Into The Woods UK Press Conference

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The subtle nuances of translating a stage show to the big screen is a masterful one, more so when handling an iconic stunning success, such as a Stephen Sondheim production. To give Into The Woods the treatment deserved of such a spectacular musical was no easy feat for director Rob Marshall working with Disney, but after years of being in the making, Into The Woods is about to hit UK cinemas.

Into The Woods is a modern reworking of several classic Brothers Grimm fairy-tales, weaving together renowned characters and going beyond the well-worn “…and they all lived happily ever after.” The familiar stories of Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy) and Prince Charming (Chris Pine) are all tied into an original story following the Baker (James Corden) and his Wife (Emily Blunt). Their hopes to start a family are dashed when they learn that a Witch (Meryl Streep) has placed a curse on them. She offers to lift the curse only if the Baker can find four special items from the mysterious woods. And so the adventure begins!

MCM Buzz was at the film’s London press conference, the first after the US release on Christmas Day, with James Corden, Emily Blunt, Meryl Streep, Tracey Ullman, director Rob Marshall and producer Mark Platt.

There was a genuine air of comradery as everyone took their places on stage. Moderator Matt Wolf observed that this was the first press conference since the US film release. Both Mark Platt and Rob Marshall commented that they were slightly surprised at how well received the film had been to audiences enjoying the musical in a different form.

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A strangely illusory mood is lent to Into The Woods given that it comes from the somewhat odd union between happy-and-light Disney and the darkly comic notes of Stephen Sondheim. Diehard fans of Sondheim will be quick to point out the changes that have been made to make Into The Woods more of a Disney, family-friendly nature. The addition of a film-only song written by Sondheim for Meryl Streep presented itself with challenges as she had to learn it quickly with no prior research. So it was sad news for her when she learnt that the song had been cut from the film. “But it’s on the DVD!” Streep whispered dramatically.

Questions from the audience began with one that was actually from the journalist’s seven year old son, “Why is the happy ending not the happy ending because the Giants attack and then people die?”

“There’s that amazing song ‘Your Fault’, which is an extraordinary song when you hear it,” explained Rob Marshall. “Because it’s the whole film up to that point. It keeps pointing at whose fault it is. The Giant’s Wife would not have come down if there wasn’t a second beanstalk. And that wouldn’t have happened if the Baker’s Wife had not have taken the bean. And if Cinderella hadn’t have thrown that bean into the gutter, it wouldn’t have been planted. It’s the sense that it’s all grey. There’s no black or white. And that’s what the film says, that’s the message of the piece. What’s beautiful about the piece, is that it explores what happens after and reveals that it becomes more like real life.”

“It’s a Disney message,” Meryl Streep interjected, “because the film that marked my life was Bambi. And the mother dies in the first five minutes – that’s an unhappy beginning! And yet life goes on.” Streep described how, when showing Into The Woods to her 22-year-old daughter, her daughter related a particularly emotional scene that prompted a memory of being much younger and being stuck in the aftermath of 9/11. Streep referred to this as “the power of storytelling”, in how people are continually resolving the conflict between their imagined world and the real world.

Another question posed to Streep related to how Russell Crowe has supposedly reignited the debate on if there are quality acting roles for older actresses. Streep deftly replied, “I’m so glad you asked about that. What he’s said, it’s been misappropriated from what he’s been talking about. He was talking about himself. The journalist asked him, ‘Why don’t you do another Gladiator? We’d love that.’ Russell replied, ‘I’m too old! I can’t be the Gladiator any more. I’m playing parts that are appropriate to my age.’ And then as the conversation went on to actresses, he was proving a point that he was talking about himself as actors do!” She considered that she agreed with Crowe’s point of acting parts that are age-appropriate, with the ease of playing the Witch being that effects can make one older but not believably younger.

With a remarkable ensemble of a cast, it is particular of note that this is the second time round for Johnny Depp to star in a Sondheim musical, his first being the eponymous role in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Marshall commented that “Johnny had such a small role in the film, only with Little Red Riding Hood and the Baker.” He further remarked that working with Johnny Depp is an experience as he’s an extraordinary man. “He was excited to be part of the company, even with such a small part, and not to carry the film. It’s almost a cameo in a way. He really wanted to play The Big Bad Wolf!”

“He’s really cool,” enthused James Corden. “Though I only spent half a day with him, I felt like I was back at school and I was trying to hang out with the cool guys!”

Into The Woods is out in UK cinemas on January 9.

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