INTO THE WOODS – Behind the scenes with director Rob Marshall

We catch up with the director of Disney’s latest musical…

The films of ROB MARSHALL have been honored with a total of 23 Academy Award® nominations, winning nine, including Best Picture.  His most recent film, PIRATES OF THE CARRIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES starring Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz, grossed over one billion dollars at the box office, making it one of the highest grossing films in history. This month he teams up with Depp and a cast of A-List actors for Disney’s INTO THE WOODS, a new movie based on Stephen Sondheim’s Tony winning musical of the same name. The film takes on fairy tales made famous by the Brothers Grimm including ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, ‘Rapunzel’, ‘Cinderella’ and may more.

What attracted you to make INTO THE WOODS?
Rob Marshall: I’ve always loved this show, ever since I saw the original company in 1987. It was a beautiful, joyous and important piece, and I remember just being transported by it. It was this unique combination of characters coming together and creating a tapestry of classic stories told in an incredibly profound way, exploring what happens after “happily ever after.” It’s okay to wish and want and hope and dream, but this piece deals with the reality of the world and the struggles and hardships that we face along the way, and I think it’s important for people today, children especially, to understand that. Then, on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attack, I was watching President Obama address the families of the victims, and in an effort to console them, he said, with great compassion, “You are not alone… No one is alone.” That moment stayed with me. And afterwards, I began to think that this beautiful message, which was quoting one of Sondheim’s most poignant songs from INTO THE WOODS might be a sign that it was the right time to bring WOODS to the screen. So, we decided to bring this idea to Disney and were impressed that the company was interested in expanding the definition of what a modern fairy tale could be.

What are some of the themes addressed in the film?
RM: The film explores many themes: the consequences of wishes, the complexity of the parent/child relationship, greed, ambition, loss, and, perhaps most importantly, unconditional love and the power of the human spirit. In many ways I think INTO THE WOODS is a fairy tale for the 21st century post 9/11 generation. I believe Sondheim and James Lapine were way ahead of their time when they wrote this. The story also addresses the concept of family, and how our notion of the typical family has evolved over the years.

You have to direct such a huge cast of well-known actors, how difficult were they to assemble?
RM: One of my philosophies about casting is that ultimately, if you do it right you actually don’t have to make the choice… it’s made for you. In other words, someone comes in and claims the role and says, “This is mine,” and that’s exactly what happened all throughout the casting process of this film. For example, Chris Pine, who plays Cinderella’s Prince, came in for the part but I didn’t know he could sing, I didn’t know he was funny, I didn’t know any of that. I just knew he was a wonderful actor and an incredibly handsome man. And I quickly found out that he could do all of those things, and more.
I honestly thought Emily Blunt would be perfection in the role of the Baker’s Wife, but I didn’t think in a million years she could sing as well as she does. And she came in and sang “Moments in the Woods,” and it was a full performance and I couldn’t believe it. By the end of the song I literally found myself crying because I was so happy that someone had all the ingredients required for the Baker’s Wife.
James Corden had done a reading for us as the Baker, and it was clear to everyone that he was our man. I was really hoping to find someone who could play the everyman, and he’s an extraordinary actor, and the scope of his talent is truly overwhelming. He has this incredible humor and physical comedy which we all knew from his great work on stage, but I didn’t realize the great depth he has as an actor….and he can sing, too.
Meryl Streep was for me the key ingredient to the film. I couldn’t imagine making this film without her. She brings everything you might imagine to the work, and more. Her depth, vulnerability, imagination, humor, and spontaneity is unparalleled. Not to mention her voice… Wow! That knocked me out. I knew she could sing, but like this? I had no idea. The truth is there is nothing she can’t do.
I asked Johnny Depp to play the Wolf on the heels of our working together on PIRATES OF THE CARRIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES  He immediately said yes. He was excited about the idea of being part of an ensemble cast and of working on yet another Sondheim movie musical.
In a musical, actors are called upon to do so many unique and varied things, and this cast hits all those marks every time, every one of them. It was extraordinary.

Talk about the Woods as a character in the film?
RM: The Woods is a metaphor for many things in life: it’s the place you go to find your dreams, fulfill your wishes, confront your fears, lose yourself, find yourself, grow up and learn to move forward. It’s the cycle of life in the sense that we grow up and realize that life may not be all that you thought it would be, but it’s something that everyone must experience…there’s no shortcut. So we go into the Woods to find all those things and hopefully come out a better person.

INTO THE WOODS is at cinemas from January 9th 2015