Julia Roberts :: playing the mean queen in ’Mirror Mirror’
In her breakthrough film "Pretty Woman," Julia Roberts said the famous line, "I want the fairy tale;" which was precisely how audiences viewed this romance about a hooker with a heart of gold and the millionaire Lothario that falls for her. He saved her from a life on the street, albeit in a Disneyfied version of the world’s oldest profession.
Her latest movie is a bona fide fairy tale taken from one of the most famous fairy tales and Disney films of all time. "Mirror Mirror" is a retelling of "Snow White" from director Tarsem Singh ("The Cell," "The Fall," "Immortals") with Roberts playing the evil queen. However, she said she never saw the connection to her own "modern day fairy tale."
Nor did she have much interest in being in the film at first.
"Just the one sentence pitch of it on the phone, ’Hey, they’re doing this "Snow White" adaptation,’ didn’t grab my attention," she explained. "I didn’t have any interest until Tarsem lured me in his luring way. I looked at the script and realized that there was really something here."
A great vision
While the Oscar-winning actress remains one of the most identifiable Hollywood stars in the world, she does not have to work. She needs to be convinced to take a role and it took Singh to sell her on his vision.
"I am such a fan of Tarsem," she said. "When I heard that it was his movie, his interpretation I thought, ’okay, well, I’d love to meet him. If I have to go and talk about ’Snow White’ for an hour, then that’s what we’ll do."
"He had such a great take on it. He had such a vibrant personality. I read the script and I was really taken, really surprised by it. I suddenly thought, ’Oh, wait a minute, this is all kind of coming together in this unexpected way.’ Off we went from there."
A different take
Perhaps the most famous version of Snow White remains Walt Disney’s "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (made some seventy years ago.) It was the first feature length animated movie and the model for Disney Princesses to follow. But Roberts doesn’t think comparisons are necessary, feeling this version can stand on its own.
"I don’t think it’s about unringing that bell. It’s just about changing the tone of it -- 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. And I think people like variations on things."
Nor does she feel any pressure to beat the upcoming "Snow White and the Huntsman," the other "Snow White" movie from Universal Studios. Like "Capote" and "Infamous," and even "Armageddon" and "Deep Impact," movies often come in pairs.
"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. I think of movies really like Noah’s Ark -- they often 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."
Charlize Theron plays the queen in "Huntsman", but Roberts would not take any bait to read her competition. "I’ve never met her so I couldn’t even begin to size her up for your entertainment," she deftly dodged.
Being the first out of the gate, "Mirror Mirror" is getting surprisingly strong early reviews from Australia, such as one from the Sydney Morning Herald, which said Roberts (unlike Theron) "is looking for laughs... she salts her celebrated smile with sarcasm and plays the bully with great elan, spurred on by Snow White’s sweet nature and social conscience."
And Film Ink, an Australian film magazine, also praised the film: "The first of two high profile Snow White themed blockbusters to head into our cinemas in 2012, ’Mirror Mirror’ is an enchanting comedic retelling of the classic fairytale that is sure to put a smile on the face of even the biggest cynic."
Queen’s point of view
What makes this version different is that it is told from the Queen’s point of view. With her kingdom approaching financial ruin, she hopes to marry a handsome prince (Armand Hammer) to save the day; the only problem is her stepdaughter Snow White (Lily Collins) has grown up into a beautiful young woman whom the Queen fears the Prince will fall for. Her solution is to have her servant (Nathan Lane) kill Snow White in the woods; but instead he lets her go and she meets up with the seven dwarfs.
Playing her version of one of the screen’s most famous evil queens was undeniably enjoyable for Roberts. "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 -- 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."
"Mirror Mirror" will be the first time the world sees Roberts, thought of since her ’Pretty Woman’ days as America’s Sweetheart, as a villain. However, some of the people who’ve treated Roberts badly in real life may recognize themselves in her character.
"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," Roberts dished.
A stunning look
If you’re thinking of actresses who were mean to Roberts on her way up, you’re thinking too small. "I wouldn’t limit it to just actresses. If people feel good about participating in that way, those are good lessons too to learn how you never, ever, ever want to behave to another person. So there’s that value."
Playing the Queen gave Roberts a chance to wear some lavish costumes (designed by the late Oscar-winner Eiko Ishioka) in a style suggestive of both traditional fairy tales and 18th century Restoration comedy (think big wigs).
"They’re stunning and I think that they really are such an integral part. It’s the same as having these amazing sets (designed by Tom Foden), 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 and physically dominate these spaces. So they had to be quite architectural and not terribly cozy, but that’s not really the point."
Avoiding ’yes men’
The film also casts Roberts as her mirrored reflection: the magic mirror on the wall. The reflection tells the Queen how it really is, whether she listens or not. In real life Roberts says she keeps it real and avoids ’yes men.’
"Well, I always want to hear the truth, whatever it is. 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 and it’s 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."
The Queen also uses evil magic and strange beauty treatments (like bird doodie!) to remain youthful. Roberts shared her real life beauty secrets too.
"I use a lot of Lancome. That seems to be working," she said.
As she said, "Mirror Mirror" wasn’t on Roberts radar until Singh explained his vision to her. Roberts is an equal opportunity fan of fairy tales, especially as a mother to toddlers.
"They have a lot of fairy tale books with great illustrations, some of the old ones. With proper parental editing while reading they can be quite lovely before bed."
A place for TV?
With eight-year-old twins and a five-year-old son, the kids are too young to see "Mirror Mirror" just yet. "We have pretty rigid viewing guidelines in our house. We’re more book people. I mean, we’ll find the time to share the movie together, but that probably isn’t in two weeks."
It may seem strange for children of entertainers (Roberts’ husband is cameraman Daniel Moder) to grow up in a house with limited television viewing, but that’s just the way it’s worked out. In other words, Roberts isn’t taking her current role as an authoritarian queen that seriously; rather there are other considerations that factor into what she calls family time.
"Those nice, cozy, very short hours before bed, we just really spend together as a family -- talking and sharing the day and reading books. Really before you know it’s time for bed. There’s just not time for watching movies. We would prefer something different in that time during the week. Not that they don’t get to watch. I love movies obviously. I love a great deal of television. I was raised on television; we just feel there’s a real time and a place for it. I don’t think it’s that mysterious really. It’s nice that it opens up other options - time for stories and poetry and talking and sharing ideas."
"Mirror Mirror" opens Friday.
Watch the trailer to "Mirror Mirror":