In his feature debut, director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan brings humor and a lighter tone to the fantasy world of The Huntsman: Winter’s War, the romantic action-adventure prequel to 2012’s dark take on the classic story, Snow White and the Huntsman. Troyan, who was the VFX supervisor responsible for the stunning visuals of the first film, explores an origin story hinted at in the original about the Huntman’s past love and her tragic death. Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron return to the universe they helped create, joined by additional cast members Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain in powerful new roles.
In an exclusive interview with Collider, Nicolas-Troyan revealed how producer Joe Roth approached him to direct, the three things that appealed to him most about the material, his fascination with strong female characters in Ridley Scott and James Cameron movies, what Blunt brought to the role of Freya, the deliberate shift in tone from the first film, why it was important to deliver on the romance and bring humor to the world, the contributions of production designer Dominic Watkins, DP Phedon Papamichael, and costume designer Colleen Atwood, shooting practically on location in Iceland, the status of Highlander and Bethlehem, and his upcoming period drama currently in development.
Check it all out in the interview below:
How did this project first come together for you?
CEDRIC NICOLAS-TROYAN: It came a little bit out of the blue really, to be honest, because I was working on other projects with another studio at the time. I had a few projects with Joe Roth that we were developing together, but it was not The Huntsman. Then, one day, he called me up. The phone rang, and Frank Darabont had stepped down and gone to do other things, and Joe said, “I would like for you to direct the picture.” I was on the phone and I was like, “Uh…uh…uh…” He was like, “Can you come and meet tomorrow in my office?” Then, I went to see Joe and we talked about it. He had given me the script, and I had already read it. Joe is like this Godfather figure. He’s run every studio that there is. He’s this really charismatic, fatherly figure, and I know how good of a producer he is. It’s not just because of his career, but also because I was on the first film with Rupert Sanders, and I saw him working with Rupert. It was the same producing team. It was the same creative team from the studio from the first movie. It was almost like – and I know I always say the same thing, but it’s true – I felt like I was going home, and I had just left and done a couple of things, and now I was coming back. It happened that when I was coming back, I was coming back as a director. It’s funny, because when I had my first meeting with my HOD, my heads of department, we were all looking at each other and picking it up where we left off. It was really cool. I had an amazing time shooting the movie.
When you first read the script, what appealed to you most about the material and made you say I really want to direct this?
NICOLAS-TROYAN: For me, it was like I knew the world because of my experience on the first movie, and it was something that I liked. When you participate in creating a world, in a way, there is a certain sense of ownership. Then, you like going back into this world, trying to figure out new ideas, and what you can do, and what other creatures could be there. It was revisiting the world as you built it, but then expanding it a little bit. So, that was the first thing – the top of the head type of appeal.
Then, the second thing, which became the most important thing, was the women. I’ve always been fascinated by strong women in movies from when I was a teenager, such as Ripley in Ridley Scott’s Alien and James Cameron’s Aliens, Sarah Connor in the Terminator films, and Nikita in Luc Besson’s movie, La Femme Nikita. Those are really huge characters for me. I love those really powerful, complete women. I love watching them in action, and I loved watching them in those movies. Having the ability to visit this world with all those women was something that was really appealing to me.
The third thing was that Chris Hemsworth and Universal were really inclined to do something more lighthearted, more fun, and more popcorn. I have movies that I am very fond of that I grew up with like Legend, another Ridley Scott movie. I’m going to keep referencing Ridley Scott, I guess. (Laughs) Or the movie we all talked about because we all loved it when we were younger, which was Willow, the Ron Howard movie, and The Princess Bride (directed by Rob Reiner), and films like that. Those fantasy movies were fun, and we wanted to do that. That’s what we aimed to do.
This film introduces Ravenna’s rival queen sister, Freya, who is a strong new female villain. What did Emily Blunt bring to the complex role?
NICOLAS-TROYAN: Emily came on board at the same time that I came on board. We had a really interesting conversation. We knew Ravenna was going to be a part of the story, so we knew Freya could not be just like Ravenna. Otherwise, there would be two Ravennas, and it would be a little bit like an echo of itself. We knew Ravenna, and we knew how she was, because we established that in the first movie. What was interesting with Freya, and what we were going to do with Freya and her relationship with her Huntsmen, was to make her more quiet, more introspective, and more motherly. The whole movie is about love. Love conquers all. But, love conquers all doesn’t mean just the love between a man and a woman. It’s the love between a mother and a child. It’s the love between a child and its mother. It’s the love between a sister and her siblings. It’s love conquers all, but it’s all kinds of love, all the versions of love. It was about which version we were going to do with Emily, and it was the mother-child version, the pain version, the love lost version. For that, I remember talking with Emily about this idea of Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest.
I’m a really big fan of Captain Nemo also, because Captain Nemo is trying to do the right thing. One of the great things about villains like Captain Nemo is that he doesn’t wake up in the morning and say, “Oh, I’m a villain and I love it!” He wakes up in the morning and he says, “I’m going to try to make this place a better place by saving the ocean from men who are doing something really bad. I’m going to try to save them from themselves.” In a way, that’s what Freya does. She’s persuaded that what she’s doing is trying to save the kids from themselves. And, it’s a fairytale, so all those notions have to be really simple. It’s not this intricate, intellectualized notion. Fairytales are very basic. It’s like you put the kids in the oven to eat them. They’re like basic life lessons for kids. In this instance, that’s what the idea was – trying not to get bogged down with intellectualization or to make it like this or that. It was trying to be simple and say, “Love conquers all, and these are all the different types of love illustrated by different types of women and the choices they make.”
How do you feel the final film compares to what you originally envisioned?
NICOLAS-TROYAN: I think it’s very close. We were talking about it the other day. Visually, it’s pretty much what I wanted to do. Hindsight is always 20/20. When you finish a movie, you’re like, “Oh, maybe I should have done that, or maybe I should have done this.” But it’s not huge. It’s not like, “Oh my god, I should have changed that big thing altogether.” It’s a small thing. Making movies is also about commitment, because for better or worse, you have to commit yourself. Some people are going to find that the tone is way too far from the first movie, because the first movie was very dark. Then, all of a sudden, there’s this shift of tone. If you like seminal, dark movies for the ages, then I would say this is probably not the movie for you. But, if you’re a young girl in Pakistan or China or India and you want to have a good time at the movies with your girlfriends and see girl power and have a few laughs, I would say this is the movie for you.
Can you talk a little about the contributions of your accomplished creative team?
NICOLAS-TROYAN: Oh my god, that’s why I think the movie was such a blast for me to do, because you’re surrounded by those people. I had Dominic Watkins doing the set design and Phedon Papamichael was the DP. You put those guys together, and we’re having a conversation, and I say, “You know, I really like the Icelandic vibe and trying to get that.” We were in Iceland and we shot all the environment for Freya in Iceland. We shot it for real. We actually went to Iceland. That place where the castle sits is a real place in Iceland. You can actually go there. You can climb on that set. The castle will not be there, but the place is right there. People think that’s all CG, but it isn’t. We were in Iceland and we were looking at old construction and Viking art. Vikings never really built any castles, but they were building houses with very pointy roofs. We were thinking, “What if we were stacking all those houses on top of each other? What would that look like?” That’s what Freya’s castle is. That’s why Freya’s castle doesn’t have any walls. It is not built and modeled into anything that ever existed. It’s like a bunch of single Viking houses stacked on top of each other. Dominic was great. He went on and created and elaborated on that.
Then, there was Colleen Atwood who designed the costumes and was just amazing. This is the second time I’ve worked with Colleen. I actually worked with her on some commercial projects before, so we have this really great relationship. We just talk and discuss ideas. Colleen works with fabrics. She doesn’t sketch. She doesn’t do a design and say, “Do you like that drawing?” She’s not like that. She works on ideas. So, we talk about ideas. We talk about colors, about themes, about scenes, and things like that. Then, she goes and finds those amazing fabrics and comes back and shows me the fabrics and says, “Look, I found this amazing thing that could be Freya when she rides out.” She shows me all those things. Then, she goes and makes them. One day, I show up and the whole thing exists for real. She uses all those craftsmen that are doing crazy stuff and leatherwork and details, and she finds these crazy fabrics from all over the world and puts them together. Most of the time, I don’t even see any drawings. It’s just us talking and her making it.
What projects do you have coming up next that you’re excited for people to know about?
NICOLAS-TROYAN: Well, it’s funny. I have a few projects that I’m working on right now, but I have nothing decided. So, I don’t know what it’s going to be. We always have two or three things going at once, and you never know which one is going to go. There is something that I can’t even talk about because I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s a period drama with a really great actress, but I cannot reveal much more.
Are you still working on Highlander?
NICOLAS-TROYAN: Yes, I still am.
Is there any truth to the rumor that Tom Hardy might play Connor MacLeod?
NICOLAS-TROYAN: Tom Hardy? No. If we do the version of Highlander that I’m working on right now, there will be some surprise, for sure.
What about Bethlehem?
NICOLAS-TROYAN: I’m not going to direct that movie. I loved the script. I think I might remain an executive producer on that movie, but I’m not going to be directing it.
The Huntsman: Winter’s War opens in theaters on April 22nd.