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Designing ‘Cruella’: Cinema’s Most Stylish Antihero

Emma Stone as Cruella in Disney’s live-action CRUELLA. Photo by Laurie Sparham. © 2021 Disney Enterprises Inc. All Rights Reserved

It takes a village to raise a child. It takes even more than that to create a villainess. For Cruella the origin story of one of their most iconic characters, Cruella de Vil, the team at Disney had their hands full. Not only did they need to create the backstory for the villain, they had to build her world. Director Craig Gillespie pulled no punches, working along with a massive team of talented artisans to bring the style and streets of 70’s London to life.

The setting was the perfect place for this fashion-minded, grift-running character who is dealing with a bit of an identity crisis. Her world required much more than paint-by-number flashbacks – it had to be saturated with the feel of a cut throat fashion world, life on the wrong side of the tracks and even a luxury palatial living. It is part high-end fashion, part punk rock, and head to toe style.

Awards Radar recently got to sit in with a conversation with some of the talented people behind the film. Academy Award-winning stars, Emma Stone and Emma Thompson, director Craig Gillespie and several of the key artisans (Jenny BeavanCostume Designer, Nadia StaceyHair & Makeup, and Fiona CrombieProduction Designer) spoke about some of the goals, challenges and inspiration involved with bringing the Cruella back to the big screen after a twenty-one year absence. Below are some of the the most interesting excerpts of those discussions.

Emma Stone as Cruella in Disney’s live-action CRUELLA.



CREATING CRUELLA

Bringing Cruella’s origin story to screen was a long process, one that needed a strong vision that would not only entertain, but would also stay true to the character.

EMMA STONE: It was a process of about four years, different writers and things were brought to the table. It really felt like we might not ever make the movie of Cruella, because even though she’s such a fun and interesting character, what world would we want-all want to explore her in that would really make sense and make a good film, um, that didn’t feel shoehorned into this character.


CRAIG GILLESPIE:
Villains are always so fun to portray, because you have more license to do things that aren’t quite appropriate or push the boundaries, and create these larger-than-life characters. It was really important to me that it was not black and white. Obviously, no pun intended there with Cruella. But I wanted there to be this gray area and be able to empathize with the choices that she was making. I wanted to do it in a way that was really fun. The amazing thing with Cruella is that any time you’re doing a heightened character, there is this sort of journey of discovery to sort of find where that balance is for how far to go with that character.



TELLING STORIES THROUGH FASHION

Emma Stone as Cruella in Disney’s live-action CRUELLA. Photo by Laurie Sparham. © 2021 Disney Enterprises Inc. All Rights Reserved.


The film has some of the most spectacular costumes in recent memory. Inspired by decades of fashion history. The film had a mind-boggling 277 costumes – 47 of those were for Cruella/Estella and 33 for The Baroness. One dress alone used 393 meters of organza fabric. Even more incredible are the results on screen.

FIONA CROMBIE: We got to really enjoy palettes. You know, like really having those moments where, you know, the first ball had a very particular palette with the pastels. And then we have the white ball. And then we have the Viking gala. All of these things had very distinct palettes.

JENNY BEAVAN:
In case people get the wrong impression, I’m not a fashion designer, I’m a storyteller with clothes. In fact, in my real life, I have no interest in clothes. I just love telling stories with them. So for me, that was just brilliant. I mean, there with these beautifully written characters that you could just get your teeth into. And, The Baroness is actually terribly clear once you get into that mindset of who she is and where her influences came from and her current situation.


NADIA STACEY:
And so, when she first starts arriving to these red carpet moments, there’s a kind of mask-like quality in all the makeups as well, because it’s-she has to disguise herself. So, I needed the difference to be huge between the two looks. I needed to keep Estella quite simple so that we had to go somewhere big for Cruella. Jenny Beavan was asked what the biggest inspiration was behind Cruella de Vil’s design?

JENNY BEAVAN: Oh my goodness. I think she comes out of the script, actually and the story. Because we know where she ends up, about 15 years later as Glenn Close, obviously. So that was definitely in my mind – it had to just be possible that this character could become that character. I think the inspirations were various because she’s so diverse in all her different looks. And people have spoken of the punk things. I just looked at so much stuff. And then out of it, you kind of pull what appears to be the narrative thread.

One of the most memorable of scenes needs to be seen to be believed. It involves Cruella wearing a ravishing, long-flowing dress she use to make the grandest of red carpet entrances with the help of the most unlikely of vehicles (mild spoiler) a garbage truck.

Behind the scenes of Disney’s live-action CRUELLA. Photo by Laurie Sparham. © 2021 Disney Enterprises Inc. All Rights Reserved.

CRAIG GILLESPIE: Somebody came up with this idea of her turning up with a trash truck. It felt like a very appropriately aggressive thing for Cruella to do. And it came from a place where they (Cruella and her crime team) were always scamming. It was something they could get their hands on. And we-we hung a 60-foot train on wires behind her on this-on the-back of a garbage truck and drove down the street of London there.

JENNY BEAVAN:
Yeah, bang in the middle of Central London. It was marvelous. I’m pretty sure we didn’t have a double of that. We just had the one.


EMMA STONE: My very, very favorite outfit, that was absolutely ludicrous, was the dress that I wear on the garbage truck, because there was a 40-foot train. And, that wasn’t attached to the dress, because obviously I wouldn’t be able to move anywhere, so they added that onto the dress at the last minute when I get onto the garbage truck to shoot that part. And it was just phenomenal. Nothing you would ever be able to even remotely wear in real life.


EMMA THOMPSON: And then the garbage truck, when it drove off, that thing of the material doing that amazing sort of snakelike thing actually happens. I mean, that was all real, and I love that about that as well, that it wasn’t the CGI movie.

Emma Stone as Cruella in Disney’s live-action CRUELLA. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2021 Disney Enterprises Inc. All Rights Reserved.


BUILDING CRUELLA’S WORLD

The challenges came not only with the costume design but also with creating over one hundred diverse locations that needed to correctly capture the look and feel of the era.

FIONA CROMBIE: I think the biggest challenge was actually the number sets. We were very busy. There were 120-odd sets to-to do across the course of the shoot. Some of them are enormous. And some of them are tiny, like little rooms. But, I think one of the things that I’m most pleased about with the film is the level of detail in every single one of those sets. I understood very early on the ambition with how the film was gonna be shot. Which was very much 360 (degrees). We were gonna see absolutely everything. And so that was-that meant that every corner, and we just needed to have every little piece of detail in place.

FINDING THE CHARACTERS WITHIN THE ACTORS

For the film’s opening, Gillespie needed to find just the right person to play young Estella/Cruella and boy did they find her in Tipper Seifert-Cleveland.

CRAIG GILLESPIE:
We did a pretty exhaustive search in London looking for that. And Tipper really had that sort of spunk that we were looking for. That sort of defiance and that conviction to her beliefs. That was really critical for this child growing up in a system that didn’t allow for that in the ’60s. And, just that fire in her eyes that was really critical to find that and be able to translate that to when she grows up. So I was thrilled with everything that Tipper brought to the party.

EMMA STONE: I don’t think I would ever be able to play a character if I truly thought, like, oh, they’re just bad, they’re just a villain. Do you think anybody evil walks through the world thinking they’re evil? I mean, I don’t think so. I think they think they’re right.

Cruella is raised on the streets as a trio of small time thieves played by Joel Fry (Jasper) and Paul Walter Hauser (Horace), they provide not only some of the films best comedic moments but also a sense of family for Cruella – a dysfunctional one, but still family.

Tipper Seifert-Cleveland as young Estella in Disney’s live action CRUELLA. Photo by Laurie Sparham. © 2021 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

CRAIG GILLESPIE: When he’s (Hauser) doing his humor, you feel this sort of the human being underneath it, and the pain where that humor might be coming from – what it’s deflecting, what he’s hiding. He gets to do all those layers with his humor. And then Joel (Fry) is so accessible, and has such a big heart. He was the heart of the show. He was sort of the-the moral compass for Cruella, and he would call her on it, in a sort of a brotherly way. That dynamic between the three of them really worked beautifully. I’d give them room to improvise and they could play off of each other so well. They’re all so talented that way. So it really made it feel effortless and natural to have them in the room together. When it comes to being a villain, it may be tough to believe but, Cruella is given a run for her money by a new character called The Baroness – played by screen legend, Emma Thompson.

EMMA THOMPSON:
I suppose the Baroness is a mixture of all kinds of people. Venal, she’s quite venal, but her greed is really just for herself. It’s like she can’t bear anyone else to succeed in any way. She has to destroy all the competition, instead of thinking that the competition might bring her game up, might make her better. She appears and presents as this very strong personality, but in fact, she’s very weak, and contains the inevitable seeds of her own destruction, because she can’t, acknowledge talent in any other person. So when she finally sees someone who’s not only, talented, but actually more talented than her, and younger and more beautiful than her, she finds it very difficult indeed. And of course, I found it very difficult being with (Emma) Stone, who’s more beautiful, young, talented, et cetera. But I swallowed my bitterness and I dealt with it. Mostly through drinking negronis, one after the other, late into the night.

Emma Thompson as the Baroness and Andrew Leung as Jeffrey in Disney’s live-action CRUELLA. Photo by Laurie Sparham. © 2021 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

THE WICKEDLY ENJOYABLE SOUNDTRACK

With all the amazing performances, beautifully intricate sets, extravagant costumes, and lavish makeup & hair – it would seem impossible to fit more style into the film, but they do with some of the most perfect needle drops. The soundtrack is one that certainly has earned numerous fans. This was no accident.

CRAIG GILLESPIE: I actually designed the movie knowing we’re gonna have music. So, you have to design shots that give space for music. And then very often on the set, I’ll be putting 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, that, I threw on the day that we were shooting it and it never changed.

As fascinating as these stories are, what actually appears on screen is much more impressive. In our review, we called it “sinfully playful ride that crackles with style.” We recommend you catch our new favorite antihero in theaters or on Disney+ Premier Access then come back to give us your take.

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