Exclusive Interview—Joachim Rønning, MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL

Director Joachim Rønning holding up a viewfinder on set of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019)

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is the fourth live-action title in Disney’s star-studded 2019 lineup, coming to Regal just in time for Halloween on October 18th.

Following a vengeful quest to curse the infant Princess Aurora in Maleficent, the 2014 retelling of the classic Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, the horned fairy and titular character comes to discover the child may be the last hope for returning peace to their troubled homeland. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil takes place several years after the events of the first movie and continues to explore the complex relationship between Maleficent and Aurora as they face new threats to the magical kingdom of Moors.

Academy Award® winner Angelina Jolie reprises her role as Maleficent, the “Mistress of Evil,” joining her returning co-star Elle Fanning (Princess Aurora) and newcomers Harris Dickinson (Prince Phillip) and Ed Skrein (Borra). The sequel also adds Academy Award®-nominated stars Michelle Pfeiffer (Queen Ingrith) and Chiwetel Ejiofer (Conall), making this star-studded sequel a must-see for any Disney fan. 

Directing this highly anticipated sequel is Joachim Rønning, the Norwegian filmmaker who previously teamed up with childhood friend Espen Sandberg to direct the studio’s fifth installment in the Johnny Depp-led Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017). After beginning his career in his home country of Norway, Rønning made his feature debut co-directing Penélope Cruz and Salma Hayek in the action/comedy Bandidas (2006), which he followed with the biographical action/drama Max Manus: Man of War (2008) and the historical adventure Kon-Tiki (2012), amongst others. Rønning now brings his flare for action and adventure to another of Disney’s beloved franchises, directing Angelina Jolie in her return as Maleficent in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.  

We had the opportunity to speak with director Joachim Rønning on his upcoming blockbuster:

REGAL: This is your second time directing a Disney movie that’s part of a larger series. What challenges, if any, do you find in directing a sequel, and what did you learn on Pirates of the Caribbean that you were able to apply to Maleficent: Mistress of Evil?

JOACHIM RØNNING: There’s always a fine line when you do a sequel because on one hand you want to give the fans what they love and what you yourself love as a filmmaker watching the first film, and then at the same time, of course, it’s important to create something new and original—in this case Maleficent 2.0. What drew me to this, and I think also a huge part of the success of the first film, was that they tapped into a very strong emotional core. In the middle of this universe—in the middle of this fantastical fairy tale—they managed to keep a very strong emotional core between a mother and a daughter story. I’m a parent myself. I have two daughters, and that’s what, for sure, drew me in from watching the first film but also in this next story. That’s been very important for me. Of course, it’s an action/adventure movie—a dark kind of fairy tale—but none of that kind of means anything if it doesn’t touch you, and I think that’s what the first film really managed to do. 

When it comes to what I’ve learned, I think it’s properly to pick your battles. Because these movies have thousands of people working on them, and they’re all amazing. They carry you forward. You don’t have to really think about everything yourself all the time, like you would do on small independent films, where I come from. It’s always good to have been on these kinds of expeditions before. These expeditions are always new, and they all have their different animals. And they all have different obstacles and challenges, but the more experience you have will, of course, always be good.

R: Talk a little bit about the creative decisions like camera, lens, etc. and how those decisions influence your approach to a movie like Maleficent.

JR: I collaborate with the DP, the director of photography, on those kind of decisions. I pride myself to be a visual storyteller, for sure, so those things are important. We spend months and months researching and testing camera equipment and finding the right system to shoot on. And also, these films are so VFX heavy, so that’s also going to be a huge factor in choosing the system to shoot with. I feel lucky to have shot films on 35mm, because at the end of the day, I still think that the 35mm film looks the most beautiful, but I must say, ever since I did Kon-Tiki—which was actually one of the first movies to ever be shot on the Alexa, the Arri Alexa camera—I’m blown away by the digital revolution that’s happened in creating the film look in cinema. For our film, the digital format proved to be the best.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil-Fanning and Rønning
Elle Fanning (Princess Aurora) and director Joachim Rønning on set of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019)

R: This movie really seems like a movie that needs to be seen on the biggest screen possible—with the aerial sequences, great action, beautiful sets, etc. What do you think audiences are going to gain from seeing Maleficent: Mistress of Evil in the theatres that they wouldn’t get seeing it any other way? 

JR: I make movies for the big screen. I’ve always done that, even when I was making small movies in Scandinavia. I was always influenced by the epic movies of the ‘50s and ‘60s, and to some extent the ‘70s. In that sense, I’m probably a little bit old school. I love making movies for the big screen. I love making movies for the theatre. There’re amazing stories to tell for that, and these kind of movies lend themselves to that because you get to create this universe that the audience can immerse themselves in.

R: Angelina Jolie embodies the character of Maleficent so well. What was it like working with her to bring this character back to the big screen and what can audiences expect from this performance in Mistress of Evil

JR: It’s the second time I’ve worked with an iconic actor portraying an iconic character because in my previous film I worked with Johnny Depp and his character Jack Sparrow, and then this one is Angelina Jolie and her iconic portrayal of Maleficent. For me as a filmmaker, it’s great. First of all, you get to work with the best actors in the world, and second of all, they know these characters, and they know it better than anyone. You can come into this universe, and very often I find myself suggesting things from a rational storytelling point of view and—this happened many times with Johnny and many times with Angelina—and they go the other way, because that’s what their character would do. I think that’s also part of why we love these characters so much as an audience because they are completely unpredictable, and they do crazy things. They do things that, “Oh, I wish I could say that,” or “I wish I could do that" at some point. It’s amazing to be a part of that and see how it works, and it’s really there when you shoot it. You turn the camera on and you see it. I sit behind my little monitor on set, and I see. Suddenly you’re just at the movies—even there in your chair in front of that little monitor—you’re at the movies because these characters are so iconic.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil-Angelina Jolie
Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019)

R: How did you go about balancing the practical sets and practical effects with the CGI elements? Because, obviously, while this is a fantasy adventure, it’s still very much grounded in reality. So how would you balance those two sides of the coin?

JR: It’s always freaky, you know. Because my job is kind of two-fold. You want to create a spectacle, and I was saying, you want to create an event and a large universe—and I love that. I love creating a universe. And at the same time, that doesn’t matter unless you relate to these characters. It was definitely why I wanted to make the movie because this has such a strong emotional core. And It’s about a mother and a daughter, and it’s about a mother and a child. So, the balance will always be to get both sides of that, and of course, that is tricky when you’re shooting emotional scenes, and it’s just up against a green screen. Luckily, I have the best actors in the world to do it, and I have the best VFX [visual effects] team in the world to create the environment after. It’s tricky, but you feel very lucky as a filmmaker to be able to tap into a completely different universe and create a completely different universe. 

R: As you mentioned, that emotional core is something this movie really does well. Although Maleficent is a physically imposing and very powerful character, we get to see a more vulnerable side to her in this movie.  How did you go about visually conveying those two sides of Maleficent? 

JR: Well, I think it’s key—what you’re talking about there—in any character of any story. For us, creating the highs and lows of Maleficent was very much in production design, of course, and wardrobe, and it was also very much Angelina Jolie and what she brings to it and how she can control a scene with very subtle changes. And I think that’s what Maleficent has—it’s a look in her eyes. When she does show emotion—because she’s very stoic and a very very tough female character—in those few moments when she does show emotions, it is very powerful. 

Watch director Joachim Rønning’s vision come to life when Maleficent: Mistress of Evil flies into Regal theatres October 18. Tickets are now on sale!

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