In anticipation of the June 11 release of Disney’s Oz the Great and Powerful on Blu-ray and DVD, actors James Franco and Rachel Weisz discussed their roles in the film in a Q&A. Here are some of the highlights of the interview, which was originally published at Cinelinx.com (you can read the full Q&A here ).
Q: Is it true that you trained with acclaimed Las Vegas magician Lance Burton in order to tackle the role of Oscar Diggs?
Franco: That’s very true. We shot the movie in Detroit and they hired Lance Burton to come out and train me there. [Oz The Great And Powerful director] Sam Raimi was very insistent that I have two weeks of magic training, so I went to Detroit two weeks early in order to do that.
Q: What magic tricks did you learn?
Franco: Lance taught me a lot of tricks, so I got to the point where I could materialize doves out of nowhere. I start with a flame in my hand and then I turn it into a dove. Or I take off my gloves and I turn them into a dove. I also know a ‘rabbit out of the hat’ trick and other things like that. I did all that work and then the scenes that were going to feature the magic tricks turned out to be too long, so they were quickly cut from the finished movie. We never got to see them on the big screen.
Q: What does the fantasy genre mean to you?
Franco: The first movie that I can remember seeing in theaters was Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal. I guess I liked it so much that my parents kept taking us back to see it over and over again. I saw it many times in the theater, so that maybe started the ball rolling for me with fantasy. Soon after that, my father read The Hobbit to me, and that was one of the main books that started my love of reading. That’s what got me reading the Oz books of Frank L. Baum, on which this movie is based. If we are talking about fantasy books, those were the two things that really sparked my imagination: the Oz books and the Tolkien books. It all started from there.
Q: What did you enjoy the most about working with the various witches of Oz: Theodora, played by Mila Kunis; Evanora, played by Rachel Weisz, and Glinda, played by Michelle Williams?
Franco: It was great because they all played very different witches, so the scenes that I played with all of them were all very different. With Mila’s character, Theodora, I play more of a seducer and charmer. Rachel’s character is trying to dupe me, so I play a little bit more of a fool or a buffoon with her. And then with Michelle’s character, Glinda, it’s more of a straightforward romance. It was nice to have that variety.
Q: How would you describe your female co-stars?
Franco: I got to work with three of the best actresses working today, which was very exciting. They are all very different actresses, and they all played very different parts. But one thing I can say about them all is the fact that they are very good at doing research and background on their characters. I think Michelle read most of the books and did a bunch of research that really manifested itself in her scenes. She was very focused on detail. And with Rachel, we only had one or two scenes together, but she was very good at improvising and looking for alternative takes once we’d got the scripted scene down.
Q: The sets created for the movie are incredibly impressive, but there was also a lot of blue screen work. Do you prefer to work on movies where you have to use your imagination and blue screen? Or do you prefer the ultra-realistic work of movies like 127 Hours?
Franco: I don’t prefer one or the other. I don’t think like that. When I look at a new film project, I don’t say, “Oh, I love independent films. That’s the only time I get to do what I truly love.” And I don’t say, “I only want to do big budget films.” I just think about what one wants to achieve with the film. With this film, half of the movie is a fantastical world that needs to be created in a particular way that costs a lot of money, so this movie needed to be made by a big studio. I was really happy and excited to be involved with it. I think it’s great.
Q: You’re an actor, a producer, a writer, a director and a teacher… Is there anything left for you to conquer in the entertainment industry?
Franco: There’s always more to learn. I guess it would be cool to write a play one day. I love the theater and I love going to plays, so that might be good for me. I’ve only acted in small theaters in Los Angeles, but I like acting on stage in front of live audiences, so that would also be great. Who knows what’s next? I’ll guess we’ll just have to wait and see…
Q: What attracted you to the role of Evanora in Oz The Great And Powerful?
Weisz: When I first read the script, I immediately thought that the character was incredibly fun. She has no conscience and she has a lot of fun being bad. I thought that was a delicious idea. I really loved the way she was an old-fashioned bad girl.
Q: What else attracted you to the role?
Weisz: I’m also a big Sam Raimi fan. I think he’s got a really lovely imagination and his movies have great warmth. Plus, I wanted to do something different. I’ve done a lot of intense, very realistic and grounded projects – but this was something new.
Q: How would you describe Sam Raimi as a director?
Weisz: Sam is very gentle. He’s very kind, very childlike and paternal. He’s got a really beautiful imagination and he’s also mischievous. He’s really delightful to work with, and I think everyone will say that. He’s a lovely man.
Q: Sam has described you as a woman with the strength and power to run a country, which is one of the reasons why he cast you as Evanora in the movie. What do you think of his description?
Weisz: Dream on, Mr. Raimi! I don’t know what to say to that. I’m an actor, so I’m just a daydreamer. I think I would do pretty poorly at running a country. I can just about run a household. That’s about it.
Q: How much fun did you have playing the role of an evil witch?
Weisz: It was really fun to play someone who loves being bad. She’s more than mean; she’s evil. She’s really, really, really nasty and Machiavellian. She’s an egomaniac, a narcissist – and a pathological liar. The meaner she is, the more pleasure she gets.
Q: What research did you undertake in order to tackle such an evil role?
Weisz: I didn’t do any research at all for this film. Zilch, zero, none. I just tapped into my own bad girl.
Q: Do you have to learn new skills as an actor to work on such a big-scale green screen project like this?
Weisz: No, it’s just like being a child again. You just have to imagine that there’s a big pile of gold over there. It’s not that hard. That’s what my job is: to believe things. I believe I’m a witch. I believe I can see a big pile of gold. It’s all simply make believe.
Q: What do you think of the costumes of the movie?
Weisz: I love them. The costumes were a huge part of this movie and that was something completely new to me. I’m used to movies where I wear jeans and a T-shirt, but this had extravagant outfits with feathered collars where I end up looking like a shimmery bird of prey. It was amazing.
Q: Is there a big fantasy aspect to walking a red carpet?
Weisz: Totally. It’s totally like Oz and The Emerald City! There’s not the yellow brick road, but there’s a red carpet.
Q: Do you enjoy walking the red carpet?
Weisz: As long as you know that it’s not real life. It’s fairytale. It’s the stuff of dreams. It’s just hair, makeup and fashion. It’s dressing up.
Q: Was the 1939 movie The Wizard Of Oz a significant part of your childhood?
Weisz: Yes, it was. My mom took me to see the movie. In fact, I vividly remember going to the cinema to see it. It was very beautiful, but really frightening – especially the witches. I’ll never ever forget the first time I saw it. It was burned into my mind.
Q: Why do you remember it so vividly?
Weisz: I was probably 5 years old, but I only remembered the scary bits. The storm, when it’s in black and white, and then the witches. It’s one of the most seminal, terrifying film experiences I have ever had. I could never forget how scary those witches were.
Q: In general, do you have a preference for working on independent dramas or big budget blockbusters?
Weisz: My taste is more independent movies, but I couldn’t film two or three movies like The Deep Blue Sea back to back. Additionally doing a big movie helps you finance passion projects.
Q: When you look back at your career, did you ever imagine you’d be here today with such a long list of acclaimed movies to your name?
Weisz: When I first started acting, I really didn’t know what my path would be. When I shot The Mummy, I didn’t know that that was going to be the film I’d be most remembered for. You never know what anything is going to become or what anything will be until afterwards.
Disney’s Oz the Great and Powerful will be out June 11 on 3D Blu-ray, 2D Blu-ray, and DVD from retail outlets including Amazon.com.
Victor Medina is a staff writer for Cinelinx.com. His other writing credits include The Dallas Morning News, SportsIllustrated.com, and Examiner.com. His website is VictorMedina.com.