Cruella: Emma Stone and Emma Thompson on Disney going deliciously Devil-ish
NAME A MORE pleasurable activity that being party to a conversation between Emma Stone and Emma Thompson and we’ll give you a million dirhams right here, right now. Nope, we won’t hear anything to the contrary. These two powerhouses of cinema alone are always a delight, but together: a force of nature. Arguably both known for playing lighter, more amiable roles, the duo come to us this week in Disney’s origin story Cruella the early life tale of one of the stable’s most notorious villains, Cruella de Vil from 101 Dalmatians.
Predominantly set in ‘70s London against a burgeoning punk background, Stone portrays the young aspiring clothes designer Estella, while Thompson inhabits The Baroness: couturier and owner of Britain’s largest fashion house. Living on the fringes of society after being orphaned as a child, by day Estella cleans in the English capital’s fanciest department store and at night helps flat mates Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) in their criminal enterprises by stitching elaborate costumes.
An impromptu spot of rebellious window dressing at her place of employment after being given her marching orders puts Estella on The Baroness’ radar and she is able to retire the mop and bucket for scissors and fabric. When a dark secret at the hands of The Baroness is exposed, however, the calmer Estella retreats into the shadows and alter ego Cruella is permitted to come out and play. Cruella then looks to dominate the tabloids with her avant-garde flair causing The Baroness to resort to her ugly modus operandi when it comes to any sniff of competition. Imagine The Devil Wears Prada meets Joker and you sort of get the picture. Seriously! It may be Disney and there are funny and sweet moments, but you’re going to be surprised just how much there is for every type of audience.
We caught up with the delightful pair over a Zoom conference last week to talk about the film.
Were you surprised at how deliciously dark Disney allowed this movie to get?
Stone: I was. I think it’s definitely dark for a Disney movie. Maybe not for a really intense R-rated film, but it was darker than I’ve seen a Disney movie for a good long time.
The Baroness is new to this universe and she is both fabulous and a living nightmare. What was that process like creating her?
Thompson: Oh, well, you know I drew on life, obviously. I mean, I think if my husband were in the room, he’d say: “No acting required.” I had such fun doing her because I’ve been asking for quite a number of years if I could be a proper villain. One of the things I really enjoyed hating about her was the fact that she didn’t eat. I don’t trust people who don’t eat. After decades spent playing what my mother used to call, “good women in frocks”, now I get to play a really evil woman in a frock.
What are the nuts and bolts of wearing those unbelievable fashion creations?
Thompson: My underwear was like a sort of ship’s rigging! Stone, because she’s slender as a lily, didn’t need to wear a corset like a whalebone aria. I had wigs as well, so I was a great deal taller than I’m used to being. I used to have to move in and out of spaces sideways.
What was the craziest outfit you wore as Cruella?
Stone: My very favourite outfit that was absolutely ludicrous was a dress that I wear on the garbage truck because there was a 40-foot train that initially looks like dumped rubbish. And that wasn’t attached to the dress, because I wouldn’t be able to move anywhere, so they added that onto the dress at the last minute when we drive away. It was just phenomenal; nothing you would ever be able to even remotely wear in real life.
There didn’t appear to be too much computer trickery in the film.
Stone: I love that, that it wasn’t a CGI movie. There had to be some with the dogs, but the real dogs were always on set. There were in as many scenes as we could possibly have and still have them be comfortable.
Thompson: And they were very sweet. So they had to CGI them to be a bit nasty.
Between Estella and Cruella, which character do you prefer?
Stone: It’s interesting because there is a sort of rejection of Estella that comes at a point. Estella is sweet, but not fully embodied. So I would say there is something about Cruella that’s pretty enticing. She is just who she is.
How did you approach the Baroness’ relationship with Estella?
Thompson: The Baroness is hardened, completely, and believes in the hardness. She thinks that’s the only way, and that’s what’s so unusual about her. I am very interested in the dark side of a female character because we’re so rarely allowed to be dark. We’re all supposed to nice and good, aren’t we? The Baroness is just so single-minded, and she says this wonderful thing: “If I hadn’t been single-minded, I might have had to put my genius at the back of the drawer,” like so many other women of genius who died without producing anything and without using their genius. Her commitment to her own creativity is admirable and difficult.
I found pretending to be mean horribly easy. I was very well brought up by a very kind and wonderful mum and dad. I was surrounded by lovely, kind people and my experience of people who were truly mean and narcissistic was quite rare. But there are quite a number of them in show business. Mentioning no names. Some of those people have come to light recently.
Growing up, were you a fan of 101 Dalmatians?
Stone: I loved the cartoon of 101 Dalmatians. I especially loved that the dogs looked like their owners. I always thought that was so funny. And I remember as a kid trying to see if dogs did in fact look like their owners, and a lot of times, they did. I thought Cruella back then was such a fun character.
What was it like being in 1970s England?
Thompson: Well, yeah, it was like being a teenager again because I was born in 1959, for crying out loud! It was surreal because I had actually worn some of those clothes you see. I think some of the supporting artists were in my old gear. We all wore Afghan coats and clogs and smocks and cheesecloth and maxi skirts and wet look boots, and all this stuff. It was also very touching because the red London buses are very different now. But when I was a little girl, they were like they are in the film. We had one on set with the same number that brought me into town from where I lived, which is where I still live, because I’m weird. It was the same bus, the 159.