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Finding The Fairest
As Singh and Goldmann refined the story of Mirror Mirror, a character that traditionally lurks in the background began to assert herself front and center as a villain with complex motivations. "In the time-honored version of the story, the Queen's motivation is vanity," says Singh. "In our film, it's more about power. She wants to control the kingdom and her beauty is the means to that end."

Crafty, vain and utterly amoral, the Queen could easily have become a stock villainess, but Singh had a more subtle idea, and made a casting choice that defied conventional wisdom. To play the epitome of evil, he wanted an actress who represents exactly the opposite to most moviegoers. "I saw the Queen as someone who is wicked, dark and malicious but also irresistibly charming," says the director. "Julia Roberts is so intensely charismatic that she was able to do that fairly easily."

Roberts puts her trademark magnetism to use as an unscrupulous enchantress with designs on a wealthy and handsome younger man and unbounded animosity toward her orphaned ward. "She was our first and only choice for this role," says Goldmann. "Her laugh and smile have made her an icon. Here, those same attributes become an aspect of her evil side. It's fun to see her image turned upside down."

Playing against type, Roberts brings a new dimension to the role. "Having worked with Julia a number of times in the past, I knew that the transformation from America's Sweetheart to evil Queen would require the accumulation of details big and small that only Julia could create," says producer Kevin Misher. "How big are the Queen's wigs? What is the gait of her walk? What is the angle of her posture? What is the lilt of the 'pretenshish' accent the Queen affects when in public? What type of clothing would the Queen wear? There are a thousand specifics that Julia uses to reinvent one of the classic villainesses in literature for a contemporary audience. Collectively, they add up to a wonderful character the audience will love...and love to hate!"

Already familiar with Singh's work, Roberts was instantly intrigued. "His movies are so visual and original and interesting," she says. "I always wondered, how does that work? His fearlessness brought an incredible sense of integrity to the film, which allowed all of the actors to fully realize these characters. The Grimm story is a few pages long and the Disney film, which has nothing to do with our movie, allows for only limited interpretations of the characters. Tarsem tells the story on a far larger level."

Roberts says the multidimensional aspect of her character was another incentive to take on the role. "There's a dual personality component that was really intriguing," the Oscar-winning actress explains. We see the Queen as she appears in everyday life and then, of course, as the reflection of the Queen in the mirror. The Mirror Queen is calmer and more collected. She possesses the power and confidence that the Queen herself struggles to maintain."

But at its heart, the film remains a coming-of-age story of a young woman who faces many challenges. As Roberts puts it, "The Queen is just the conflict. Lily Collins is impressive as Snow White. She looks exactly like you want Snow White to look. I was completely enchanted by her, because she's a very young girl and already a pro. She was such a good sport because my character was so awful and vicious to her and she was always very sweet to me."

Collins, who has already made an impression on film audiences with her work in The Blind Side and Abducted watched with awe as Roberts transformed herself. "Julia has that smile that everyone loves so much, but here she uses it in such a sinister, creepy way. Snow, being young and innocent, doesn't realize the true evil nature of the Queen. At the beginning, she very much has the upper hand, but at the very end Snow uses her own words against her. It was very, very bizarre being mean to Julia Roberts."

The filmmakers mounted a major casting search for an actress who would embody Snow White's innocence and determination, spending a month auditioning roughly 300 young women before discovering Collins. "The second she came in everybody knew Lily was our Snow White," says Misher. "She was cast on April 1 and when her agent called her 24 hours after she had read, she thought it was an April Fool's joke. It's so hard to find a contemporary actress who embodies the grace of Audrey Hepburn and the class of Elizabeth Taylor and seems untouched by contemporary vices. Lily seemed to embody the classic goodness that the character of needed."

Goldmann concurs: "Snow White is loved by nature and loves nature. As outwardly beautiful as she is, she is driven inner beauty. Young girls today are so sophisticated that at 21 they seem like they're 35. But Lily seems so young and innocent. She projects genuineness, not only on the screen, but in real life as well, and that's really what we were looking for."

This telling of the story updates the character, according to Collins. "And I love the idea that we've modernized Snow White. She starts out as the familiar fairy-tale princess that everyone grew up knowing, wide eyed and naïve. She's been locked up in her tower, unaware of what's going on outside, but she goes on to become a girl who fights for what she believes in. Once she embraces everything she is, Snow is able to open herself up to the world and grow into a young woman."

Collins believes the character has universal appeal. "I think every young girl and adult woman has a little bit of Snow in her," she says. "We tried to do that with humor. It's a comedic adventure for the whole family."

Snow White's suitor, Prince Alcott, has also been taken out of the realm of stock fairy-tale character and transformed into a more contemporary hero. Played by Armie Hammer, the Prince is an essential figure in the conflict between Snow White, who asks him for help in regaining her throne, and her stepmother, who is plotting to marry the handsome young man by any means possible. "There are very few actors who can comport themselves with a sense of dignity and royalty, as well as provide the fun that the movie requires," says Misher. "Armie walks that line between gravitas and a lack of self-consciousness in a completely refreshing way. He's somebody who I think men will embrace as a guy they can relate to and women will fall in love with. That really is the definition of a classic movie star."

Hammer, who stands six-foot-five and is classically good-looking, was made for the role, says Goldmann. "If there was a Prince of America, it would be Armie. He's a very handsome guy with a very stately quality, but in this movie we see a whole other side to him. He's so accessible and charming and funny. Everybody on set felt like he was their best friend."

Roberts agrees Hammer was perfectly cast. "First, he is just a lovely young man," she says. "But we had a lot of very long scenes together and he was very prepared, and really funny in this part. He brings a great humor and earnestness to it. You just want to see more and more of him."

The chance to work with Roberts was a huge attraction to the role for Hammer. "She brings all of Julia to it, which is fantastic. It was so impressive to watch her work, because she is so in control of her instrument. Every movement, every gesture, was so precise. Audiences will see some of Julia that hasn't really been shown before."

Initially, Hammer admits to some skepticism about playing "Prince Charming." "It sounded so saccharine," he says. "But I discussed my hesitations with Tarsem and he assured me that I would help

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