The timeless fairy tale Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs gets a fresh take with Tarsem Singh's fantasy adventure comedy, Mirror Mirror. This incarnation finds the evil Queen (Julia Roberts) hoping to land the handsome Prince (Armie Hammer) in order to save her kingdom from financial ruin. Unfortunately, her pretty stepdaughter (Lily Collins) might win over the Prince instead, and the Queen is forced to turn to her servant (Nathan Lane) to get rid of her competition. But we all know the fairy tale and Snow White doesn't die. Instead, in Mirror Mirror she teams up with the dwarfs to get her life back.
Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first feature length animated film to be produced in the U.S. and more than 70 years after its release, it remains one of the most loved animated movies ever. And the fairy tale is still one of the most beloved stories, with pretty much everyone aware of the story of the young girl who is rescued by a handsome prince. That universal awareness played into the naming of the film, according to director Tarsem Singh.
Asked how he decided on Mirror Mirror, Singh replied, "I think actually the producers came up with it. I really like it, but originally we were trying to get as close to the source as possible. But some names were available and some weren't. I like something iconic. I wanted something just like Snow, and Mirror Mirror I think does that too. You say mirror, mirror to anybody and I don't think anybody on the planet would not finish that line for you. So I think it goes there. And at the same time, I don't think it's a classic Snow White story."
Together for the LA press conference, on screen enemies Julia Roberts and Lily Collins played nice as they talked about bringing the fairy tale to life on the screen.
Julia Roberts and Lily Collins Mirror Mirror Press Conference:
Were the costumes comfortable?
Julia Roberts: "Well, they’re stunning and I think that they really are such an integral part. It’s the same as having these amazing sets, being in these kinds of clothes. They were completely original and authentic to what we were trying to accomplish. As Tarsem would say, in these great huge spaces, we needed to fill them in any way and physically really dominate these spaces. So they had to be quite architectural and in that not terribly cozy, but that’s not really the point."
Lily Collins: "After four months of wearing corsets and ball gowns, sword fighting in these crazy forests, I promised myself I’d never complain about wearing high heels again. They became really a second skin and they became the process of Lily turning into Snow White every morning. They were so beautifully made and so incredible. They truly were pieces of art and a privilege to get to wear. And they really, really had started to become part of the maneuvering around the set in the way that Snow would, not necessarily how I would. They were intricate and so, so beautiful."
How did you find the evil queen inside you?
Julia Roberts: "Well, I’m happy to announce she is not inside me. But without naming names, I drew from a couple of people I know better than I wish I did and found it very fun and helpful."
Many of your films have been compared to modern day fairy tales. Have you always wanted to do a traditional fairy tale?
Julia Roberts: "No, and nor did I have any interest in this one, really, until Tarsem lured me in his luring way, looking at the script and realizing that there was really something here. But just the one sentence pitch of it on the phone, 'Hey, they’re doing this Snow White adaptation,' that didn’t grab my attention."
Do you believe it’s fun to play a villain?
Julia Roberts: "Well, it was fun to play this villain because there aren’t any real rules of syntax or reality that apply to her. So I could kind of do anything and just go off the rails in any direction at any time and it would make sense to me. So, in that regard, it was a lot of fun. You don’t have worry too much about the reality of, 'Would a person really do this.'"
How did you make this film and incorporate princess-y stuff that girls like, but avoid some of the primitive gender politics of fairy tales?
Lily Collins: "I think visually being in those costumes all the time, the little girl inside of me would just be in awe the whole time watching the film. So definitely the physical aspect of the film and the way it looked. Also, the way that we modernized Snow White with making her this modern day girl that can save the prince just as easily as the prince can save her. She becomes a fighter physically and emotionally and goes from this young, wide-eyed innocent princess that everyone grew up knowing to a young woman who finds it within herself to fight for what she believes in - and gives the prince a run for his money while wearing these gorgeous outfits. So it proves that you can still be that princess but you can also have a lot of fight and fiest within yourself."
What physical challenges were there?
Julia Roberts: "She had loads."
Lily Collins: "I had so many bumps and bruises. Yeah, the snow being salt and coarse salt was not that fun when wrestling and losing and scraping yourself. But it was, I guess, the overall environment, that forest had a lot of hills and a lot of places to trip and fall. I’m the kind of person that falls going up stairs, so for me it was kind of a challenge. Then having the big dresses and the corsets and the swords in my hand to maneuver around a space, especially when you have in the big ball number with the white outfit...I have these wings on that I would forget I had on and then try to walk through a doorway and get stuck. I mean, it becomes so much a part of you that you forget how big you are in comparison to doorways and all that kind of stuff."
How did you like the musical dance scene?
Lily Collins: "That was the most fun for me. I remember, I’ll never forget being in the sound booth with Tarsem just telling me to go for it and sing my heart out. I didn’t have a voice the next day but it was so worth it because I watch that back and I think I really sang and danced in front of about 400 extras, didn’t care about anything else in the world but being there in that moment. And everything I was saying and singing I truly felt within my whole being. I watch it back and I can’t remember being happier than at that moment in a long time. It truly was the embodiment of everything I’d hoped to experience."
Had you met before? Did Julia have any advice for you, Lily?
Julia Roberts: "I’m always friendly to Lily. I cannot speak for her. I could move her closer to me and she could answer..."
Lily Collins: "We’ll reenact for you, no hair actually coming out this time."
Julia Roberts: "We have a good relationship. It is acting, and we almost tried to take better care of our relationship because of the nasty undertones or something overtones of our scenes."
Lily Collins: "But to me it’s still kind of amazing that I even had the opportunity...I know you’re right here so this is so awkward. It still to me is such an absolute honor for her to even touch my hair. It’s like to be in a scene with someone that you grow up admiring so much and to have a moment where you’re looking at somebody and they’re being so mean to you and all you want to do is smile and giggle because you are so happy but your job is to stay petrified - it taught me a lot about having a poker face, which I never really had before. But it was an absolute honor."
The most things I learned from Julia were just by watching. First and foremost she is a mother and I thought that was the most beautiful scene. It was fun, I’m not going to lie. It was fun."
When you were establishing yourself in Hollywood, did you ever find yourself on the receiving end of evil queen behavior from other actors?
Julia Roberts: "Yes, but I wouldn’t limit it to just actresses but I did. Yeah, if people feel good about participating in that way in things, those are good lessons too to learn how you never, ever, ever want to behave to another person. So there’s that value."
What emotions did you have about tackling an iconic role?
Lily Collins: "Well, when I first got the phone call it was on April 1st last year, April Fool's Day. It was too good of a joke to think that it wasn’t a joke. At first I was shocked and I thought it really was the best April Fool's joke ever - not for me but for my team. But then I broke down crying, laughing and just screaming. I was in a hotel room with my mom and I was breaking down everywhere crying because I was so excited.
As for the iconic nature of the role, I realize [it] but I don't think I truly realized until all of you have been asking it for the past few days: 'Were you nervous to take on an iconic role? What was it like?' If I’d been asked this amount of questions about this topic before I shot [it], I don’t even know what I would have been like entering that set because I feel like it was such a blessing to get the role that I was just so excited to go into it. I think that had I gone into it with all this nervousness, I probably wouldn’t have gotten the same performance out of myself because I was way more open to spontaneity."
How was working with Armie Hammer as the Prince?
Julia Roberts: "Who? He’s good on the chin, that one, because you just look way up, he’s so big. He’s gone off to another movie now so I don't think we should give him too much attention. He’s so wonderful. He’s a lovely guy and he really brought a very clever dimension, I thought, to Prince Charming because he really could have just stood there and just talked and it would’ve been terrific. He wanted to really be clever about it and put a lot of consideration into it, and I thought he made some great choices and he’s really professional. He always had some little clever thing that he was bringing to it and it made it very entertaining to watch that whole thing unfold."
Lily Collins: "In real life he’s very much the same mixture of being goofy and funny and at the same time such a gentleman, so almost regal in the way that he stands and makes you feel like you’re the most important person in the room. And yet you can start talking about anything and he knows something about what you’re talking about. It’s almost scary how smart he is. But we went through all this training together and he is a strong man. When it comes to the sword fighting, I’d ask him to - at some points - tone it down a little because he was practicing with the stunt guys and we didn’t actually do the sequence together until the day before. So I had to remind him that I’m a little smaller than who he was practicing with. But he always gives you the most that he has when it’s your close-up as much as it is on his."
What did Tarsem Singh tell you to get you to do the role and what’s your criteria now?
Julia Roberts: "It’s kind of the same criteria that it’s always been, really. It’s just a feeling that I have, and I am such a fan of Tarsem. When I heard that it was his movie, his interpretation I thought, 'Okay, well, I’d love to meet him and if I have to go and sit here and talk about Snow White for an hour and talk about other things, then that’s what we’ll do.' He had such a great take on it; he had such a vibrant personality. And I read the script that he had and I was really taken, really surprised and suddenly thought, 'Oh, wait a minute, this is all kind of coming together in this unexpected way,' and off we went from there."
What would your ideal prince be like?
Lily Collins: "[...] A Prince Charming is someone that can make you laugh no matter what, someone that’s open to spontaneity and not closed-minded, someone that just by the thought of them makes you smile and that makes you feel like being you is enough."
Like your mirror reflection, who do you sound off against to give you an honest answer?
Julia Roberts: "Well, I always want to hear the truth, whatever it is. That’s just full stop and I’ve always felt that way. I have an amazing family and a great group of friends and that’s what I expect from them and rely on. I think they’d do the same for me. It’s also what I look for in a great working relationship, people that will be honest and will be very plain-speaking and not beat around the bush, just say, 'This is what we need and this is what works and this is what doesn’t.' That’s the best of life right there."
What were you surprised to learn about Julia?
Lily Collins: "I think two things. One I already touched on earlier was about the fact that first and foremost even at work she’s a mom. Her kids were on set a lot playing around. They’re so well behaved, so sweet, and that’s all a testament to Julia and her husband and that is her priority. It was such an amazing thing to see that that mother was there on the set, not just Julia the actress. And also to kind of go along with that, the fact that no matter if you were in craft service, you were a grip, you were the DP, you were Tarsem, the producers, myself or Armie, she treated everyone the same. It was all about the team and how they functioned as a team to create this amazing project. I don't know, I would only hope to be able to be the same person I am now if I get to be someone like Julia."
How do you un-ring the bell from previous versions people know?
Julia Roberts: "I don't think it’s about un-ringing that bell. It’s just about changing the tone of it or just giving a different relationship to it. I don’t look particularly good in very big purple eye shadow and a Dracula collar really, so we wanted to go a different route there. But I think people like variations on things, obviously.
It’s funny. When everybody makes such a big deal of there being two as though there have never been two movies with similar topics ever kind of coming up at the same time. When I think of movies really as Noah’s Ark, they do come two by two, the Capotes and the Snow Whites. It’s just kind of how it happens. I think energetically we all get wrapped up in each other’s space, so it doesn’t seem surprising or upsetting to me."
Lily Collins: "I think you just touched upon the fact of the way a princess holds her hand or is very particular, I wanted to pay homage to the classic essence of that fairy tale princess and be very particular in everything from my hands to the way that I spoke to people, but at the same time that I’m wielding a sword and I’m throwing things back at the prince and I’m running and jumping and fighting for myself. So almost in the moments that you’re going, 'Okay, maybe that’s who I’ve always seen,' all of a sudden there’s a moment where you’re like, 'Wait, that’s not who I remember.'
I think it’s about paying tribute to the original but at the same time, if you’re going to reinterpret a story that we all know and love, there’s got to be things in there that make it more fresh and modern. I know I never wanted to make a Snow White that was a caricature of the animated story. I wanted to make a real girl that young girls today and audiences alike could look at and say, 'I want her to be a friend of mine.'"
Lily, by the end of the movie, the dwarfs obviously grow to love Snow White. If you had that leadership position with minions at your beck and call, do you think that you'd be a benevolent leader?
Lily Collins: "If I were a leader? [Laughing] I would have minions. Well, I allow everyone voicing their own opinions and talking through things. So if I was going to be a leader - with minions - I would want to be one they would be open to talking to and have fun with and, at the same time, take me seriously. I would like to think I'd be a good leader. I like to get things done."
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Mirror Mirror hits theaters on March 30, 2012.