Disney villains are a breed unto themselves and the most notorious of them all has to be the Dalmatian-hating, chain-smoking, lustfully murderous Cruella de Vil. As budding musician (and Dalmatian owner) Roger Radcliffe opines in the 1961 animated classic, “if she doesn’t scare you, no evil thing will”. Given de Vil’s longevity and continuing popularity, it’s no wonder Disney decided to give the twisted character her own uniquely cinematic origin story. Set to cover Cruella’s rebellious early days in 1970s London back when she was just a girl named Estella, Disney’s Cruella sees Emma Stone take on the title role while the always fabulous (Dame) Emma Thompson joins her as Cruella’s archenemy and nemesis, The Baroness. In advance of the film’s release, Stone, Thompson, director Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya), and several other key players sat down to give us a look behind the scenes of their new adaptation. Here are just a few things they shared that got us excited about Disney’s latest:
There’s no denying that Cruella is a dark character, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that director Gillespie wanted to ensure the events that shaped her were suitably rebellious and somewhat twisted. But going darker didn’t necessarily mean making things bleak, at least not in this case. “It was really important to me that it was not black and white, obviously no pun intended there with Cruella,” the director revealed. “But I wanted there to be this grey area and be able to empathize with the choices that she was making and the situations that she was responding to. And I wanted to do it in a way that was really fun.” Star Stone was surprised at just how dark the studio allowed the movie to be: “They really let Craig and Tony (McNamara) write and make what they wanted to make. I think it’s definitely dark for a Disney movie. Maybe not for a really intense kind of R-rated film. But it was darker than I’ve seen a Disney movie [be] for a good long time.”
And there’s room in Cruella for more than one villain! Two-time Oscar winner Emma Thompson jumped at the chance to play her very own, honest-to-goodness Disney baddie, The Baroness. “I had such fun doing her because I think I’ve been asking for quite a number of years if I could be a villain, a proper villain,” the Dame shared. “I had just the best, best time. I spent decades playing what my mother used to call, ‘Good women in frocks.’ Now I got to play a really evil woman in frocks, but oh boy, the frocks!”
Which brings us to the next bit we’re excited about…
“I mean, they wore me, actually, really is what happened,” Thompson joked. “And every time [Emma Stone] and I would come on set, we’d just look at each other and walk around each other like we were sculptures or works of art or something, which we were.” At the heart of each and every one of Cruella’s fabulous on-screen creations was award-winning costume designer, Jenny Beavan. “I always say, in case people get the wrong impression, I’m not a fashion designer, I’m a storyteller with clothes,” she clarified. And with this film, Beavan had the chance to not just tell the tale of the title character, using Glenn Close’s live-action de Vil and the script as starting points, but also of a brand new character in The Baroness. “The Baroness is actually terribly clear once you get into that mindset of who she is and where her influences came from. It was obviously a slight Dior, Balenciaga, all those great ’50s and ’60s fashion designers. And she’s a very good designer, she’s just slightly past her sell-by date.”
And when it came time for Cruella and her transition from a young woman named Estella to the larger-than-life power player we’re more familiar with, Beavan found one particular influence closer to home: herself. “I looked at Westwood, McQueen, Galliano, and BodyMap, and dug into my past at Biba, just trying to really find all those funny things that we loved [in the ‘60s and ‘70s]. My memory actually served me well and I just tuned into my past, really.” All in all, Beavan and her team created a whopping 47 looks for Stone’s Cruella and another 33 for Thompson’s Baroness.
“My very, very favourite outfit…was the dress that I [wore] on the garbage truck because there was a 40-foot train,” Emma Stone shared when asked to pick her favourite costume from filming. “[It] wasn’t attached to the dress because, obviously, I wouldn’t be able to move anywhere. They added that onto the dress at the last minute when I got onto the garbage truck to shoot that part. And it was just, I mean, nothing you would ever be able to even remotely wear in real life.”
Though the costumes—and excellent set design courtesy of Fiona Crombie—rightly take centre stage in any discussion of the film, they aren’t the only stand-outs in this wickedly memorable tale. Cruella’s sublime soundtrack serves up some classic hits from the ‘70s, a few under-appreciated gems from the era, and one brand new song from Florence + The Machine. As the tracks were a part of the director’s plan from the get-go, Gillespie designed scenes to specifically give the film space for music. “I cut on the set as I go, so I’ll be putting music on the scenes as we’re shooting them. So that Doors track, when we first meet The Baroness—I threw [that on] on the day that we were shooting it and it never changed. So there’s always music in my mind as we’re going through it and looking for opportunities throughout.”
And though there aren’t 101 of them, Gillespie knew he couldn’t make a film about Cruella de Vil without a few canine companions. “The dogs are a large part of 101 Dalmatians, but I wanted to bring them in in a more grounded way,” the director explained. “We worked on the story a lot with the role of the Dalmatians and her relationship to them. They’re very intertwined with her emotional journey.” And unlike their original animated counterparts, these dogs were a complete part of the Cruella crew. “They were supporting characters in a way, and they had their own personalities and concerns.”
“They were great and they were very sweet,” Thompson added, talking about the trio of Dalmatians she worked with. “They have CGI’d them to be a bit nasty because they were such sweet dogs. They were so nice and they worked so hard.” In a bit of a twist, Cruella/Estella has a canine companion of her own—an adorable mutt called Buddy. “Estella’s dog, Buddy, whose real name is Bobby, is genuinely the cutest and sweetest dog I had ever known in my life,” Stone confessed. “I’ve got a lot of dogs, so that’s saying something.”
As with any slate of performers, human or canine, there’s always one scene-stealer. In Cruella, that title belongs to one-eyed chihuahua henchman (henchpup?), Wink. “I tried to get Wink fired,” Thompson quipped. “I said he’d come and widdled on one of my costumes and nobody believed me. They just knew I was lying and that it was just a vicious attempt to get rid of this dog that was, frankly, upstaging me and getting in my light.”
Look for Wink, Buddy, and their human companions in the fashionably fabulous Cruella, which arrives in theatres and on Disney+ with Premier Access on May 28.