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
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
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."
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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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