By Pete Barell
Arts & Entertainment Editor
Walt Disney Pictures held a college conference call with actors Chris Pine and Anna Kendrick on Nov. 22, to promote their new musical fantasy film, “Into the Woods.”
Based on the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical of the same name, the film tells the story of a childless couple (Emily Blunt and James Corden) that is cursed by a witch (Meryl Streep). On the journey to end their plight, they encounter a slew of fairytale characters, like Cinderella (Kendrick) and her Prince (Pine). “Into the Woods” is directed by Rob Marshall, and adapted for the big screen by James Lapine, who originally collaborated with prestigious composer and lyricist, Stephen Sondheim, on the stage version in the 1980s.
“I think that thematically, the whole piece is really about parents, children, and the disappointments and failings of parents,” explained Kendrick. “It’s based on stories that parents have told children for generations. There’s the element where it’s pure fantasy [and] exciting for kids, and then there’s an element that is specifically centered towards parents, which is that we need to be careful of what we tell our children. [They] take lessons to heart. It’s sort of about understanding how they are listening to us, even if it doesn’t seem that way, and it’s our responsibility to prepare them for the reality of the world.”
Marshall won the Academy Award for Best Picture with “Chicago” in 2002, and is a five-time Tony Award nominee. The director brings his theatrical experience to this latest adaptation. “He’s a director who comes from the theater world; he recognized the importance and real luxury of having rehearsals a month before you have to show your wares to the public. He made sure to build that in,” said Pine. “Even though we didn’t get a chance to work with everyone, we did in that month get a chance to see one another, and to see what everyone was doing. I think that really helped infuse the project with a sense of community. You’ll hopefully feel that in the film.”
Pine described how the characters in this film go through complex journeys, but his prince still remains oafish and very self- centered, almost a parody of the Prince Charming character type. “My prince is just way more two-dimensional than [those other characters], and wonderfully self absorbed,” said Pine. “I had a lot of fun bringing some levity to the picture, or tried to, and there’s a bit of a buffoon in the prince. He realizes, I think finally and wonderfully, [that] Cinderella gives him a chance to really feel and connect with her. And I think he does for a brief second, but then does make the choice to go back and run off to relive over, and over, and over again this storybook life he is so accustomed to.”
According to Kendrick, Marshall opted for a modern, but character-centric take and sensibility for the film, be it the varied clothing (from leather jackets to corsets) to the way the major figures in the story interact. “Since these stories kind of belong to the ages, it makes sense that in some ways we update them every generation,” said Kendrick. “One thing that Bob [Marshall wanted me to do] was to sort of be an over-thinking, logical, neurotic princess. I think that modern women have a tendency to overthink everything, and they don’t trust their gut, and we have to look at things from every angle and make the right decision.”
Kendrick’s Cinderella has this mentality for the majority of the film, eventually realizing what is important (when her community is in crisis), and acting upon it. She meets her prince and is hesitant with her new disposition. “When the prince tells her to come back to the castle, she is very centered and calm, more so than any other moment in the piece,” she continued. “She says to the prince, ‘Can you understand me? Do we understand each other? Do we even live in the same emotional world?’ And when the answer is ‘no’ it’s very easy for her to say that she chooses the unknown. ‘Even though you represent security, I’m going to choose the unknown.’”
There was an underlying lightness to the conversation with Kendrick and Pine, along with moments of introspective character and story analysis. It seems fitting, given the duality of “Into the Woods” which is a story of fantasy, reality, satirizing fairytales and parenthood, while also on another level being simply enjoyable for children.
So, after describing her character arc, and digging deep into the changing existential state of her Cinderella, Kendrick, who was with Pine for the call, took an off-beat moment to point out: “I really appreciate Chris Pine’s use of the word ‘picture’ just now.” Pine said that he’s trying to bring the term back into fashion. They then launched into a series of impressions; as if they made this “picture” in the 1930s or 40s, and that it has classic stars like Fatty Arbuckle and Tellulah Bankhead in it. Kendrick then noted his hair. “You look like a toddler who just woke up,” she said, laughing.
“Into the Woods” will be released on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 2014.