Cinderella: Chris Weitz on Fixing a Fairy Tale
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But what if a classic story was always kind of broke, and nobody seemed to notice? That’s the hurdle that screenwriter Chris Weitz had to overcome when adapting the fairy tale and animated Disney classic Cinderella into a live-action fantasy for director Kenneth Branagh. A passive protagonist and underwritten love interest are part of the DNA of the timeless tale, but how do you fix them without sabotaging what makes the story work?
These are the questions I wanted to ask Chris Weitz, so I did, as soon as we sat down next to each other for the following interview. Cinderella opens in theaters this Friday, March 13, 2015.
Chris Weitz: Big Cinderella fan?
I wasn’t until last night.
Aw, that’s very kind. Best answer.
No, I’m not going to lie. I admire the animation of Cinderella, I’m more of a Sleeping Beauty fan in general, but I always took issue with Cinderella, just dramatically, because she’s such a passive protagonist.
It just feels like the message of the movie could be arguably said, “Take what life gives you and eventually someone will give you something better.”
Yeah, some dude will come along.
Or some woman will come along and give you a dress, and then some dude will come along. Did you fight for this script or did they offer it to you? Let’s start there.
For the change in emphasis?
Or for you doing it at all. Was it like, “I really want to do Cinderella” or did they offer you Cinderella and you thought that there might be something interesting there?
They wanted to talk with me about it, and I wanted to do it because it’s such a beloved story. You don’t [often] get a chance to work on something that has that degree of familiarity, that is maybe the most popular story in the world. I felt like I really wanted to do it, so that’s a challenge in a way. How do you take this character who could be perceived as really passive and tell it to a contemporary audience without sort of reinforcing…
Because once you make Cinderella you’ve got a key into the mind of every six year old girl in the nation, right? So you have to be responsible with that. You don’t want to tell them what essentially a lot of contemporary society is telling them, which is like, “Just be hot and hang out and maybe good stuff will happen.”
So you want to update it so that it’s someone who’s self-possessed and knows who she is and who wants to meet and marry her equal, but how to do that without making it so contemporary that it’s about her starting her own global multinational, or learning how to fight or whatever it may be. Various versions of that kind of thing have been done.
Ever After, for example.
Which has its charms, but isn’t quite Cinderella.
Yeah, this was trying to be true to the plot, as it were, of the fairy tale. So that sort of conditions a few decisions. Well, you get Dante Ferretti to design a house that’s so beautiful that you understand why she doesn’t run way, or a house that is so resonant emotionally. You build up the parental characters so that you understand why she is such a courageous and good character. And you have to make the prince somebody who is worthy of her affections. It’s not just a rich dude.