Snow White has undergone many makeovers since her Brothers Grimm incarnation in 1812, and none persists in the American imagination of today more than Walt Disney’s warbling beauty. But “Snow White and the Huntsman” gives the raven-haired princess a treatment far bleaker than the current rival versions in “Mirror Mirror” and “Once Upon A Time.” A five-minute trailer, which aired Saturday at WonderCon, teases a dark epic in which Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth, who play the film’s title characters, and a band of dwarfs lead a battle against Charlize Theron’s evil queen. It’s a bold feature film debut for director Rupert Sanders, whose previous work is primarily commercial. Hero Complex writer Noelene Clark caught up with Sanders to talk about the film’s magic, mythology and star power.
NC: We see such a bleak world in the new trailer for “Snow White and the Huntsman.” Can you tell us about creating this particular brand of dark magic?
RS: I wanted to make a big, epic medieval film with lots of knights in shining armor. I used to love history books as a kid, and so I was really kind of creating those massive films, and then within that, I wanted to create a sense of believable magic, so this is a world where people believed that the dark forest was inhabited by creatures. It’s not a fantasy movie, it’s definitely a fairy tale movie, but kind of that was the time when people felt these things existed.
NC: You make a distinction between fairy tale and fantasy. How would you say they’re different?
RS: Fantasy, to me, I think is anything goes. The world is fantastic; it’s not a real world. Whereas ours is a real world where magical things happen and people believe in them. It’s much more historic, I think. Our world, for all intents and purposes, could have happened in 1480 when they believed that these things existed. And that was where most of these stories came from — in that period in the Middle Ages. Whereas fantasy, to me, it never existed; it’s a parallel world. This is our world, as it was in that time.
NC: Charlize Theron seems a terrifying as the evil Queen Ravenna. How did you develop this villain?
RS: I think what we really tried to do is make her a realistic character. It’s a hard character to play because everyone has their perception of what the evil queen is and what the villain should do, but I think what was great about what Charlize wanted to do, is she wanted to find a very believable, very realistic, very wounded character. People who are wounded are much more dangerous. You look at nature, people who are protecting their young, or an animal that is wounded is far more vicious and violent than something that is just strong. And I think that she found this incredible pain within herself that made the brutality of what she was doing far more resonant.
NC: And Kristen Stewart is your Snow White.
RS: She’s quite stunning. She’s really good. First thing I saw her in was probably “Panic Room,” and then I saw her in “The Runaways” and “Into the Wild.” She’s an incredibly talented actor. I think a lot of people think that she’s Bella Swan because she played that part so well, and she really epitomized that character from the books. She was really strict with herself that she’d wear brown contacts, which is hard to act with those things in, because so much is coming from the eyes, but that’s what Bella Swan had. She’s very serious about what she does, and she’s incredibly gifted, and she’s incredibly intuitive, and she’ll just try different things. It was great to work with her. She’s a very one-of-a-kind actor.
NC: We’re familiar with Chris Hemsworth from his performance in “Thor” and the upcoming “Avengers” movie. You’ve said that he delivers a very emotional performance in “Snow White.”
RS: When I saw “Thor,” I thought, you know, he’s got the charm, he’s got the presence, he’s got the physicality. But when I met him, he’s got this kind of great broodingness to him. He’s got this amazing deep voice. He sounds like Morgan Freeman or something. He’s just so versatile, and he loves this kind of film. This is the kind of film he grew up on. He’s endlessly talking about “Legend” and “The Dark Crystal” and “Labyrinth” and all the fantasy films he loves. There are a couple of scenes where he has to really go there, and he’s totally willing to bare his soul, which is rare to find all those things — I call it the beauty of the Australian actor, because they have the British training and the American diet. He’s massive and muscle-y, but he’s as good of an actor as some of those British actors. He’s kind of got it all, Chris. He’s a lucky man, and he’s very busy because of it.
NC: I understand the eight dwarfs in your film are different than previous incarnations of the classic characters. Can you tell us a little about your dwarf mythology?
RS: They’re not called Happy, Grumpy, Sneezy and Dopey. In our film, they used to noble gold miners because they could see light in the darkness, and they see that light in Snow White. But while they were down in the caves, the Queen took over, and when they came up, the land was blackened, and all of their tribe was lost. So they’ve lost everything, and they’ve become highwaymen, basically. So they meet our characters by trying to rob them. They basically beat the … out of both of them, and lynch them, and then try to take all their money. And then she kind of bonds them together, and they all go off together and continue the journey.
NC: And your dwarfs are portrayed by an incredible lineup of British actors, including Nick Frost.
RS: We’ve got Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, Johnny Harris and Brian Gleeson — really amazing. Another actor I think is stunning in the film, who really plays more of the villain, ironically, than the Queen, is her younger brother. He’s called Sam Spruell, who plays Finn, who’s the one with white hair. He’s incredible. I saw him in a small British gangster movie called “London to Brighton,” and I was like, I gotta get that guy. He’s stunning in it.
NC: In the five-minute WonderCon trailer (below), we hear the Queen’s mirror telling her to consume Snow White’s heart. Is the mirror a major character?
RS: Really, it’s in her mind. There’s a scene where Finn’s watching her from the shadows, and we see the mirror pour out, and it starts to talk to her, and she’s ranting at it. And then we cut to Finn, and we see his point of view, and there’s nothing there. The mirror has so much psychological background to it. It’s great to play with those themes. He is ultimate truth; he’s telling it like it is. He scares her, and he excites her. He’s a great character.
NC: Have you received any pushback from Disney?
RS: It’s not their property. They can whistle as loud as they like. Ironically, we went to Disney first with the project. They didn’t want it. It’s not owned by Disney. It’s public domain. There is no copyright. There are things they did to the story that are Disney, but the story is for everyone, which is great. So I haven’t heard from Walt.
NC: “Snow White” seems to be undergoing a pop culture revival with “Once Upon A Time” and “Mirror Mirror.” What sets your film apart?
RS: I think you go to a gallery and see a lot of different paintings, and they’re all different. I think ours is very different from all of those things. I think ours has a massive scale to it. I think it has a very rich, emotional web to it. There’s a lot of times people cry when they watch the film, which I’m very happy with. And there’s a lot times when they’re like, “Holy … !” It’s very intense, the world comes at you, and you’re like, “Whoa!” I really try to immerse people in that world and put them right in the thick of it. I think it’s a lot visceral and a lot more grounded than the other renditions.
NC: Is it too scary or heavy for kids? Would you say it’s a family film?
RS: It is a family movie. It’s intense. I think it’s great — a lot of people who’ve watched it are like, “I really want to show this to my kids, because I really believe it’s something they should think about.” I wouldn’t bring, like, a 3-year-old. I mean, my kids are 5 and 7, and they’ve seen most of it. I was read those stories at that age, and it terrified me. Look, it’s gonna scare them, but it’s gonna excite them. Maybe sit in an aisle seat.
– Noelene Clark