‘Maleficent 2’ Director Joachim Rønning on Finding the Emotional Core in a Blockbuster Sequel

     October 20, 2019

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.

While at the Los Angeles press day, Collider got the opportunity to sit down and chat 1-on-1 with filmmaker Joachim Rønning (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Kon-Tiki) about the complexity of making movies, the biggest moment of joy that he has during the process, what was more important to him, when it came to getting this film right, why he felt the first film was such a big hit, balancing all of the character journeys, deleted scenes, the test screening process, and what he thinks he might want to do next.

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Image via Disney

Collider: When this movie came your way, what was your response? Were you excited to jump right in?

JOACHIM RONNING: I have a tendency to be happy for about three seconds. And then, I realize that I have to create it to actually pull it all off. Making any movie is complex. The movies I’ve done, and subsequently what I’m attracted to, are the world-creating movies and stories, and they just take forever to do. There are thousands of people and they’re very expensive, so there’s pressure from that. I don’t make it easy for myself. But then, at the end of the day, it’s also rewarding to see what I had in my head, two years ago, and now it’s suddenly on the screen. The biggest moment of joy that I have, in any filmmaking process, is to see something that I imagined in the shower, two years ago, and then it survives the whole process. Through pre-production, shooting, producers having their opinion, stars, and money, that little idea survives and makes an impact on the audience. That’s the proudest moment that I have, when I’m making a movie. It’s so abstract. You read it on paper, and then you need to build everything, either on set or in the computer.

Was there something that you are most worried or nervous about pulling off, that you were glad you were actually able to accomplish?

RONNING: What was most important for me, in this story and in any story that I do, as a filmmaker, is to find the emotional core of it. What grabbed me so much in the first film, and I think surprised audiences, all over the world, and made it such a huge hit, was that they managed to create such a strong bond between Maleficent and Aurora. People can relate to that. It’s a spectacle and a fairytale, but people can relate to these characters. I’m a parent myself, and I totally relate to that fear. I have two young girls, and one day they’re gonna move out and you won’t be the most important thing in their lives anymore. But I was the most curious about continuing to explore their story, especially now, with Aurora becoming a young woman and Maleficent having to deal with that. Of course, there’s this spectacle, and all of that, but that’s expected, in a way. I think it’s important to relate to the characters and create a strong emotional bond.

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Image via Disney

I love that you can have big battle sequences with all of these characters, some of which aren’t really there, at all, and then you can still have those quiet moments with a conversation between two characters, and it all works.

RONNING: And that’s also one of the most challenging things, with a movie like this, where you have so many character journeys. In a way, I’m the only one on set that really knows how the whole movie is holding together. Sometimes my head wanted to explode on this set ‘cause it was 12 or 13 characters. Especially towards the end of the film, in the battle, we’re following so many different characters, and then they all come together, at the very end there. The characters are the most important, so I always keep coming back to that and try to respect that, as much as I can.

Did you have many deleted scenes?

RONNING: I don’t have a lot of deleted scenes. I come from independent films, and you can’t really shoot anything that doesn’t go up on the screen, so I have that in me. I know that I have money now to shoot scenes that don’t end up in the film, but there’s something in me that almost becomes a competition within myself, where I’m gonna try to shoot things that end up in the film. But sometimes you want to experiment and try a different version of a scene, or try some different lines, to see what gets the most laughs and what’s more funny. I’m a big believer in remaking the film in editing. The first version of the film is two and a half hours, and now we’re under two hours, so there’s half an hour of something that’s gone somewhere because I shot more than I needed. There are no big deleted scenes. If there are, they’ll be on the DVD. 

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Image via Disney

How do you work out the editing? Do you do test screenings? Do you have friends and family, or other filmmakers, that you trust the opinion of?

RONNING: It’s a little bit of everything. We only had two test screenings, on this one. It was actually the same when I did Pirates of the Caribbean. There were very few test screenings, and I thought it was gonna be every other week. I don’t know if that’s a Disney thing. You don’t want to show it to too many people, so it’s very strict. They get their answers, and then we move on. So, I have my gang.

Where do you go from here? Have you thought about the kind of movie you want to do next?

RONNING: Something could come up tomorrow, and you want to throw yourself into some big adventure again. But, sitting here with you right now, after two years of doing this big movie, I’m thinking that I want to go back to doing something a bit more personal again. So, we’ll see.

Maleficent opens in theaters on October 18th.

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