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OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL

The Cast
"I think the audience can feel the soul of an actor in the performance."
-- Sam Raimi, director

The filmmakers had a distinct look in mind when they cast the five main characters in the film. "I thought we should find a young, cutting-edge cast," says producer Joe Roth. "James Franco had been nominated for an Academy Award. Michelle Williams had been nominated three times. Rachel Weisz won the Academy Award. Zach Braff is a very talented actor/writer/stage and movie director. And, last but not least, Mila Kunis is one the hottest actresses in Hollywood. This film is populated by a very hot, young cast."

For the part of the title character, Oscar "Oz" Diggs, the filmmakers sought out James Franco. "James is a very sensitive guy and we really needed that for this character," says director Sam Raimi. "We needed somebody who's in touch with his emotions because he plays a character with a good heart. I really needed an actor who had that quality within him. James, while funny and loving, has got real heart that he shares with the audience.

"Any actor can effectively portray the selfish qualities of his character, something that exists inside Oz," Raimi adds in explaining why Franco was the best choice for the role. "Strip that away and you can find who they really are inside. For this role, I don't think it would have worked as well with an actor who is selfish inside. When the camera gets in close, you can't fake it. And James, despite his great humor and good looks and great acting ability, really has a good heart and soul."

Franco enjoyed taking on the part of Oscar Diggs and exploring the origins of the wizard. He describes Oscar by saying, "He starts off a little bit rakish. He's a magician in a traveling circus. When he ends up in Oz, all of the issues that he wrestled with in the real world are now, in some ways, made more extreme but also transformative.

"The character was written in a certain way -- part goofball, part con man, part seducer, part vaudeville guy, all of which appealed to me," adds Franco. "In some ways, he touches on many aspects of Americana, while being a cross between Charlie Chaplin and Clark Gable. A goofball and a dashing kind of guy, but a guy maybe not equipped in traditional ways to be a hero. He has unconventional ways of tackling his problems and fumbling through them. I love the character because of all that."

Franco also enjoyed another aspect of playing the magician: he had to learn to perform some magic tricks. He explains, "I actually came out here two weeks early to work with the great Las Vegas magician Lance Burton. We worked every day. I learned dove tricks and fire tricks as well as pulling things out of hats and making things levitate. And I think I got pretty good!"

Once Franco's magician character Oscar Diggs arrives in Oz, he encounters three beautiful witches: Theodora, Evanora and Glinda. Glinda, the Good Witch, played by Michelle Williams, tries to convince Diggs that the Land of Oz is in trouble at the hands of the evil Evanora, while at the same time hoping he is the answer to the land's prophecy -- that a wizard will someday come and restore order.

Raimi says of casting Williams for the role, "Michelle has a real positive spirit and depth of soul. She's a good person and I needed that in the actress who was going to play Glinda."

"I play two characters in the film," actress Williams states. "In the opening of the film, I play a Kansas farm girl named Annie, Oscar's girlfriend, and then Glinda, the Good Witch. She's the younger version of the Glinda that we all know from the books. I think of my Glinda as a witch at the beginning of developing those powers."

"Michelle plays Oscar/Oz's love interest, first in the form of Annie, his childhood sweetheart, then as Glinda," director Raimi elaborates. "Annie is someone who sees the good man that he is inside, even though he's gotten lost somewhere along the way. She tries to bring him out, but he's so blinded by his dream of fame and fortune and this vision of becoming a great man he has in his head that he doesn't see the riches that lie right before him in this woman."

Raimi adds, "Later, when Oscar is transported to Oz, he meets Annie again, this time in the form of Glinda, Annie's alter ego. It's in this new form of Glinda that Oz is finally able to consummate the love story that his limited character couldn't back in Kansas. In Oz, he grows into a greater man, a man who values others as much as himself and only then does he become worthy of Glinda's love."

Williams herself found the project "to be a dream on a couple of levels. For me, to work every day with Sam and this cast while existing in the space of Glinda the Good Witch was such fun. I was excited to be there every day.

"Sam is an incredible collaborator," continues Williams. "From the moment we met and started rehearsals, I felt whatever idea I had, good or bad, would excite him, and that really encouraged me to continue to offer him ideas. He was a great inspiration for me. "Being able to work with people like Sam who are really at the top of their game was so exciting," she continues with her praise for both the film's artistry and the experience itself. "The sets and the costumes were beyond my expectations. I couldn't imagine things that big and that beautiful, and I got to play inside of that world every day," she concludes.

Williams hopes "that audiences are transported by this magical journey into another realm where anything is possible, where the best is possible, and the best in human nature is really celebrated. I wanted to make a movie that my daughter could see, and I was really excited to be part of something that had an overall good message, one that wasn't tainted with sarcasm. It's a movie that you can take your whole family to see."

Williams' co-star and nemesis in the film, Oscar winner Rachel Weisz ("The Constant Gardener"), also raves about her time on Raimi's project, saying, "What really appealed to me about playing Evanora was that I got to be a bad girl. She has a lot of fun being bad and I think that's what appealed to me about the character. I loved the script. I thought it was a great imagining of the origin story of the wizard and the witches."

Commenting on Rachel Weisz as Evanora, director Raimi says, "Rachel is a highly regarded actress throughout the world. I was thrilled when she took the role. She can make everything so real, and in this film, which has so many fantastical elements, I needed the actors to deliver very realistic performances to ground the audience in the reality of the place. I love Rachel's performance as Evanora because she's got to play it two ways and she does it so successfully.

"She's got to make you believe that she is the advisor to the king and a good person," continues Raimi, "somebody who's just looking out for the welfare of the Emerald City and its inhabitants. Then later you realize that wasn't just her ethical zeal to do what's right. Instead, we realize that what we were experiencing was a dark line running through her and that she's wicked, as wicked as they come. And she is just wonderful and beautiful in that role."

The director adds, "She brings a great sense of humor to the part. She's very funny and filled with life in the scenes where she's wicked."

Screenwriter Mitchell Kapner, in choosing an original name for the character, points out, "Evanora was never named in Baum's first book. Because there are no details about the character, we could make it up. So, I chose the name Evanora because the first two syllables sound like 'evil' and the name seemed to go well with Theodora, her sister."

In breathing life into Evanora, "The tricky part was trying to figure out who that character was because there was no source material other than Mitchell's [Kapner] draft," says screenwriter Lindsay-Abaire. "So, you wanted to make the character full. Because nobody knows who Evanora really is, that helped our plot because the character herself is pretending to be one thing and turns out to be something else. That was really good for our story, that you don't know who she is and what she's up to."

Mila Kunis plays Evanora's beautiful, innocent sister Theodora, who is easily manipulated by both her powerful sister and the ever-so-charming Oscar Diggs.

"Theodora is a good witch when we first meet her," notes Raimi about the character. "When Oscar first gets to the Land of Oz, he meets her and is smitten by her beauty. She is innocent and has the goodwill of the people at heart, then is easily manipulated by James' character. At this point, Oscar is a great manipulator and a selfish flirt. He woos and romances her, then leaves her be and breaks her heart."

"Theodora is a really nice, sweet, naïve witch who truly wants to bring peace to the land," Kunis elaborates. "She is a girl who desperately wants to believe in good and believe in the betterment of society, the betterment of the people and the betterment of the world. She is also in so much denial of the bad that she doesn't even think it exists.

"There's a prophecy that Glinda's father predicted on his deathbed saying that this man would come and save the Land of Oz," the actress details further about her character. "She sees this balloon drop from the sky and on the balloon it says 'The Great and Powerful Oz'. Without a doubt in her mind, she believes that this is the great and powerful wizard that is coming to save the Land of Oz from the Wicked Witch."

"When first writing the character of Theodora, I wanted her to be between Glinda and Evanora while being pulled by both sides," screenwriter Kapner relates. "When we first meet her, she loves her older sister, but she is also fond of goodness, which Glinda represents.

"Theodora is someone who's innocent in a way," Kapner continues in describing the character and how he developed her backstory that is not in the Baum books. "There is a line where she says 'no one's ever asked me to dance before.' She is very innocent and protected in a lot of ways."

"Theodora's my younger sister who's good, but also has a streak of wickedness in her because she's my sister," Weisz chimes in about the dynamic of the character. "I try to seduce her over to the dark side through different events, which I manipulate because I need her on my side. If I can get Theodora on my side, it would be two against one and I could then beat Glinda, the Good Witch."

In choosing Kunis for the signature role, Raimi explains that he saw her in two very different films that cemented his decision to cast her in the role of Theodora. "I saw Mila Kunis in 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall' and she was very sweet. She's adorable and really funny with a great sense of humor. I knew when I saw that picture that she was a great actress who could play the innocent side of Theodora. When I saw the brilliant movie 'Black Swan,' I also saw the darker side of her, a streak of 'witchiness' that represented the other side of what I needed for the portrayal of Theodora. So, between those two performances, she showed me that she had everything that she needed for this part."

Kunis admits that she had some trepidation when she was approached about the role. "I mean it was Sam Raimi first and 'Oz The Great and Powerful' in the same sentence. It wasn't so much intriguing as it was frightening to me, and that's the truth."

Despite her reservations, Kunis decided to take a meeting with director Sam Raimi. "I went to meet Sam and what was supposed to be a thirty-minute meet ended up being like four hours long. We broke down the character and the script and grounded everything in reality, which was incredibly comforting to me."

Kunis adds, "What I think intrigued me about it was the unknown. I've never done anything remotely close to this. In saying that, you have to challenge yourself, and I felt safe in the challenge because I was surrounded by people whom I respected so much -- Sam first and foremost."

As Oscar travels through Oz, he meets a lot of different characters along the way. One of them is the winged monkey, Finley, voiced by Zach Braff. Zach also plays Finley's alter ego back in Kansas, in the character of Frank, the magician's assistant.

"Finley is the Wizard's conscience," director Raimi explains. "When he gets to Oz, Finley reminds the Wizard in so many different ways about right and wrong. At first, Oz doesn't listen but eventually begins to respect the monkey. The goodness of his wisdom gets through to Oz. His most important effect on Oz is that of a good friend who reminds you that you're not living up to your expectations and have to do a lot better."

"In the beginning of the film, I play Frank, Oz's trusted circus assistant, before the character travels to the world of Oz," 8echoes actor Braff. "He's the carnival magician's right-hand man and under-appreciated assistant. "In the Land of Oz, I play this flying monkey, Finley," continues Braff. "Through the course of the film, they go on this journey together and become buddies with each other. Finley's sort of the spirit of Frank, who finally gets the acceptance and the friendship he so badly wanted from Oz back in Kansas."

Braff admits his fascination with playing a computer-generated character, saying, "I wanted to try and take on something different. The idea of doing a character generated within a movie with real people was an interesting challenge. Every single thing about it interested me."

Like the characters of Annie/Glinda and Frank/Finley, China Girl (actress Joey King) also exists in the opening scenes in Kansas as a young girl confined to a wheelchair who watches Diggs perform his magic act, then begs the magician to help make her walk again, which he cannot do. Later, when Diggs first meets the CG character, her village, made up entirely of porcelain, has been destroyed. As Oz begins investigating what happened, he finds the diminutive glass doll hiding in her teapot home, unable to walk because her legs have been damaged.

"Her legs are broken and, this time, Oz can do something about it," James Franco relates. "He does rise to the occasion in helping her, to the point that his magical 'cure' causes her to think that he is this Wizard everyone is expecting."

"By the end of the film, this family's been formed," actor Braff chimes in about the bond that develops among Oz, Finley and China Girl. "This ragtag group of outcasts, in a sense, has been brought together and formed a family. They were by far the underdogs who, individually, couldn't have done anything on their own. Together they become this small band of heroes who save the day."

"There are many different groups of people in the picture," Raimi states. "In Glinda's Kingdom, Quadling Country, we have the Tinkers. The Tinkers are led by the Master Tinker, played by Bill Cobbs. He does a wonderful job because he's very world- wise and soulful. He's wise to the Wizard's true motivations, but Glinda inspires him to have faith. So even a wise man can learn something as far as matters of the heart."

Adds Raimi's producing partner, Grant Curtis, "The Tinkers are these 90-year-old gentlemen who can't see six inches in front of their faces, yet they're these amazing inventors and architects in the Land of Oz. The Master Tinker is another person that Oz meets along his adventures who imparts wisdom that allows him to be the full individual he becomes at the end of the movie."

Raimi's Land of Oz is also populated with the Emerald City guards, called The Winkies, a group the director describes as "10-foot tall soldiers that the Wicked Witch employs to terrorize the citizens of Emerald City. They're her standing army, along with an Air Force of sorts, her Winged Baboons."

Of course, the world of Oz would not be complete without the Munchkins, "the little people in the Land of Oz who like to sing and dance, make pretty clothes, and are generally quite merry," states the director. "They are going to become the unsung heroes of our story. They're going to make up the 'underground' of the Emerald City, those people who believe in Glinda and the cause and are working secretly against the Wicked Witch."

For "Oz The Great and Powerful," the production's casting directors found three dozen Little People, most from the Detroit area where filming took place. Their short stature (3 feet 6 inches in height) sharply contrasted to the towering Winkies, four dozen "giants" all of whom stood no shorter than 6 feet 6 inches tall (some exceeding the 7-foot ceiling).

Chief among the Little People gathered for the project was veteran actor Tony Cox as the Munchkin Knuck, who is a resident of Emerald City. "He works there, always around Evanora and Theodora," says Cox. "Like the witches, he doesn't believe in this Oz guy. He really thinks Oscar Diggs is a fake. The only reason he goes along with him on the journey is because of Glinda the Good Witch. She's Knuck's friend, but the bad witches don't know that."

"We worked really hard to make the characters, which are so mythologized, human," screenwriter Lindsay-Abaire offers. "I hope, in addition to wanting to see the characters they know and love from the books, that audiences will relate to these new characters. It's an exciting human story that enhances everything they've known about the Land of Oz and makes it better."

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