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Dish Talks To
Kunis, Franco, Williams & Weisz 

by Fred Topel

 

Before there was such a thing as DVD, before you could ever dream of owning a movie, The Wizard of Oz was the one film everyone made time for. It would air on broadcast television, and families would stay home to watch it. It is arguably the most popular and well known movie ever made, which was nearly 75 years ago.

That is the legacy under which this month’s new film, Oz, the Great and Powerful, embarks. There have been lots of other Oz movies that you probably don’t know about because they couldn’t make the impression the classic film did. There was a 1985 movie Return to Oz and a Syfy channel miniseries Tin Man, as well as a Muppets adaptation. Author L. Frank Baum wrote 14 novels about the land of Oz, many of which provide the bases for Oz, the Great and Powerful.
Oscar Diggs
Oscar Diggs (James Franco), nicknamed Oz by his friends, is a carnival magician in Kansas, trying to make a living with sleight-of-hand tricks. When a tornado carries him to the land of Oz, the residents of the Emerald City look at him as a possible savior from the wicked witches of the land. It would seem to make sense, since he already shares the name of their magical realm. Unfortunately though, all Oz really has to rely on are tricks.

James Franco“A lot of the things that I did on the movie were familiar to me,” Franco said. “This was my fourth movie with [director] Sam Raimi so I know Sam very well. I’ve known him for over 10 years. I’d already done movies where I play opposite CG characters. I did [Rise of the] Planet of the Apes where the great actor Andy Serkis played a chimpanzee, so that was sort of similar. In this movie I had another CG monkey, albeit with wings this time.”

Films like Spider-Man and Apes taught Franco the skills he needed to bring Oz magic to life. To learn Oz’s magic tricks, he had to take an apprenticeship. “I did have to learn some magic,” Franco said, “so I was very fortunate. They hired one of the best magicians in Las Vegas, a man named Lance Burton who does shows for thousands of people, and I got to have him as a private teacher. He taught me everything I needed to know to look like I was a magician in a traveling circus, like how to present the illusion of levitation or make something seem like it’s disappearing and that kind of thing. So I guess that was a new skill.”
Oz and monkey
A modern day Renaissance man, Franco already has an impressive skill set; acting, directing, masters degree in writing and now he’s a graduate school teacher. Magic is just his latest ‘trick’, one might say. “Lance did let me in on some of the secrets of the trade that I will not reveal, and I think I can still do the tricks. But It’s hard for me to do the tricks without the best magician’s assistant in the world, Lance Burton, so I can’t really do a lot of the them at parties. I need certain things and some help, so I haven’t been keeping up with my magic.” Laughing, Franco added, “But, if the people at the Magic Castle want to invite me as a member, I’d be happy to join.”

GlindaThe witches of Oz include some familiar characters, albeit with new faces. Glinda, the good witch, is now played by Michelle Williams. “What I saw on the page was very different from the original film,” Williams said. “I saw somebody who had the kind of spunk and vigor of a ‘30s/‘40s screwball romantic comedy heroine. But, I really wanted to do that voice, that high little lilting voice that she had [in the 1939 film]. There’s a lot in the books used in this movie, but there’s also a screenwriter’s imagination at work. I did read them carefully and highlighted phrases Glinda would use, or how she’d wear her hair. I found it very useful.”

And she does do that voice! But this is still a Glinda who has something to prove. In The Wizard of Oz, Glinda only appears to give Dorothy instructions. “Sam and I spoke very early on about it and he said something very smart, which is that there’s a reason that Glinda doesn’t go down the Yellow Brick Road in the original movie. It’s because she’s already fully formed,” Williams said. “She doesn’t have anything that she’s looking for and thus, she isn’t as relatable. We wanted to make a Glinda that was a little bit more human.”
Glinda in the forrest
In Oz, the key women are witches, whether good or evil. However, they may be akin to Disney princesses. They get to wear beautiful dresses, and they have magical powers.

“I think the costumes were incredibly important,” Williams explained. “We spent a lot of time working on them, to the point where I think we even pushed shooting for a day because I was still trying to get comfortable in the costume. I would spend a lot of time in the wardrobe department talking about the feel, and the flow. I wanted her first dress to feel, kind of, like water. I wanted it to feel very dainty and very delicate, and then for her second costume, what she changes into for battle, to be something that’s more appropriate to run and walk in while still maintaining kind of a feminine shape. I guess like a ‘princess armor.’”
Glinda and kids
Most of Williams’ movies are not for kids. Blue Valentine, My Week with Marilyn and Brokeback Mountain are intense grown-up dramas. In real life, Williams has a daughter, Matilda, whose father is the late Heath Ledger. Oz will be one of Williams’ only movies that Matilda can see.

“She’s seen one other movie that I’ve made, a very small movie,” Williams said. “She was one of the only people that saw Meek’s Cutoff, and she sat through it, but this is certainly the one she’s the most excited about that I’ve ever been involved in. She spent six or seven months on this set, came to visit every day, and It was a real playground for her. Sam would say, ‘Here is my most special and honored guest, Matilda. Will somebody please bring a chair for her?’ She sat behind the monitor.”

TheodoraAnother witch of Oz, Theodora, might seem like a new character when you meet her. She seems like a sweet, naive girl captivated by Oz’s charms. However, later in the movie she transforms into a familiar green-faced witch with a black pointy hat. She becomes the “Wicked Witch of the West” who later chases Dorothy, and her little dog too, in the original movie.

Mila Kunis plays Theodora. “I honestly didn’t look at it as two different characters, or two different emotional aspects of a character,” Kunis said. “You’re lucky if you’re given a character that has an arc in any film, and this just so happens to be a fantastical, slightly over the top arc. That’s all it was. I think that if I went into it going, ‘Well, here’s my version of good and here’s my version of evil,’ I don’t think anyone would buy it. I think you have to go into it, or at least I had to go into it going, ‘You’re one person who’s very happy, gets her heart broken, and becomes very sad.’ But it’s not so drastically opposite. Truth be told, I felt like I was wearing a character when I was wearing the red hat and the red lips and the pants. Then the same goes for when she has her transformation. I think they’re both very striking characters and they’re both fun to play.”
Theodora and Oz
When Theodora becomes the Wicked Witch, you really can’t even recognize Kunis anymore, under the green makeup. Yet she still doesn’t become just an impression of Margaret Hamilton’s classic green-faced performance in the original 1939 film.

“In all honesty, there’s no way to recreate the original, nor was that my intent or should anyone ever have,” Kunis said. “So I honestly was given the gift of a backstory and I went with it. To me it was just a normal girl that just so happens to be a witch, that falls in love and gets a broken heart. As far as the color aspect of things, I had specialized makeup that took four hours to put on every day and an hour to take off, along with contact lenses.”
Mila Kunis
She added, laughing, “I’ll tell you, this was the first time ever in my career, putting on the costume and putting on the face mask, so to speak pun intended, and putting on the contact lenses truly did help me lose inhibition and allowed me to just have fun and not concern myself necessarily with what I looked like and what people thought, because I was green with a big nose and a pointy chin.”

Just like Oz is one of the only films Williams’ daughter can see, Kunis has appeared in predominantly raunchy comedies like Ted or Friends with Benefits, or dark dramas like Black Swan. Oz is her first kids movie.
Yellow Brick Road
“I am so beyond excited to have fans under the age of 16,” Kunis said. “I know it sounds crazy, but I am. I love kids and I think that they’re great. In 20 years, I would love to be proud of something that I can ultimately show my children and my grandkids. And I don’t necessarily know if Ted or Black Swan fit that category. So this is really, really special to me on so many levels. It’s also the first time I’ve ever sat at a premiere and watched a movie I was in, because it’s the first time I actually wanted to share a movie with my friends and my family, because it’s such a sweet, special world to be a part of. It’s such an honor to be a part of it.”

EvanoraThe third witch in Oz, the Great and Powerful is Evanora, perhaps the wickedest witch of all. She tries to have Glinda killed and turns Theodora to the dark side. Rachel Weisz plays Evanora and embraced the chance to be a bad girl.

“My mom used to love black and white movies and we used to watch tons of Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck movies,” Weisz said. “I sort of grew up with this in my imagination of female villains. They were just great female villains.

I think it’s gone a little bit out of fashion recently to be like a ‘bad dame’, but I had lots of them in my memory. In the black and white days they were all over the place. It’s only recently, since I think the ‘80s, that women have to be so terribly likable. It’s exhausting, speaking personally, in film, I mean.”

Evanora wears a fabulous glittering gown. In the beginning of the film it sparkles green like the Emerald City but once she reveals her true colors, so too does her dress change color.
Eva in green
“I’ve never done a film where my costume was as important as it was in this one,” Weisz said. “I feel like I’ve mainly been in jeans and T-shirts and a scrubbed face, so this costume was 99% of my character. I feel like it was a cross between something very regal and glamorous, and a bird of prey with something slightly militaristic with feather epaulettes, feather collar, feather headdress. Basically, I have one dress, one shape dress which changes from emerald green to black when I show my true colors to the audience, and they know that I’m really bad and not good.”
Eva and Theodora
Glinda may have something to prove, but she’s at heart, a good witch. Theodora becomes wicked because she’s been hurt. But Evanora is perhaps the most truly wicked witch in Oz. “She is kind of like a military dictator in a way,” Weisz said. “She’s ruling the citizens of the Emerald City with a very cruel hand. She’s a very mean, mean lady, but she also really wants the throne. She desperately does. That’s all she really wants is that throne, so I think she is a cross between a glamorous queen and a military bird of prey. How does that sound?”
Evil Witch
Meet the three witches and Oz himself in Oz, the Great and Powerful, which opens March 8.

 

 

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 144 - August 4021
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