MEET THE HUNTING PARTY
F*** sits down with the stars and directors of The Huntsman: Winter’s War
By Jedd Jong
F*** sits down with the stars and directors of The Huntsman: Winter’s War
By Jedd Jong
Actors Chris Hemsworth, Jessica Chastain and Charlize Theron, as well as director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, were in Singapore for the Asian premiere of The Huntsman: Winter’s War. The premiere was held at Universal Studios Singapore in Resorts World Sentosa to much fanfare, with fans shelling out for theme park tickets and braving the overwhelming humidity to catch a glimpse of the stars on the red carpet.
The next day, the cast and director fielded questions from F*** and other local and regional journalists at the Equarius Hotel in Resorts World Sentosa. Hemsworth and Chastain were paired up, as were Theron and Nicolas-Troyan, taking turns to meet different groups of journalists.
CHRIS HEMSWORTH AND JESSICA CHASTAIN
First off, we got to chat with the titular Huntsman himself and his warrior bride Sara. Since Kristen Stewart, who played Snow White in Snow White and the Huntsman, was booted off the sequel, the spotlight is trained squarely on the Eric the Huntsman, whose back-story we learn in this film. We are also introduced to Sara, a highly skilled warrior who served alongside Eric in the army of Freya the Snow Queen (Emily Blunt), falling in love with Eric in the process. The duo had a relaxed rapport, with Chastain sometimes turning to check with Hemsworth to ensure she didn’t misremember a detail of working on the production. Hemsworth and Chastain shared about filming action sequences, generating chemistry together, practicing accents and their reaction to the heartthrob being crowned the Sexiest Man Alive.
Jessica, you’ve worked with both Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Without letting present company influence you, which Asgardian brother did you enjoy working with more?
JESSICA CHASTAIN: Chris.
CHRIS HEMSWORTH: Woohoo! Good girl!
CHASTAIN: [But] I love Tom
What lessons did you take away from the story of Snow White?
CHASTAIN: Well, I didn’t connect to fairy-tales very well. I don’t really relate to the damsel in distress, which is the theme in a lot of fairy-tales. I relate more to this film, where the characters in this film and in the relationship are equals.
HEMSWORTH: I think in fairy-tales, there are messages for children: themes about love, good vs. evil, your actions have consequences, and also just your imagination is inspired as a kid. Whether or not some of the themes or characters may be dated, I just think the idea of make-believe and fantasy is very important for the development of a child. I remember as a kid reading The Hobbit and things like that, or my dad reading it to me, and having very vivid pictures in my mind of what that world was and the fantasy of it.
Do you think that love conquers all?
HEMSWORTH: I believe it’s a pretty good motivator to attempt to conquer anything. I don’t know what stronger emotion or feeling there is to want to destroy all odds. So yeah, I think so.
CHASTAIN: Yeah, I believe love conquers everything.
Chris, what is it like working with Jessica, who is a little less experienced than you are in the action genre?
HEMSWORTH: Aww, she did fantastic! All her fight scenes were in high heels or lifts, her shoes, so that was even more impressive. I remember watching, in the film, the first big fight sequence we had and being kind of blown away at the acrobatics she was pulling off and how easy she made it look.
Jessica, what did you do to get into the mind-set of a warrior for this film?
CHASTAIN: Production flew someone to New York and I worked with them for two weeks. I went to London and worked with the stunt team for three weeks before we started shooting. That was just to learn the fights, but I approached it just like I would approach any film. This is the first of this genre that I’ve done, but I thought about her backstory and where she came from, I thought about her being a child with Eric, and growing up in that situation, what happened with her family, and tried to flesh out the character as realistically as possible. Because yes, it’s an incredible action-adventure fantasy film, but I feel like the characters are really rooted in reality and whatever is happening, so as to feel as real and present as possible.
Were there any mishaps when you were both filming the fights?
CHASTAIN: I hit someone! [To Chris] Did I hurt you at all?
HEMSWORTH: No, we did pretty good actually. I think we were in sync.
CHASTAIN: A couple of times, I fell down, because I was wearing those shoes with the wedges in them and we’d be walking along in the woods and I’d hit a branch and I’d just fall down. I hit a stunt person once because I was doing the fight sequence and I’d rehearsed it where I’d elbow someone behind me without looking over and over again, and I knew how far to go. When they were shooting it, they said “the camera angle, the way it is now, you need to go even further back because it looks fake right now”. So I moved further back, and then I hit him in the face because he didn’t move further back. I was so traumatised I immediately went “oh my gosh!” and stopped and ruined the whole take.
HEMSWORTH: Should’ve kept going, because it would’ve looked very real [laughs].
CHASTAIN: It was very real! [Laughs]
Jessica, were the fight scenes or the love scenes more of a challenge?
CHASTAIN: Well, the fight scenes burn more calories, I’ll say that [laughs].
Chris, was the preparation on this film harder than on the first?
HEMSWORTH: I was probably involved much more with the script and involved much earlier than I was with Snow White; I came in quite late to that. So I was able to develop the character a bit more and [work on] the script with the producers and so on. What was exciting was the opportunity to have something different from the first one and lighten it up in tone; have a greater sense of humour and a sense of adventure; have a bit more spark between the characters. And, have a stronger love story – we were kind of non-specific in the first film, so it was nice to be able to go and hit those themes a little heavier this time around and advance it.
Chris, you were named People’s Sexiest Man Alive in 2014. How did you take it?
HEMSWORTH: How did I take it? It made me laugh, it was all pretty funny [chuckles]. You can’t take it too seriously, you have to laugh about it, I guess. Then they took it off me, which was heart-breaking.
CHASTAIN: He made a big joke out of it, which was really funny. We’d be on set and he’d say “you know, I am People’s Sexiest Man Alive…”
HEMSWORTH: “…So give me some damn respect!” And then in turn, it got me less respect.
CHASTAIN: Exactly! Then we just teased him!
HEMSWORTH: I don’t take it seriously.
Do you think you’re sexy?
HEMSWORTH: Do I think so? No, not really. Does anyone? I don’t know…[chuckles]. I know all my ridiculous secrets, which are unattractive.
Did you work on the chemistry between the both of you to get it to the level we see in the film?
HEMSWORTH: You just get lucky sometimes, you know? You just have an instant sort of chemistry and connection. Jessica has a great sense of humour, we like a lot of the same films, love the style of films from an audience point of view. You can work at it as much as you want, but if it’s not there, it’s not there. As I said, we got lucky, you know?
CHASTAIN: You have to be open to it, too. We got lucky, but there’s also a situation where if you’re working on something with someone, between every take, if they go to their trailer and leave set, [it won’t work out]. We hung out on set a lot with Cedric and talked a lot, we got to know each other, and I think that always benefits chemistry.
Jessica, you’ve posted photos of you tucking into durians while in Singapore. how did you come to gravitate towards durians?
CHASTAIN: I love durian. I worked in Thailand for four months [on Blackbeard] and discovered the fruit there. I love it. I was in Singapore and Hong Kong a few years ago and had it; every time I come to Asia I have it. We don’t get it much in the United States so for us, it’s very exotic. Chris has never tried it.
HEMSWORTH: I would try it; it’s just never come across my plate. But I’ve heard a lot about it, I’ve heard mixed reviews, that it smells a bit funny, but I would give it a go, I’d try it.
What was it like working on your Scottish accents? How did you find the accents, was it a character choice and did you practice with each other?
CHASTAIN: We didn’t really practice with each other.
HEMSWORTH: Yeah, we just had great dialect coaches and you just rehearse the hell out of it. Repetition, repetition, repetition. I listened to a lot of tapes of certain influences and different people for the accent. It has a great musicality to it, for me personally, it lends itself to humour well. That’s nice, and it also separates us from the evil, royal [posh] types.
CHASTAIN: I worked with a coach from Scotland, and what I loved is that I kept asking her “what are little sayings?” Like “you’re a right galoot” or “you’re a right numpty”, things like that. And Cedric would let me kind of sprinkle in a little bit, which was fun. Because I’ve never heard that word “galoot”, have you guys heard that word?
HEMSWORTH: I have.
CHASTAIN: You have? It must be an Australian thing too.
HEMSWORTH: It is.
CHASTAIN: Lots of galoots in Australia!
HEMSWORTH: Lots of ‘em, that’s right [Both laugh]
In the last film, the Huntsman kissed Snow White to wake her, and now we meet his wife, who was assumed to be dead all this time. Could it be considered an extra-marital affair?
HEMSWORTH: For me, I feel like the kiss was full of love, but a love for somebody else. All that was needed in that spell for Snow White to wake up was love; it didn’t necessarily have to be for her. But he was talking about his wife.
CHASTAIN: Talking about me! [Laughs] That was the true love’s kiss, and that’s the only reason I think this film works, Sara being here, it’s because of that scene. I re-watched the first film after I got the offer and I saw that scene and I said “of course! The true love’s kiss, there was that whole monologue about his wife.”
Jessica, you’ve worked with some very experienced directors and on this film, you worked with a first time director. What differences have you found?
CHASTAIN: It’s interesting, because everyone has their own individual point of view. When I was on the set [of The Martian] with Ridley Scott, I knew there was a whole history of filmmaking that I was going to experience and I was very excited about what that was going to be like. Working with Ridley was very different than working with J.C. Chandor, who did A Most Violent Year, [which was] very different than working with Cedric. Which is why I like this industry, to do the same thing over and over again is very boring, so I like to try and mix it up. I’ll go from Christopher Nolan [on Interstellar] to a first-time filmmaker. I hope to work in more foreign films. Those usually are my favourite, I’ve got to learn more languages [laughs], but that’s actually what I enjoy.
In the film, you have the scene with the goblins and they’re not there. What was it like working with creatures who would be inserted later, and what was it like filming the scenes with the dwarves?
CHASTAIN: Well, I was really lucky because we actually had actors. Nick Frost, Rob [Brydon], Sheridan [Smith] and Alex[andra Roach, who played the dwarves,] were all there. Even the goblins, which we knew the drawings of what it was going to look like, there was someone there in a bodysuit with little dots all over them and acting out the body movements, making the noises and doing everything. Yes, they weren’t as big as the goblins ended up being, but it was really helpful that all six of us had the same thing to look at, and it wasn’t just being in a green screen [set].
Chris, how do you stay in such excellent shape?
HEMSWORTH: I just like to stay active. I surf a lot at home, spend a lot of time outdoors, just doing different activities and obviously in the gym, training. The biggest thing is just having a good, clean diet, I think. The healthy, non-processed sort of food is a big thing, even more so than probably the training. For Thor, I had to lift a lot of weight to grow muscle, but as far as staying fit, what you put in your body is number one.
And for you, Jessica?
CHASTAIN: I’m a vegan, so I agree with Chris, so much of your fitness is about what you eat, so I don’t eat any meat.
CHARLIZE THERON AND CEDRIC NICOLAS-TROYAN
Following Chastain and Hemsworth were Queen Ravenna herself and the first-time feature film director who helmed The Huntsman. The Oscar-winning Theron was clearly a dab hand at press junkets, helping the less experienced Nicolas-Troyan along in between playfully ribbing him for his thick French accent.
“Was Chris really boring?” Theron joked as she entered the room. Theron’s scenery-chomping performance in Snow White and the Huntsman is generally regarded as one of the more entertaining aspects of the fantasy action flick, so it is fun to see Ravenna resurrected. The main antagonist for the bulk of the film is Ravenna’s younger sister Freya; Blunt was absent from this leg of the press tour but Theron spoke unreservedly about how much she adores her co-star. Nicolas-Troyan spoke about dealing with the pressures of handling a major production, while Theron, who has become a widely-admired feminist icon, touched on being a role model and how Ravenna’s pursuit of youth and beauty reflects on gender perception in society.
Cedric, you were the visual effects supervisor on Snow White and the Huntsman and are now directing this one. What was the biggest source of pressure in taking on this bigger responsibly?
CEDRIC NICOLAS-TROYAN: Obviously, it’s a harder job. Doing visual effects compared to directing a movie, it’s a walk in the park. Directing a movie is a way bigger deal. So obviously, you have that pressure, but then you work with those guys [the cast] and all that pressure goes away…
CHARLIZE THERON: You’re welcome.
NICOLAS-TROYAN: They just push you [on], and I think also because of the first movie, you’re stepping into somebody’s shoes so you have that pressure for sure, but I think when you shoot the movie, it goes away. I had a great time shooting the movie and working with them, so the pressure went away. Maybe now more than ever, the pressure is on, because the movie is coming out. It’s judgement day, you know?
THERON: It’s all on you [laughs].
Charlize, you’ve played some really remarkable characters in your career. Do you feel the pressure to be a role model for women?
THERON: It’s so odd, because I don’t think about anything like that until I come and do a press junket. It’s interesting because I don’t know what’s really in the subconscious and what’s really in the conscious. I think there’s a part of me that feels a responsibility to myself as a woman when I go and do a film, and for an actor the greatest fear is that you won’t be able to get to the truth of a character. And so I feel like my responsibility really starts there.
I want to do something that feels incredibly authentic and truthful, and I think when we do that, we’re hoping that something will resonate with other people, other women. I don’t know if that’s being a role model; I worry about that because I’m so aware that I’m an entertainer. The reason I do what I do is I really love film, I believe in the power of it, I believe in the inspiration of it. I’ve sat in many theatres in a dark room and have had stories move me in such a way that it has changed me. And I think film can really do that and I think I’m a small part of that process. If I do something that really chases after the truth, I feel like that’s the only way that you can hope people can be moved by it, and I can’t hope for anything past that.
NICOLAS-TROYAN: She’s a pretty authentic person, I think, with all the work she does with her charity. I’m not a woman, and I’m pretty inspired. It’s true though, I think that as a person, it goes through you, that’s the way I see it.
THERON: Aww shucks!
NICOLAS-TROYAN: It’s true though!
Is it fun to play a villain?
THERON: Yeah! I mean, I wasn’t miserable about it at all!
NICOLAS-TROYAN: She comes and she’s really funny, she has that great energy on set, and she comes up with ideas like that. What you see in the movie is just a very small part of what she does on set. There was stuff she was doing that was so fun, I couldn’t put them in the movie for so many different reasons…
THERON: Because they were bad [laughs].
NICOLAS-TROYAN: No, they were not!
THERON: I’ll try anything.
NICOLAS-TROYAN: She comes [to set] with so much energy, so much stuff, and it makes those scenes so much better. What I’m thinking I’m going to get from the scene is one thing, what she brings…the whole black stuff [dripping from Ravenna’s mouth], she came up with that. I’m like “that’s cool!”
THERON: It’s such a fun thing being on set, because what you’re doing is throwing a ball back and forth with your director, with your [other] actors, it’s like a sport almost. There’s a constant discovery process. There’s an element with [Ravenna] because she’s the villain in this fantastical world, the world allowed her to bleed outside very confined lines and we got to go a little bigger with her. I didn’t end up in jail [in real life], so that was a good thing. Not yet!
NICOLAS-TROYAN: Charlize is a lot softer at the beginning of the film [during the flashback scenes], so we could go really bigger at the back end. That was fun. On set, it’s always like that – “what about this, what about that?” And even among themselves, with Jessica, with Chris, we all have those scenes – this kind of creativity is built on top of the script we already have that just make it so much better.
THERON: [To Nicolas-Troyan] We are lucky because we had you, the director really sets the tone.
NICOLAS-TROYAN: That is so true, I was amazing [laughs].
THERON: You really were. I mean, I had some issues with your…
NICOLAS-TROYAN: …My accent [laughs].
THERON: I couldn’t understand a word you were saying. I just knew I went like this a lot [nods uncertainly]. Your director sets the tone, it’s the shepherd, there’s the leader and you need that in a filmmaker. Cedric was very good at setting a tone for this film that was very collaborative. When he’s talking about a lot of the s*** that we tried, a lot of it was bad, but it was great to have a director who’s open to anything. I learned a long time ago you have to do ten bad things before you find half a good thing.
How was it working with Emily Blunt?
THERON: I wish she wasn’t married, because I would marry her. I was thinking we could move to a polygamist state and just do it; I don’t know if John [Krasinski, Blunt’s husband] is up for it. I love that girl so much. From the first moment we were together, it was just instant chemistry. We couldn’t stop, just a lot of chatter, a lot of Cedric going “girls, we’re rolling.” Both Jessica and Emily are actresses I really admire, and as my peers they’ve been people who raise the bar for me as an actor. Their work is so inspiring, so they’re a huge part of why I wanted to come back and do this. To get to work with not just one but two really amazing strong powerhouses on film, that’s the opportunity of a lifetime.
Charlize, what were the differences in working on this film compared to the first one?
THERON: I feel like the process was a little different. On the first one, there was a lot of room to discover this character. There was a script, but there wasn’t that much explored with her. Joe Roth, who’s the producer of both, came to me and said “this is yours. You can do whatever you want with it.” I’d never really been given that kind of freedom, so I worked with the two writers really closely, developing and creating her with Rupert [Sanders, director of Snow White and the Huntsman] so that was a really fun process.
Initially, when the idea came to me, she was a cartoon character. I remember Googling her and getting the cartoon image of the raven hair, the arched eyebrows, the red lips. I thought to myself “it’s such an iconic character, there would be something very inspiring about taking that and turning it on its head and doing something completely new with that.” I was encouraged to do that, so that was great.
That was the process for the first film, so once we solidified that, we had that for the second film, so then we got to explore her in different circumstances. When you take that character that we created on the first one and throw her in these circumstances with her younger sister, it allows for different things to happen with her. I never in a million years thought we would ever see Ravenna love something, and when we found her foundation in the first film, I could never imagine her showing love to something and in this film, we got to explore that and that was really great for me.
What did you take away from the story of Snow White?
THERON: I think thematically, there’s a really powerful story in there for women and the currency we place our value in, which is this obsession with youth and that somehow our value really comes from that. I think it’s a huge misconception about how women think about themselves, but we’ve kind of gotten pigeonholed in a society that has given us almost no out with that. There’s no way we can deny that women age differently in our society in men. I’ve always loved the analogy that we go around thinking that women are cut flowers, that they just wilt after a while, and men are fine wine, they just age better the older they get.
I feel like women have to start taking ownership in changing that concept, and I think this fairy-tale is powerful in that because at the end of this story, Ravenna ends up alone, and none of those things give her anything she thought she was going to have. The Snow White character ends up having a full life, because there’s more to her than chasing those currencies. If you think that this story was written hundreds of years ago and it resonates with us as a society still today, that says something about us.
NICOLAS-TROYAN: What’s great about fairy-tales is that no matter how you take the fairy-tale and what kind of fairy-tale it is; it always [offers] very simple lessons in life. They are written that way for kids to understand: what is good; what is bad? What is love; what is hate? What is wrong and what is right? Those are universal [themes], it doesn’t matter what culture you’re from, as a human being, you learn those things.
When we make movies like that, all we’re doing is creating more complex characters that are more anchored in reality, of the reality we know today. But if you look at fairy-tales within themselves, you would see that even in modern movies, they’re always essentially the same lesson, they’re always there to remind us what we should be doing. We live today in a world that is focused on ugliness and negativity, and we have a tendency to look in that direction instead of celebrating what we should be doing. Those fairy-tales have been created from the get-go to teach the kids to not do that, in 20 years, we’re going to do fairy-tales in a different style and a different medium, and it will tell the exact same story.