Emma Stone on How Disney Made ‘Cruella’ Unlike Any Origin Story

Cruella is the latest live-action adaptation from Disney, and it’s a “surprisingly dark, multilayered tale that will surely entertain older audiences.” Cruella de Vil has always been one of the more sinister villains from Disney canon (literally wanting to skin cute puppies), although a big-budget origin story aimed more at older audiences with heavier themes is probably the last thing fans expected from the House of Mouse. Especially after the two previous very family-friendly, live-action iterations of 101 Dalmatians. But as we just found out from Emma Stone, the titular star herself, this was always Disney’s plan with Cruella.

Emma Stone is without a doubt the biggest draw-in for Cruella. The Oscar-winning actress has a career that speaks for itself, and to no surprise, she “completely transforms into the ruthless villain persona.” Cruella, in a few ways, is a curve ball coming from the giant studio. Not many were expecting a new interpretation of such a staple Disney character to be so defiant, yet recognizable. During the global press conference for the film, Stone walked us through how this vision came to be, but more importantly, how it was rarely skewed. She starts by praising director Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya) and writer Tony McNamara (The Favourite)…

“[Disney] really let Craig and Tony write and make what they wanted to make. I think it’s definitely dark for a Disney movie. Maybe not like a really intense kind of R-rated film, but yeah, it was darker than I’ve seen for a Disney movie in a good long time.”

She continues by acknowledging the fact that this isn’t the first villain origin story of recent. For months, many moviegoers have been drawing comparisons to 2019’s Joker. These connections are surface level at best, only in that they’re the origins of iconic villains who both happen to dress in colorful outfits. Stone elaborated that she didn’t tackle Cruella de Vil in a more traditional sense, with her being a huge villain in mind. In fact, she didn’t initially see her as evil at all…

“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 don’t think so. They think they’re right… I mean, who walks in thinking, I’m the bad guy! It doesn’t really make sense for playing a human being.”

Stone’s methods fall in line with her entire journey to landing this role, which wasn’t as simple or clear-cut as you may think. She had been long in talks with Disney on the part, but as the studio likes to slate their schedules ahead of time, Stone had been given extra leeway. However, this time proved to be existential, as she revealed how the project went through multiple rewrites up until the point where it almost got stuck in development, as unfortunately seen with other recent Disney passion projects (still waiting on that Haunted Mansion movie)…

“It wasn’t as straightforward as getting a call to play Cruella. It was six years ago. I mean, it was long before we shot the movie. There was sort of an idea. You know, Disney has all this IP, all these characters that they have, and there are some brainstorms. It was a process of about four years and different writers and different things were brought to the table.

It really felt [at one point] like we might not ever really make the movie of Cruella, because even though she’s such a fun and interesting character, what world would we all want to explore her in that would really make sense and make a good film, that didn’t feel shoehorned into this character?”

Emma Stone in ‘Cruella’ courtesy of Disney

Luckily, with the hand of Craig Gillespie and Tony McNamara, the team managed to find this specific world. Starting in the late ’60s in London, and then moving into the ’70s, Cruella uses the pivotal Punk movement as a vessel for its title character’s rebellion. The ideas of rewriting class norms and spitting at the face of your out-of-tune superiors fit right at home with a fashion designer looking to mold “the future” of style and etiquette. The film uses Punk to thrust Cruella into the unexpected, leading to a narrative tone much more taboo for a modern Disney film. Stone explains how this setting allowed for something more unexpected…

“Putting her in the ’70s and she’s as much as she is Cruella from 101 Dalmatians, she’s not also because you’ve taken this character and you’ve created this whole new story for her, with fun nods to 101 Dalmatians and all that. I think once Craig and Tony came on board, it really started to fly and get very exciting.”

Perhaps the biggest concern many fans had with this film, is the idea of Hollywood glorying another villain on a pedestal. This conversation usually comes up with such films (ironically, it dominated the lead-up to Joker), but what matters the most is how the film itself translates these ideas. Many have already taken precaution against Cruella, bringing up how the character always originally wanted to skin puppies, and even though Stone’s goal in the film has nothing to do with dogs, the character still has this uphill hill to climb.

But against all odds, “The film never tries to make one fully sympathize with her or make her redeemable in any form. In doing so, it avoids the fears many had when this origin story was first announced.” A rare feat that not all villain origin stories can pull off. Before Stone’s time to speak was over, she made sure to echo this same notion. The film may be full of vibrant and thrilling moments, but she makes clear that Cruella is never meant to be fully or intentionally idolized in the film.

“This isn’t necessarily an aspirational character, so to speak, except for in the fact that she’s really harnessing her creativity and in a very strong way, and she’s learning to accept that who she is in her nature does win in the end.

You know, the original character of Cruella de Vil does get to some pretty dark places, and I wouldn’t necessarily call those a positive.”

“Uniquely, Cruella sets a new standard for Disney live-action films,” and will surely be right up the alley of fans familiar with both Disney and Emma Stone. Disney is looking to continue their push for more live-action adaptations, (Lilo & Stitch, Robin Hood, The Sword in the Stone, and more all currently in the works), so it’s assuring to see that some will be willing to take more adventurous risks and be more definitive from the rest. See where Cruella lands in your favor this week.

Cruella debuts in theaters and on Disney+ Premiere Access May 28

Read our review: Emma Stone Breaks the Disney Mold

Follow writer A. Felicia Wade on Twitter: @becomingfelicia

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