From director Sam Raimi, Oz the Great and Powerful imagines the origins of the wizard that was first brought to life in author L. Frank Baum’s book The Wizard of Oz, in a fantastical adventure that utilizes 3D to enhance what is truly an awe-inspiring movie-going experience. When small-time circus magician Oscar Diggs (James Franco) is unexpectedly carried from Kansas to the vibrantly beautiful Land of Oz in a tornado, he soon meets three witches – Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams) – who are unsure about whether he truly is the great wizard that they’ve been expecting. In one of the biggest tales of fake it ‘til you make it, Oscar must use his magical skill and a little ingenuity to help good triumph over evil.
At a press conference at the film’s press day, actor James Franco talked about working with Sam Raimi again, getting to learn magic from Lance Burton for the role, why he enjoys working with Mila Kunis, the inner journey his character goes on and finding a balance in his eclectic career, while actress Mila Kunis talked about playing Theodora as a normal girl who gets her heart broken, making the character her own, the best part about playing a witch, and how much she enjoys doing wire work, which she says she’ll be doing a ton more of on her next project, the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
Question: James, what was it like to work with Sam Raimi again, on this film?
JAMES FRANCO: I love Sam! I’ve known Sam for over 10 years because we did the Spider-Man trilogy together, and he is one of the most fun directors to work with, which is no small thing. A director on a film really sets the tone of how people go about things, so when you have someone like Sam, everybody is happy to be at work and everybody does their best. He’s a very collaborative director, not just with the actors, but with all departments, and that really makes people want to do their best because they all feel like they’re a big part of the movie, and they are. So, I love working with Sam. I’d do anything with him.
Mila, without giving anything away, your character has an incredible arc. What was your process for finding Theodora?
MILA KUNIS: It was one of those things where I got very nervous about playing such an iconic character, or at least playing a character that has such an iconic end result. I didn’t want to ruin it, and I didn’t want to recreate it, and I didn’t want to reinterpret it. So, in order for me to wrap my head around it, I had to make sense of her origin, which was just given to me, kind of like a gift. Here’s a girl who is incredibly naïve and very young, and almost doesn’t believe that she’s worthy of love, and has never really truly experienced love, and then she meets James’ character and falls madly in love with him, very quickly, mind you, but in love nonetheless, and then she gets her heart broken. And she doesn’t have the emotional tools of dealing with heart ache, and doesn’t want to deal with it, so she takes the easy way, given to her by her sister and goes through an emotional transformation that’s mirrored by a physical one, and she happens to change color. I honestly viewed her as a just a normal girl who gets her heart broken, and who just so happens to be a witch that can fly.
Margaret Hamilton was amazing as The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. How did you navigate that previous performance while making this character your own?
KUNIS: It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I’d be lying, if you told you that it wasn’t incredibly frightening because it is. She was phenomenal and did create such an iconic character, for going on 80 years now, that is so associated with so many things, let alone Oz or Halloween or witches, in general, that I wasn’t going to touch it. I did not re-watch The Wizard of Oz. I didn’t go there because there was no way of me ever doing it justice. So, this is the 21st century version of that, I guess. There’s a corset involved and her dress is a little tighter and she’s maybe not hunched over so much. But, what she did will forever, in my mind, be the greatest witch, of all time. It’s like a love letter to her, in a way.
James, what was it like to get to learn magic for this, and have you since used it in real life, to show off?
FRANCO: I got to learn with Lance Burton, who is a great magician from Las Vegas. I got private lessons. It was pretty fun. I could accomplish the tricks. There were even more tricks than made it into the film. We just had to cut some for time. But, I got to learn quite a few pretty cool tricks that, if I took them to parties, I probably would get a lot of attention, but I need a lot of help from Lance to pull them off, and he doesn’t travel around with me. It’s just one of the skills that I’ve learned, along the way, like sword fighting or flying a plane, that I just don’t use very much, after I’m done with the movie.
What was it like to work with Mila Kunis again, and what do you enjoy about working with her?
FRANCO: Mila and I have worked on many projects, at this point. Some have been very big, like Oz or Date Night, and some were smaller projects that I’ve pulled her into. While we were in Detroit, she did a movie with some of my students from NYU, and we’ve done internet things. I love working with Mila. She’s one of my favorite actresses to work with. I have a great time working with her. So, when I was asked if I was interested in doing Oz, I had to have a meeting with Sam, but I had heard that Mila was either getting involved or was already signed on, and that was one of a few reasons why I wanted to do the movie. It was great. We have a great dynamic. She’s a great actor. One of the great things about Mila is that she’s just a great collaborator. She’s very easygoing. She’s done a lot of comedy, so she’s very good at acting on her feet, doing improvisation, and figuring things out in a very organic way, and that’s how I like to work. So, I’ll do anything with Mila.
How difficult was it to walk the line between this character being a bit full of himself, but having audiences still like him and want to follow him on this journey?
FRANCO: The character, as written, was very much Sam’s idea. I think it was one of his big contributions. When you deal with Oz, as a subject, you have a fantastical land. So, I had faith that the designers would be able to create a spectacular world, but you don’t want a movie that’s just a journey through a fantastical world. You want the characters to have their own inner journeys. So, Sam’s idea – or maybe it was a collaboration with the writers – was that the character would also have an inner journey. He would start off in one place, and then have room to grow, once you got to Oz. I thought, as selfish as he is and as much of a cad he is, in the beginning, it would never go to the point where he’s unlikable because all of his manipulations and conning of people are played for laughs. And I can’t quite blame him for being the way he is because of his history. He grew up in circumstances where he just wanted to get out. He wanted something different. With performing, he saw a way out. So, he’s gone a little too far in his ambitions and it’s blinded him to the love of the people around him, but you can’t blame the initial reasons for being the way that he is.
Mila, how fun was it to play such an over-the-top witch?
KUNIS: Very rarely are you given the opportunity to have such a fantastical character, so it’s really fun. Now, I say that because I had incredible actors that I felt safe with, and I had the most incredible safety net of Sam Raimi and (producer) Joe [Roth], knowing that, should I maybe not do the greatest of a take, I would be given another one and another one. I was allowed to play around and have that little tennis match, back and forth. If you take that away, it’s incredibly frightening because my character does have an end result that is so incredibly iconic that you just don’t want to mess it up. And you don’t want to play around with it too much because then it becomes something completely crazy and not believable. But, it’s so fun to be a part of this world.
What was the best part about playing a witch?
KUNIS: It’s fun to play somebody who has no boundaries or rules. There’s no book you can read on how to play a witch, so you just create a version. It’s really great!
James, what was the best part about playing your character, and were you ever jealous that you didn’t have any of the witches’ powers?
FRANCO: I have done a lot of wire work, and I know what you have to do, in order to look like you’re flying, so I was not that jealous. I just love that the character was comedic, and that he could go into this world and bounce off it, rather than just being pulled into it smoothly. I thought that was a very unique take on a world like this. As a performer, that was the most enjoyable part of it.
Mila, are you just a really physical person? Because you like to do so many of your own stunts, do you keep yourself strong when you’re not doing stuff like that, so that when you do it, you can really have fun with it?
KUNIS: Yeah! Apparently, I like it because I keep doing movies that requires wires, so I guess I had a great time. The truth is that it’s not hard. It’s really not hard to be wired and have somebody else be responsible for the wire work and your life. Your only responsibility is to stay 17 hours on those wires. So, I guess I do work out a little bit, for that purpose. The movie that I’m doing, that’s following up this one, requires a lot more wire training than this one did, but at least this one prepped me for that. I love it! I will do and have done all my own stunts, as much as allotted.
KUNIS: The Wachowski movie (Jupiter Ascending). That one requires a lot of wires. Everything seems to be wired. But, I haven’t started that yet. I start next week.
James, you have one of the most eclectic careers, as an actor. How do you find a balance between doing a project like this and doing smaller, more experimental projects?
FRANCO: I do many different kinds of projects. I try to be very responsible about how and where they’re released, and I know that they’re for different kinds of audiences. So, when I do a film that’s released at Sundance, I feel like I’m entitled to do material that pushes boundaries because that’s an audience that can take it. There is a place for those kinds of movies, and that’s one of the places. And then, when I do a movie like this, I know what the intention is, and I’m not going to try to bring in material that doesn’t fit in this world. It’s my job to align myself with the intention and tone of the world. So, it’s just a matter of knowing the kind of project I’m working on, and fitting myself into that.
Oz the Great and Powerful opens in theaters on March 8th.