Herald Sun Interview with Rupert Sanders : It's Snow White with a black heart
WE are wading through ankle-deep mud in a medieval village in the middle of a carpark at London's Pinewood studios.
In a warehouse next door, the latest James Bond film is being shot under intense secrecy, but we are here for another potential 2012 blockbuster.
It is Snow White and the Huntsman - a dark, gothic remake of the beloved Grimm Brothers' fairytale. And according to American movie ticketing information site Fandango it's the year's most eagerly anticipated film among women, even beating out the mighty Avengers, which opened to record-breaking numbers in the US last week. But forget everything associated with Disney's sweet, naive Snow White, batting her eyelashes with a bow in her hair.
There is a poisoned apple and some dwarfs, but that is where the comparisons with Disney's saccharine-laced cartoon and this latest version end.
Disney also released a Snow White remake earlier this year with the slapstick comedy Mirror, Mirror starring Julia Roberts as the evil queen.
Snow White and the Huntsman director - Rupert Sanders in his first feature film - and the producers from Alice in Wonderland - have created a tortured and terrifying tale filled with monsters, battles and bloodshed.
In the lead role is Twilight superstar Kristen Stewart.
Walking towards me with her hair scraped back and wearing metal armour, the choice to cast the 21-year-old actress as "the fairest of them all" is obvious.
She is luminous in the flesh.
Stewart was initially hesitant to take on the role because she says, "I didn't see myself playing Disney's Snow White".
She admits she never pretended to be a princess as a child - "I was always, honestly, the vampire."
She was finally attracted because it retained the original tale's darkness.
"We have stayed so true to who Snow White is classically," Stewart says.
"We're not taking the story and turning it on its head but we're not shying away from the parts that are gruesome, because it makes the parts that are beautiful that much more beautiful."
As a tomboy famous in Hollywood for eschewing glamour, Stewart is a fitting choice to take on Snow White's themes of vanity and the exploitation of beauty.
"Fair for us, it doesn't mean beautiful, it means what is pumping through your veins, rather than what you look like," she explains.
"To play a character who truly lacks vanity is interesting.
"Not to say everyone is stuck up, but at a certain point you are aware of yourself. But she just simply doesn't have that, which is pretty cool. She is kind of a freak."
Stewart took on horse riding and combat training so she could portray Snow White, who in one scene resembles a Joan of Arc warrior leading 200 horsemen in full gallop down a beach.
"She can seriously take care of business," Stewart says, with a smile. Her biggest battle scenes are with the evil Queen Ravenna, played by a chilling Charlize Theron.
"I've been getting the crap kicked out of me by Charlize," Stewart says.
"She's also not afraid to take it. She keeps telling me to hit her harder. It's been fun."
While she admits it's "frustrating that you can't actually take a hit or actually hit someone", Stewart did give the Huntsman, played by Chris Hemsworth, an accidental black eye with an enthusiastic hook during one scene.
Hemsworth, 28, cut his teeth on Australian soapie Home and Away and found fame with blockbuster Thor.
Stewart, whose mother grew up on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, bonded with Hemsworth over their Aussie connection.
"He is a comforting presence," Stewart says. "I know his type, that sounds weird, but we speak to each other very easily."
The film's director, Rupert Sanders, says he cast Hemsworth because he is "an incredible actor" with "a great screen presence".
Despite her strong tie to the Twilight franchise - made even more awkward by rumours that Snow White and the Huntsman will have a sequel - Stewart was always first choice for the lead, Sanders says.
"Obviously everyone knew about Kristen. She was someone we wanted to meet," Sanders says, standing outside one of his 30 astounding sets.
"We started, as you do in these things, looking around.
"(The film's producer) Joe (Roth) had just made Alice in Wonderland, where he had found a new actress (Mia Wasikowska) and we felt there was something very innocent and pure about finding someone with no other roles that you associate them with.
"But when we went to meet Kristen it was a very simple, done deal.
Yes, you are the one."
Coincidentally the unknown actor they turned down for the role, Lily Collins - the raven-haired daughter of Phil Collins - was cast as Snow White in the rival Mirror, Mirror.
It seems a brave move by Universal to hire the untested Sanders to take the helm of the rumoured $100 million Snow White and the Huntsman.
But based on his mesmerising portfolio of commercials for Nike, Call of Duty and Guinness, Sanders has been heralded as Hollywood's next big action director.
Based on the trailer, his version of Snow White is a visual feast.
Sixty per cent was shot in real locations, including a deserted Welsh beach and some woodland in London's Queen's Park.
The sets, including the evil queen's milk bath and a snow-covered woodland, are breathtakingly real.
"There's quite a lot you're nervous about when you start a project of this scale," Sanders admits.
"I wanted to create a world where this all felt tangible and it didn't feel like fantasy but felt real."
He adds that his mantra throughout the project was to make a film "that means something" and is true to the original, seven-page story.
"People think Snow White is Disney," Sanders says.
"Disney really made the Grimm's fairy tale very family orientated.
"But it is a very dark story about so many deeper issues that were never in the Disney version.
"It's like a biblical tale almost, with a lot of messages and hidden meanings.
"It's a story that is as resonant today as it was when it was first recorded."
Snow White and the Huntsmen opens June 21
Source => Herald Sun / Via => Kristen Stewart News