I had the great pleasure of chatting with Director Rupert Sanders about his debut medieval epic rendering of Snow White – Snow White and Huntsman. Along the way we talk about the overseas monetary success, some early details of the newly announced sequel and what it’s like when bulldog Brits playing the dwarves tease each other on set.
BH: Firstly, congratulations the film’s opened with 122 million in 2 weeks.
RS: Cheers man
BH: I want to go back a little bit because when I originally heard of this project, I heard conceived as a trilogy and then as we started gearing up for its release the trilogy talk sort fell away. Was it originally conceived as a trilogy?
RS: I mean I think conceived the first story as the first story but as we were doing that we saw that we were creating a great world and great characters so I think the idea of going on a journey with those characters became really interesting. It’s a 7 page story to start with – one film was a triumph. There are great ideas there that I hope people will want to see more of.
BH: Is it weird going against your instinct to get to the core of the story? Like you said you’ve got 7 pages and you have to unpack that into this huge world is it a weird process to go in reverse?
RS: I think a lot of the time people get 500 page novels and people are always upset that they took out the scene where ‘billy robs jimmy’ and we didn’t have any of that. We created a medieval epic based on a relatively short story. When you go through that story, you start to understand what all those ideas and themes mean. We researched the mirror, the apple, the elements that the queen stands for – there’s a lot going on in there so it actually unpacks fairly easily, as it were, into a bigger piece.
BH: Now that it’s officially announced that you’re doing a sequel can you talk about everyone being back – without…
RS: Without the dead ones…
BH: Yeah so to speak.
RS: The next story will continue with ideas and characters and creatures from the original one but in a different way. I think all of us feel that if we’re going to do it – we’re going to do it properly and we do it differently and we make there a reason [to see it]. None of us have to do it, none of us are contractually obliged to do it so we want to find a story. If a story demands us to get back and do it then we will.
BH: And I heard you’re working with David Koepp is that right?
BH: Great person to be working with…
RS: Yeah he’s great..
BH: One of the greatest living screenwriters not a bad person to be working with.
RS: We had a really nice week last week actually just kind of finding the story really.
BH: So with sequels you always get that talk just going back to what you were saying is it more of a story continuation as opposed to a sequel. [For example] the big trilogies like Lord of the Rings [Fellowship of the Ring] continues into Two Towers, is that how you guys are working with it, like it’s a continuation of the story?
RS: Yeah, there’s an abbreviated period of time and then the story starts and it’s exploring another dynamic of the film. Obviously you’re not going to bring anyone back from the dead but I think it’s more of a trilogy than a continuation, yeah. We’re doing it in stepping-stones. We know that this is going in a certain direction we know that next one will go in another direction but we’re not really getting to involved in the specifics [yet].
BH: You’ve gathered the most intimidating group of British Bulldog actors to play the dwarves…was there short hand on set “O.K Departed, you move away from Capote…Deadwood you move over near Shaun of the Dead…”
RS: They were calling each other names of films that hadn’t turned out so well it was quite funny. I wanted to create a group of characters that were beloved, that had a commonality and that was unique to them. They [the actors] came with different ideas about the characters and the stories and that’s why you cast that caliber of actor the audience kind of associates them as being a family because they’ve seen them together in so many films.
BH: Was there any on set renditions of “HI-HO” when you had all those boys together?
RS: There is a little hidden gag, where Ian McShane says “Hihohiho off to work we go boys” and Eddie Marsan goes “If he starts whistling, I’ll smash his fucking face in” [Laughs] We deliberately steered clear of the slapstick tongue in cheek stuff.
BH: One of the highlights for me is the aesthetic in the magically enchanted scenes, was that something that you wanted to bring to this world?
RS: I work an Australian director of photography called Greg Fraser, that’s just how we ‘see’ together. And we wanted to feel the natural elements – we didn’t want it to be all in stage. We (foolishly) moved all of our sets outside but I think that you feel like the forest go on forever, like the dark forest we didn’t have a very big forest but we built it inside another forest so that you saw through these twisted gnarled trees through the real trees but you didn’t see them clear enough. But then you’re dealing with natural light, insects and rain and you just get a feeling of it existing.
BH: Before it was officially announced that you were getting a sequel I thought that it was very conducive to that because you open doors to other possibilities, like the village with all female characters, scarred to remain hidden from the queen and I wanted to see more of the world.
RS: I wanted keep the story moving, it’s kind of a road movie. I didn’t want to dwell in a castle and have political conversations with the queen, I wanted to see how people had reacted to her rule and that’s a really big part of the scale of that world.
BH: What’s it like working with Oscar winning Charlize Theron in that role, the Monster playing the Evil Queen as it were?
RS: Better than working with a pantomime dame [Laughs] She’s a great actor and she brought so much to it and she really relished it. She, like me, wanted to find the empathy in the character and the reason behind her I think it’s very important that you know that she’s been on a journey rather than evil just for the sake of it. She’s like a wounded animal, she’ll fight very hard to protect herself … and that’s exciting.
BH: Finally, moving away from Snow White what are your favourite films?
RS: They kind of vary on weekly basis Don’t Look Now, The Deer Hunter, and I watched two great films on the plane – Midnight Cowboy and Platoon. I love performance…you kind of go through phases and at the moment I’m in that kind of 70s period and I love Peter Weir’s films and Nick Roeg’s films Walkabout …next week it will probably be something very different.
BH: Rupert Sanders thank you very much for your time and congratulations on the success of Snow White and Huntsman. I can’t wait to see what you bring to the sequel.
Snow White and Huntsman is released on 21st June 2012 and is reviewed here.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman