From visionary director Tim Burton, the live-action telling of the beloved classic Dumbo celebrates differences while also exploring the importance of family, both by blood and by circumstance. When circus owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito) appoints former horse-riding star Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) and his children (Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins) as the caretakers for the newborn elephant with the oversized ears, he has no idea that what initially makes him a laughingstock to audiences will also change their lives forever.
While at the film’s Los Angeles press day, Collider got the opportunity to sit down and chat 1-on-1 with actress Eva Green (who plays Dreamland’s high-flying circus star Colette Marchant) about signing on to be a part of Dumbo, having to conquer her fear of heights for the film, her love of the circus performance outfits that she got to wear, why she enjoys working and collaborating with Tim Burton, and the experience of having a co-star that doesn’t actually exist. She also talked about shooting the upcoming BBC Two series The Luminaries in New Zealand, and what attracted her to that story and character.
Collider: I’m such a fan of this whole circus look and style that I wanted to run off with every one of your costumes. Did you feel the same way? Were there costumes that you wished you could have taken home, or were you glad to take them off, at the end of the day?
EVA GREEN: They were quite tight. Some of them had a corset. But they were also so vibrant and such fairy tale costumes. The performance outfits are my favorite. You feel like a princess. They have such a big skirt, and those headdresses. [Costume designer] Colleen Atwood is so wonderful. She’s one of the best designers that I’ve ever worked with, by far.
Was it fun to essentially have two personas in this – the larger than life stage persona and the personal persona, when she’s not performing?
GREEN: Yeah, totally. [Director] Tim [Burton] said, “I was thinking about a silent movie star, with these glamorous costumes and wigs, and then there’s the more simple Colette, with the black bob and no make-up.” It’s always fun to play characters who don’t reveal themselves, straightaway.
When you get a call about doing Dumbo, which is a character that so many people are so familiar with, but then you find out that you have to conquer a fear to do it, was it an immediate yes, or did you need a minute to think about whether you wanted to do that?
GREEN: I was like, “I don’t know how I can say to Tim, ‘Is there a stunt person, or can you use somebody else’s body and put my head on it, digitally, afterwards?’” I had a whole plan going on in my head. He was like, “No, just try it. It could help you to build the character.” I was like, “Okay, I’ll try.” I was sure that I would never be able to swing up high. That was a great thing, even for my own confidence, to think that you couldn’t do that, but then, actually, you can. It’s all the monkey talk, as they say. It’s just all of those demons in your head. You can overcome your fear.
At the same time, because you had that fear, what was the first day of trying to conquer that like?
GREEN: You go very slowly. I was with really cool, very patient people. I told them, “I’m not gonna be able to do this.” They knew who they were dealing with. I was like, “I’m willing to try, but that high?” They were very clever. We went very, very slowly. It was terrifying, but the breathing helps. You can get dizzy, if you’re overwhelmed, but if you really breathe from your core, then you’ll manage to remain focused. That was a revelation.
I have a fear of flying, so I understand that feeling.
GREEN: Oh, god, that’s dreadful. I hate flying, too.
Did you have a moment where that shifted and you thought, “Okay, maybe I really can actually do this”?
GREEN: Yeah, it’s through repetition. It’s hard work and finding ways to deal with it. For me, it was through the breathing and from singing. Then, I could do it. I don’t know if I could go on a rollercoaster, though. That’s my new challenge, playing a character who has to go on a rollercoaster. I don’t know if I could do that.
After doing this, would you want to try it again, on your own, or are you happy that it’s on film and people can see you that you did it, but you never have to do it again?
GREEN: There’s a circus school in London, and the person who taught me, teaches there. I’ve gone there a few times. I was shooting for several months in New Zealand, so I haven’t been there in a while, but it’s such a wonderful thing. It’s very playful, and it’s a great workout, as well. You have ropes you can climb. There are many ways to be an aerialist, and that’s fun. You feel very proud and very strong, mentally, if you’ve managed to achieve something like that.