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MALEFICENT

Building The Cast
Angelina Jolie in the role of the title character Maleficent was a decision made somewhere far above the normal casting confines. "Even before I became involved with this project, I'd heard Angelina's name attached and I thought, 'What perfect casting,'" recalls Stromberg. "You can just look at her picture and Maleficent's image and see it is a marriage made in heaven."

"I was really moved by the script from first reading," says Jolie. "It was like uncovering a great mystery. We all know the story of 'Sleeping Beauty' and we all know Maleficent and what happened at the christening because we've all grown up with that. But what we've never known is, what happened before?"

Maleficent is a complex character with many layers; she is driven by revenge yet she fiercely protects the land she loves and all who dwell there. Speaking of the character and what she would like audiences to take away, Jolie says, "I hope the girls, especially, will see the importance of having a sense of justice and a sense of what's fair and what's worth fighting for. They'll see that they can be warriors and at the same time soft and feminine and deeply feeling, with all the complexities women have."

As to what audiences can expect from Disney's most iconic villain this time around, Jolie says, "People will see that she's the same wicked Maleficent. What I loved about the original Maleficent when I was little was that she had a wicked sense of fun. She enjoyed being evil and she reveled in it. She still gets to do that and she will satisfy, hopefully, the people that, like myself, are fans of the original. But you get to learn more about her and how she became evil."

Explaining how she approached playing Maleficent, Jolie relates, "I wanted to make sure we didn't lose her sense of wicked fun because I think it's a very beautiful story. It's kind of a different but classic fairy tale and it has a lot of heart. We want to revel in that and that was very important for me as well as that she was somebody that was relatable."

Jolie admits that Maleficent is one of the most difficult characters that she has ever played because "she represents all sides of what it is to be human, even though she is not."

"For me, the journey of playing her has been much heavier, much more emotional, and much more difficult an experience than I expected," informs Jolie. "There's a part of me that plays big fun roles, but never this big. She's slightly crazy, extremely vibrant, a little wicked and has a big sense of humor, so she's quite full on. It's one of those characters that, for me, you couldn't do halfway."

If Maleficent has long been a symbol of the dark feminine, the character Aurora has always symbolized the light and innocent. In casting the role of the princess who falls under Maleficent's spell, the filmmakers chose one of the most talented actresses of her generation, Elle Fanning. "Elle is Aurora," comments Jolie. "From the moment I met her, she is just sunshine. She's a wonderful, sweet, intelligent young woman. Elle's such a capable actress and a very strong person, which is nice because this Aurora is not just in love with the flowers; she is elegant and beautiful and delicate and loving, but she's centered and she's quite an impressive young woman. Elle is bringing all of that and a great deal of emotional depth and her talent, as an actress, has really surprised me."

"Elle is fantastic and I have nothing but the highest respect for her," adds her director. "She's not only beautiful but she's a tremendous actress; she's going to be doing wonderful things in the future and she's a pleasure to work with on the set. She just brings a smile to everyone."

For Fanning, winning this role was a dream come true. "It's been sort of everything that I dreamed of," says the young actress. "I think from the moment of putting on her first outfit, getting the hair and everything, it's been really special to get to play such an iconic character."

Although most people know Aurora as Sleeping Beauty from Disney's classic animated film of the same name, Fanning reveals that in "Maleficent" audiences will get to find out more about her. "In our film you get to see her have different emotions and really get the essence of her," says Fanning. "I love how she's very free spirited, and since she has been kept away from normal life, she's very open to things and innocent. But that's what makes her very likable and charming."

Fanning adds, "Aurora exudes lightness and it's so great in our movie that we have the dark and the light, total opposites, because they work so well together, like opposites attract in a way."

Aurora's father in the film, King Stefan, was driven by blind ambition to become king and stopped at nothing to achieve his goal. Sharlto Copley plays the complex character whose journey from innocent young boy to vengeful monarch is a revelation to audiences familiar with the original. Describing Stefan and his role in the story, Stromberg informs, "We meet Stefan, who is human, early on in the film, when he sneaks into the moors where Maleficent lives, and the two eventually become good friends. Over time, we realize that Stefan lusts for power whereas Maleficent is tied to the moors where she belongs, taking on the responsibility of protecting the creatures that dwell there. We follow Stefan on a journey to the King's castle, where he begins his quest for power, wealth and money."

Copley adds, "I like characters that go through a significant journey and Stefan goes through a rather profound one, from a commoner to a powerful ruler. Stefan is ambitious and feels like he deserves more respect than he's getting in the world."

Maleficent possesses magical powers but Stefan, being human, has none. "Stefan relies on human ingenuity and that's what he uses to become king," explains Copley. "He uses human ingenuity and human ruthlessness, if you will, at times as well. I think the line is very fine. I think what Stefan learns as he goes along is that the line between ingenuity and invention and greed can be extremely blurry."

Copley admits that he enjoyed playing the antagonist, commenting, "It's definitely fun to play a bad guy like this when there's a degree of caricature involved. It's a larger-than-life character. It's a genre movie, so I had a lot of fun with the character. It's fun to be able to just yell and be a complete egomaniac and then go home and try not to do that in your life."

Maleficent is a very well-defined character but Stefan required more navigation through the relationship he had with Maleficent, so Stromberg worked with Copley "daily on the essence of what his character would be." On the experience of working with Copley, Stromberg remarks, "Sharlto Copley is also a very passionate actor who really engages with his character, not unlike Angelina does. He's a very professional guy, a very talented guy, who was a pleasure to be around."

Though Stefan presides over the human kingdom, he is not without allies in the magical forest kingdom. Three pixies-Knotgrass, Flittle and Thistlewit, who fear and feel alienated by Maleficent-are chosen by Stefan to raise his infant daughter until the day after her 16th birthday. The King couldn't have chosen more poorly when it came to selecting guardians with child-care skills.

Entertaining, comical and completely inept, the pixies add comic relief to the film and a good helping of fun. "The pixies are our comic relief," says Roth. "Their job is to raise Aurora until she's 16 years old and they have about as much talent in child-rearing as I do in piloting a rocket ship. We cast two older, experienced actresses and one younger one. Knotgrass, who is the leader of the three, is played by Imelda Staunton, who was nominated for an Oscar for 'Vera Drake' and was in 'Harry Potter.' Her partner is Lesley Manville who plays Flittle. In real life Imelda and Lesley are best friends and they have great chemistry together.

"We decided to go with someone much younger for the third one, Thistlewit. We cast Juno Temple, who was in 'Batman.' I knew her because she was one of the finalists to play Alice in 'Alice in Wonderland.' So I kept her in mind, and when we decided to go for a younger, kind of blonde curly-haired bombshell pixie, that was her."

The pixies start out as tiny fairies with big opinions about what young Maleficent should and shouldn't be doing. When King Stefan sends them off to raise Aurora in a forest cottage, they turn themselves into human size. They may look like humans but are clueless about living in the human world without the use of magic. But big or small, magical or powerless, they retain their own distinct personalities.

"Knotgrass is the most important pixie in her own mind," says Imelda Staunton. "She's very bossy, very organized and has to control everything. So she is the self-appointed grown-up amongst them."

Lesley Manville adds about Flittle, "Flittle is a grown-up as well and is incredibly proud that she can turn things blue. She can turn everything blue and she thinks everything should be blue."

Juno Temple, chiming in to describe Thistlewit, says, "My character, Thistlewit, is the youngest of the three pixies. She's funny because she has two sides to her. She can be very lovely in the way with the fairies and be distracted by nature and things around her but then she can also be quite the disruptive teenager and be a little moody."

Despite their obvious shortcomings, the pixies have very high opinions of themselves. As Lesley Manville says, "They are on a pixie pedestal. They think they are absolutely brilliant and are the queens of the fairydom. They know everything and nothing can happen without them. They're pixies above their station, really. They're pixies that need bringing down a bit."

All three actresses were drawn to the imaginative retelling of the classic fairy tale. On the subject, Imelda Staunton offers, "Good stories are always worth reinterpreting and always worth re-examining and, as is the case of this story, worth drawing other elements out of it and showing the story from a different point of view. It's funny. It's dark. It's moving. It's sad. It's happy. It's all those things that make great stories."

Adds Juno Temple, "It's the tale we all know, 'Sleeping Beauty,' but this is actually about Maleficent and about her journey from childhood to how she becomes the dark fairy queen that we all know. That was interesting to me- to break the mold a little and not tell the completely classic story. I think that's very cool."

Maleficent has a fun relationship with the pixies, who are afraid of her and for good reason. "Maleficent hates them," states Jolie. "I get to banter with them and especially Imelda Staunton, who is Knotgrass. So to actually be dressed in the horns and having my own crazy character moment and having her as a little fairy yelling at me in her crazy moment is one of the best crazy moments I've ever had on film."

Maleficent has a constant companion who was seen only as a raven in the animated original but who this Maleficent transforms into a man when it suits her-or a horse or a dragon or a wolf. In any form, the character Diaval, played by Sam Riley, is Maleficent's loyal companion. "Diaval is the conscience in the ear of Maleficent at all times," explains Stromberg. "He helps her down the path of finding out who she is. He comes at the lowest point in Maleficent's life and becomes, in addition to Aurora, the other character that really pulls Maleficent out of her dark hole."

During the 16 years that they're together watching Aurora grow, Diaval develops a fondness for Maleficent. "My character is essentially a raven but he's quite a proud raven-bordering on vain," says Riley. "He's saved by Maleficent from a farmer and his dogs and he becomes her loyal ally who can fly to places and spy for her. Their relationship blooms and Diaval develops an affection for her. He's the only character who's capable of telling her when she becomes a little overwrought and who really knows what she's thinking."

Riley believes that the Diaval character serves a unique purpose as he helps to make Maleficent more relatable and more than a one-dimensional figure. "Maleficent is a fascinating woman," explains Riley. "In the relationship between Diaval and Maleficent, Diaval tries to bring out what he knows must be inside Maleficent."

Rounding out the cast, the filmmakers chose Kenneth Cranham for Stefan's benefactor, King Henry, and newcomer Brenton Thwaites as handsome Prince Phillip.

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