma Thompson who gave us some insight into the process of creating the Baroness.

(L-R): Mark Strong as John the Valet and Emma Thompson as the Baroness in Disney’s live-action CRUELLA. Photo by Laurie Sparham. © 2021 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

“I drew on my life. I think if my husband were in the room, he’d say that really, no acting is required,” laughed Thompson. “I had such fun doing her because I’ve been asking for quite a number of years if I could be a villain, a proper villain. I spent decades playing what my mother used to call, ‘good women in frocks.’ Now, I get to play a really evil woman in frocks. But oh, boy, the frocks. I mean, they wore me. I had the best time and every time Em 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. Everyone created the Baroness, and then I sort of stepped in and just said the words.”

Now, there is no Cruella without the Dalmatians and for those who have concerns about possible animal cruelty, rest easy. That said, the film features an array of adorable dogs incorporated into the film not only to be true to Cruella’s story, but also to give the viewer more insight into her past.

“Obviously, the dogs are a large part of all of 101 Dalmatians. But I wanted to bring them in a more grounded way,” explained Gillespie. “We definitely worked on the story a lot with the role of the Dalmatians and her relationship to them. They’re very intertwined with her emotional journey. And then also having these mutts that were part of their crew, and to be 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 had their own personalities and concerns. It was great to sort of just always be keeping your eye on that and be like, all right, just, you know what, we should cut to a reaction shot of them here.”

As the press conference began to wrap up, I knew I couldn’t leave without making mention of the biggest star of the entire film: the adorable, huggable one-eyed puppy known as Wink. You’ll be hard-pressed not to have your heart explode with joy by Wink’s antics, unlike Emma Thompson, who promptly told me she resented me for saying that Wink was a bigger star than her.

“I tried to get Wink fired. I told stories. I said he’s come over and widdle on one of my costumes, and nobody believed me. They just knew I was lying and that it was just a vicious attempt to get rid of this dog that, frankly, was upstaging me and getting in my life. The dog was an obstacle.”

CRUELLA will release simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access for a one-time additional fee on Friday, May 28th.

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