From director Joachim Rønning, the fantasy epic Maleficent: Mistress of Evil delves deeper into the bond between the dark fae Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) and her human goddaughter Aurora (Elle Fanning), as the complex family ties that bind them are tested. And while the impending nuptials between Aurora and Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson) are a cause for celebration and a uniting of two worlds, they also lead to new enemies and unexpected allies.
At a conference held during the film’s Los Angeles press day, co-stars Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning and Michelle Pfeiffer (who plays Prince Philip’s mother, Queen Ingrith) talked about being a part of a story about three very strong women, what the film says about family, how love can win, the theme of self-sacrifice, the incredible costumes, stand-out movie villains, what they wanted to take home from the set, and why Maleficent is a character that appeals to audiences.
Question: Maleficent is a fairytale, but it feels very modern and of the moment. What was it like to be a part of this story about three women who are very different in their power?
MICHELLE PFEIFFER: One of the interesting things about this film is that, yes it is a fairytale, but at the same time, it’s a very unusual fairytale that’s so surprising. What I love is that it plays in this grey area, and it takes about good vs. evil. All of us have a little bit of everything in it. And in terms of strength and how that manifests itself, that’s different in everyone. Aurora, in many ways, is ultimately the strongest and wisest of all of us. My character is really brilliant and diabolical, but I wouldn’t consider her terribly wise. I like the way it plays out.
There’s a vulnerability to wisdom, and that’s not a word that you’d necessarily associate with Ingrith.
PFEIFFER: Everybody has vulnerability. She’s damaged. Nobody behaves that way unless they’re incredibly damaged, on some level, but she doesn’t wear it on her sleeve. In some ways, what she resorts to is really, truly out of a very deep fear.
Elle, your character is blessed with happiness, but she runs into a lot of really dark situations. Does that personality trait affect her experience, and how you play the character?
ELLE FANNING: In the original fairytale, she’s granted these gifts when she’s a baby, but Aurora symbolizes the good and kindness in the world, and the acceptance. That was really shown in the first film, when she’s much younger and much more innocent, but still introduced to some dark things. That carries over into the second film, with her embodying this really overwhelming love of life. She lives in between both worlds. She is human, but she’s Queen of the Moors and has grown up amongst the Moorfolk. She lives harmoniously with both sides, and she doesn’t understand why the world can’t do that. In the second film, she’s definitely a young woman now. She’s grown up. She’s stronger, she has much more conviction in herself, and she’s learning how to gain her independence. I love the family theme in the movie because it’s very realistic to real life, when you grow up and leave the nest and make your own choices in life. Maleficent is disapproving of Philip, but love wins. Aurora stands up to Maleficent, which is such a strong moment in the film. It might be shocking for fans to see Aurora taking charge of her own life, but she’s doing it with kindness, which is the most powerful of all. We didn’t want to put Aurora in armor, give her a sword and have her fight to make her strong. That isn’t Aurora’s true nature. I was that girl. I was always soft, wanted to be a mom, wanted to get married, and was very feminine, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We get to show strength in femininity, and Aurora does it in a pink dress. It’s very bad-ass.
Angelina, what does this film say about family, to you?
ANGELINA JOLIE: It’s about family, but it’s about a few things, to me. When Aurora and Maleficent were first brought together and become a family, they weren’t really expecting it. Maleficent was harmed, in her life, and she’d lost herself and her ability to be soft and feel love. The love of a child certainly changed my life. Being a mother brought out something in me that completely transformed me. But we are different. There are metaphors in the film, and a good film for young people always has these messages. People tell us, because we’re not the same, we aren’t family, and because she’s not exactly like her, she’s not her mother. That certainly strikes a chord with me. Maleficent questions whether she’s good enough to be a mother, and whether she is a mother. We go on our different journeys in this film, to find our true nature, and everybody is really focusing on their differences and how different we are, with our different backgrounds, but then, there’s a real push to say that this is not how it should be and diversity makes us stronger, so there must be a better way forward where we can come together. We do that, in the film, as a family, when we come together and fight against this separation. We unite and say, “This is the world we choose to life in.” I think that’s really important. It’s about being your true self. [Aurora] is this beautiful, soft princess, and [Maleficent] is this manic creature with a very bad temper and many, many other things, and yet [Maleficent] sees [Aurora] exactly as she is and doesn’t want her to be any different than she is, and [Aurora] sees [Maleficent] as she is and accepts her as she is. That is to say that you should just be your true self. If you try to be how people see you and how they say you should be, you’ll suffocate. Be your true nature, whatever that may be, and you will find a home and you will find acceptance.
This film really shows us villains, in a new light. Angelina and Michelle, are there any iconic movie villain performances that you’re a fan of, or that you took inspiration from?
JOLIE: I like Michelle as Catwoman.
PFEIFFER: The first thing that comes to mind is Heath Ledger in Batman, as the Joker. I didn’t take inspiration from that, but that was a great performance.
Michelle, you have a great collection of memorable villains that you’ve played. Did you see Ingrith as a way to top that?
PFEIFFER: No. I never actually look at a part that way. I certainly enjoyed playing this character. I was really delighted and surprised, when I read the script. I was excited, just at the notion of working with [Angelina and Elle], and then, I was surprised when I found that this was actually a really interesting, great part. I approach every role differently. I had a lot of fun doing this, and I felt like I had a lot of freedom to bring some other colors to it. It may not appear, at first blush, that Ingrith is willing to sacrifice anything, but she’s willing to sacrifice her son, and that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t love him. It’s complicated.
There are some great costumes in this. Did you have a favorite?
JOLIE: I actually poked myself in the one costume, and that was terribly awkward, but it was all fun. You get so supported in these roles, with the magic and everybody working towards this idea, from the costumes to the visual effects to the make-up. It’s a big team, and the costumes are only part of it. The trick of it sometimes was that it would need to look strong on the ground, but then float when I’m up in the air. It was fun.
Angelina, can you talk about the importance of self-sacrifice, in the film?
JOLIE: When you talk about love, there’s that aspect of knowing yourself and being your true self. At the core of it is that we’re not just here to exist. You have to know what you stand for, and you have to know what you’re willing to fight for and die for. If you live that way, whatever pain and sacrifice comes with it, you embrace it, and that actually fills you with purpose.
Did you guys take anything home from the set, or is there something you would have wanted to take, if you could have?
JOLIE: I took my staff.
Where do you keep it?
JOLIE: It goes into the children’s rooms, and I don’t know where it actually is right now.
FANNING: I would have kept the spindle.
JOLIE: That’s very telling.
FANNING: It’s very classic Sleeping Beauty.
Is that spindle as sharp, in real life, as it looks?
FANNING: No. But if you slammed your hand into it, it would hurt.
Angelina, you’ve had such a remarkable career, and Maleficent is the biggest box office, of all of your movies. What do you think it is that people respond to?
JOLIE: When I was little, I saw the animated film, and I was so drawn to it. It’s funny, when you’re not an actor, you’re always trying to figure out who you are and how people see you. As an actor, you put yourself forward and somebody says, “That’s very you,” and you think, “Is it?” When I got this call, they said, “You’re the only person that could play Maleficent. It’s so obvious.” And I thought, “I’m not sure how I’m supposed to take that, and yet I love her, so maybe I just need to embrace it, at this time in my life.” I thought it would be fun. She’s a bit wild, full-on, and a bit much, and now I’m so happy to feel strong and have fun with it. I adore being her. There’s something about her that I’m just very proud that I’m associated with her.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil opens in theaters on October 18th.