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Not only was I lucky enough to have been invited to review new film, Into The Woods, at an advance screening in December, I was invited to interview the director Rob Marshall (Memoirs of a Geisha, Chicago, Nine, Pirates of the Caribbean : On Stranger Tides) and his partner and producer, John DeLuca (also Memoirs of a Geisha, Chicago, Nine, Pirates of the Caribbean : On Stranger Tides.) As I sat down with the pair, who had literally flown in to London that morning, they told me how much they loved the city (John even performed at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane some years ago) and enjoyed filming Into The Woods in the UK. Read the full Interview transcript below.
Rebecca: Rob – you have directed a TV adaptation of Annie, Kander and Ebb’s Chicago, Nine and now you are venturing Into The Woods – What is it that keeps on drawing you into musical adaptations?
Rob: I think musicals are in my blood. I don’t know exactly why. I certainly grew up with them. I started as a dancer, singer and actor and watching movie musicals as a kid. I feel a connection to them in a very deep way. I guess it is because the genre is like no other. It’s that beautiful thing they say about good musicals; when speaking isn’t enough you must sing or movement is enough you must dance. When a musical works and you have earned the song or the dance, it becomes like nothing else. It lifts you in a way. A song can illuminate so much about the depth of a character and a story. When I am lucky enough [to do a musical] I am thrilled to.
Rebecca: Tell us a bit about this adaptation – why now?
John: We talked about it for years right after we had done Chicago, we were looking for the next project. Sondheim mentioned it to Rob, he said “Someday I think Into The Woods would be great for you.” I think when Stephen Sondheim says that, you take it! Then Rob was watching Obama’s speech…
Rob : After we finished doing Pirates of the Caribbean, John said “What do you love?” I said “Into the Woods.” I love it. I love everything about it. I love the joy of it, the cleverness of it, the humour in it and the profound themes that it explores. I was watching president Obama speak to the families of the 9/11 victims on the 10th anniversary and he said “You are not alone, no one is alone.” Those words. I thought, “Oh my gosh”. It is the central theme of Into The Woods, obviously there is the song “No One Is Alone.” I thought it was such an important message, especially today. I thought, when watching Obama, this is a sign. I had to do it. Even though the show was written in the 20th Century, I think Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine were ahead of their time and this really is a modern fairytale for now in the 21st Century.
John: We had both seen the original on Broadway! Like Rob said, there is a certain magic with this show. I went back to where my parents had a house on the Jersey Shore after Hurricane Sand and everything was destroyed. It was like the end of our movie. I kept saying to Rob “nothing’s the same.” I was saying the same words our characters say in the show!
Rebecca: You have done very well to get the film to two hours. What did you decide to cut from the stage original and was it hard to let go of some things?
Rob: Very hard! The only saving grace was that we had James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim working with us. We had their blessing when we were working out what needs to go and what needs to stay. You need to do two things when working on a movie adaptation of a musical. You have to retain the central important core of the piece, hold on to what makes it great but at the same time you must re-imagine it as a film, if not you are doing a disservice to the play. The play will live on forever, you can’t just film it, though that would be much easier! There are many times on stage when actors are speaking directly to the audience. The narrator for example, the two act structure so you have to be very smart about doing it. We were very lucky that James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim were very flexible about it and we needed to make sure it worked as a film first.
John: We found ourselves holding on to some things that they wanted to get rid of [laughs] They were like “no you don’t need that!”
Rob: We knew we had to be smart and serve it as a film.
Rebecca: When I saw the film I was impressed by how much of the dark undertones you managed to keep in the text, was anything downplayed for a more family friendly audience?
John and Rob: No.
Rob: The only thing that that might have happened naturally is because we cast children in the roles of Little Red and Jack, which was important to us as we really felt the show is about children. I don’t think on film you can cast a 25 yr old Jack or a 35 yr old Little Red Riding Hood. I really wanted to have children, especially at the end when this new family is created, it was important they were children. Things changed only because of the casting.
John: The dark element was important to keep in. That’s the message. There is darkness out there. This one little girl came up to me and said “Do we have to kill this Giant, she’s not all bad.” It’s hard!
Rob: That’s what makes this piece special.
John: It’s what happens after happily after. It’s a cautionary tale.
Rebecca: Who’s story resonates most with you both in Into the Woods?
Rob: The Baker and his Wife. I feel like they represent us. Their journey is very much connected to me and most of the audience. The audience understand it is not the perfect relationship, they are struggling. They love each other but they are struggling to have a family. They deal with REAL issues, real problems and real love. It connects very deeply with me. They are the centre of the piece.
John: They are the mirror.
For me it is Jack because of his dilemma! I am very home orientated but I love the adventures of life. I am torn by that. I’d love to stay home but I’d also love to be experiencing things, climbing things! That is the great thing about all these different characters as I was saying before! Everyone locks into a different character! Some parents really understand the Witch. Rob: So many girls understand Cinderella. They realise the prince isn’t all he is cracked up to be!
Rebecca: I hear ya! Too many frogs! You have worked together on several films since Memoirs of a Geisha in 2005 and you live together in NYC, do you find you are each others creative muses?
Rob: Very much so! We didn’t work together on a project behind the scenes together until Chicago. I asked John, who also directs and choreographs and produces etc, and I said “I really need you on this as it’s a big one!”
John: I was like, “Ahhh I don’t know!”
Rebecca: “I’lllll kill you!”
John: Ha, exactly.
Rob: You kind of have to check your ego at the door and focus on serving the piece. If you can do that, like we have, it works well.
John: Rob is mature enough to hear my opinions out. If we disagree he is mature enough to say “okay” then choose what he accepts and what he doesn’t like. That takes a lot.
Rob: I trust John’s eye the most in the world. If I have his approval I feel I am on the right track. It works. Also Marc Platt is a fantastic partner for us.
Rebecca: Rob, this is not the first time you have worked with Johnny Depp – did I spy a cheeky bit of Jack Sparrow in the Big Bad Wolf?
Rob : He is so special! He is such a creative force. What I love about his Wolf and his Jack Sparrow is that he always brings a playfulness to what he does. This was important in this film, if not the wolf could be too creepy. He is an animal. He wants to eat [Red Riding hood] for his dinner. He is the only character in our piece that is human slash not human. Obviously he is seen through a child’s eyes, that’s why he is part human – not a wolf. Johnny does it so brilliantly. He is so playful and charming. People don’t even know how special he is.
John: That comes from who he is in life! He has the greatest sense of humour! He always wants a good laugh but is very profound at the same time.
Rob: He is a character actor in a leading mans body. He loves to disappear into a different world.
Rebecca: I envy your life! Just hanging out with Jonny Depp, hanging out with Meryl…
Rob: He is a great man.
Rebecca: A lot of your movies have generated HUGE critical acclaim and won several Academy Awards between them, are we hopeful for an Into The Woods Oscar?
John: The great gift is that people can see it, find it funny, find the journey interesting and exciting and magical. For us that is the most important thing. Rob: If it got nominated, if we were lucky enough, it would get more people to see it.
John: It would be nice. It would be nice to appreciate how hard musicals are.
What are your favourite musicals?
Rob: Ah, I am going to say two! Chicago, I was lucky to be able to do that on film. I love Chicago and I love Gypsy.
John: And my favourite is Company.
Rebecca: You have both been involved with Broadway shows as well as movies, any chance of us seeing some of your work here in the West End?
John and Rob We would LOVE to. We love that idea.
Rebecca: I think the West End would love that too! Thanks so much for chatting with me guys and have a lovely premier!
Into The Woods opens in cinemas on the 9th January 2015. Read our review of it here.