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Kevin Lima was scared to death when starting to direct Enchanted, but his instincts helped him make a film he is proud of – and makes him cry, he tells Buddy Wood.

Q: Did you know from the start that Enchanted was going to be a hit?
A: “No I was scared to death, because the movie was a very delicate organism to bring to life. I felt like all the pieces had to work perfectly together or else it was just going to be a disaster. You are juggling a comedy with a musical and some action adventure as well as 2D and 3D animation and a tone that is really delicate. I had to consider how to pay a loving homage to the material, but still have enough edge so that it did not come across too saccharine. Those were elements that I thought were in flux here and I did not know until I saw it with an audience, whether or not it was going to work. I kept thinking: ‘how are people going to react to this?’ Everybody around me was saying ‘it’s going to be great’ and I was Mr. Doomsday. I kept wondering ‘what if adult men hate it.’ My gut feeling was that it was good. Was I positive that I was doing the right thing? No you never are. I think I had an instinct telling me that tonally, the actors were right and that this was the way to do a wonderful homage to Disney, I knew those things but did not really know how all the pieces would fit together. You just hope and it really does come down to gut and instinct. Then seeing it with an audience was a real eye opener because everyone loved it. ”

Q: When did you sense that you had created something special?
A: “I really sensed it when I was standing in the lobby after a screening and the audience came out and they were all happy. I have never made a movie where the audience was that happy at the end and vocal about the film, expressing their feelings. They were singing songs from the film and then I thought ‘this could be something special’ because the whole goal of the movie was to make something that was joyful. How do you make a piece of entertainment that families can go to see, that adults and kids and grandparents and teenagers can all watch together and everybody can get something out of it? How do you make a great contemporary Disney film? How do I create the experience of joy that you get in Mary Poppins, how do I create a modern day Mary Poppins?”

Q: What do you think distinguishes it from other Disney classics?
A: “What’s great about it is that now you have an alternative Disney film. You can still go back and watch Snow White and enjoy it, Enchanted does not diminish those stories, but now you have a film with a different point of view. You can say: you know what? You can pursue what you want. If you want that guy, you can go after him and maybe you will get him, maybe you will live happily ever after. Or maybe you could start a business and live happily ever after in a different way. It gives you different options.”

Q: Can you talk about the casting of the main characters?
A: “It all started with Amy. There was casting going on for other characters but I thought I am not going to make any other decisions until I have found Giselle. And I saw 300 girls for the role. I did not want to hire a star, because I wanted you to believe in Giselle as an innocent creature. I didn’t want you to think about the DUI (driving under the influence charge) that happened the night before (in the way you do about some famous stars). I didn’t want the media to infringe upon the character. It was a bit like perhaps the first time you saw Splash, or the first time you saw Pretty Woman. With those films you invested in the characters first and then discovered the actors. That was really the goal. Amy’s film Junebug had come out when I was casting, but I hadn’t seen it. There was no Oscar nomination yet for her. I saw other girls but no one right and I said: ‘I am not making this movie without the right girl. I do not have a girl who I believe in.’ We were all very worried. I said ‘I will keep trying’. Then Amy walked into the room one morning. I was really sick on that day and she came in and lit up and I was so excited because she looked like a Disney princess to me.”

Q: In what way?
A: “She has a really simple way about her. She came in and personified innocence to me. She has those round eyes and fair skin and I said to myself: ‘please let her understand how to play this character.’ I wanted the character to be real, I didn’t want her to be a joke or caricature and she got it. She just became the character and in that moment I knew – ‘we can make this movie, we have Giselle’. Because Amy was not a star at that time. We decided that we would have stars in other roles such as Susan Sarandon and Patrick Dempsey.”

Q: Why Patrick Dempsey as Robert?
A: “We were thinking about a few other guys and I thought that Patrick Dempsey felt like a modern day Prince Charming. He had those qualities and that kind of wounded sensitivity that women love, they want to save him. It is actually a reverse of the whole princess concept. It is a reverse of the fairy tale and I thought, ‘aah maybe this can work for us’.”

Q: What about James Marsden as Prince Edward, he is very funny?

A: “I had seen him before I met Amy and he was great, then once I had Amy, I knew it was a great match.”

Q: And Susan Sarandon as Queen Narissa?
A: “Susan was interested in the movie long before I was involved. She had read it earlier and I knew she loved it and wanted to play the role and I just said ‘ok’. Who wouldn’t want Susan Sarandon in their movie? So I met with her and we talked about the character and how I felt the actors had to dedicate themselves to the existence of these characters and she just took it all on board. She enjoyed it and she loved being the hag. Her favourite part of making the movie was putting that makeup on and freaking everyone out.”

Q: What does she bring to the character?
A: “She was dedicated to the theatricality of the part. She was not afraid of the role. If you think about what I asked her to look like, she really looks like a drag queen. I had pictures for her to look at and I said: ‘this is what I am thinking’. And she stepped into those shoes which takes some guts to wear those costumes and live up to them.”

Q: How do you categorise or classify the film?
A: “It is simply a Disney movie. It has all the elements of a classic Disney film. It takes on the classic Disney structure and modernises it. If you break it down and you look at it, the placement of the songs are all classical in line with the Disney structure. The thematic idea is truly a Disney ideal: ‘if you believe in the joy that is in your heart you can live happily ever after’.”

Q: How do you direct your actors?

A: “It is different for everyone, because everyone has a different journey. You have a lot of different acting styles happening at the same time. For Amy we had discussions about the arc of her character, because I thought it was really important that she grow and evolve. I think Amy is amazing. She really anchors the film and makes it believable. Patrick was totally frustrated the whole time on the movie because he could not act over the top like the others and he wanted to play with all of them, because they were having a great time. His character was different, he was grounded and that caused a little bit of turmoil for him, because he didn’t know whether what he was doing was appropriate. There were two tones going on. He and I would talk about it a lot and I would tell him what he was doing was right, that it was right for him to act as a real person in contrast to all these cartoon characters. That was hard for him but he was great. I used to say to him: ‘trust the confusion, it’s all part of the character’.”

Q: What about James?
A: “I can tell you; both James and Amy came in fully formed. They knew what was needed. It was really just about guidance, they totally understood what they were doing, they loved Disney movies and they were living in the skin of the characters. I told them ‘lets go on a journey, let’s play’.”

Q: Was it very challenging directing the wonderful Park scene, when Amy bursts into song? It is delightful.
A: “I am glad it comes over that way because it was really hard. It was the hardest part of the movie to pull together because it has so many different moving parts. If you look at each section of it, it just goes to a new place with a whole new set of characters. I spent a lot of time at the very beginning of production working on the scene. I went out with my choreographer and we talked about everything – the settings and people. It has 150 dancers, 300 extras – there were screaming Patrick Dempsey fans (out of the shot) on the side the whole time we were filming. It was a really rainy month so we were in and out of the studio back and forth trying to get as much sunshine as we could. It took 7 days to shoot over a course of 17 days and it was tough. And the whole time I was being nagged by a worrying feeling, wondering whether or not it was going to work, to enchant real people in the real world, because it is really the only part of the movie where you completely step out of reality and something fantastic happens. I am thrilled with it though, it feels so effortless on the screen, it feels like it is happening in the moment.”

Q: Can you talk about the musical element which is central to the film?
A: “When I first read the script there was only one song in the movie at the very beginning. And I said ‘no if we are going to do an homage to Disney, I want to follow the structure of a typical Disney movie musically,’ so I added all the rest of the songs and the songs follow the arc of the growth of Giselle. They move forward. With the ballroom scene she becomes more human and by the end of the movie she is totally real. Everything in the movie was about supporting her evolution. The number in Central Park was all about her singing in the real world. Some people would find it ridiculous, on the other hand she enchants – as the title suggests. She enchants everyone she comes into contact with. She changes their lives.”

Q: Can you talk about Alan Menken’s contribution to the film?
A: “He has an incredible gift of writing a tune that just sticks in your head. I don’t know why, it’s one of those mystical things. His songs have a special quality. You hear ‘True Love’s Kiss’ and it somehow reminds you of Snow White. You have a reference point to accept the song. It was great working with Alan. He accepted me into his process. I have a great love of music and we collaborated well.”

Q: Can you talk about your move from animator to director?
A: “All my life I have had trouble doing one thing for any long period of time. But I have always been exploring different avenues. From a very early age I knew I wanted to be an animator. When I was five years old I knew that. Then I went on side journeys, I became a puppeteer and I was doing a lot of live performances. I became an animator and did all kinds of jobs at Disney Animation. I was a character designer; I was a storyboard artist. I had directed some community theater in the past and eventually I said: ‘I want to be a director’, I just said it to them and they said: ‘sorry Kev there are no directing deals here’. So I went away and then one day got called to direct The Goofy Movie. Then after directing Tarzan I was really proud and felt like I had made a very good Disney movie. I felt like it was an accomplishment, but decided I was going to take a big jump and I really wanted to make a live action Disney movie. Luckily Glenn Close, who was the voice of the mother ape in Tarzan, was encouraging and said to me: ‘you know what, you direct more like a live action director than an animation director. Have you ever thought about doing that?’ And it just happened that they were looking for a director for 102 Dalmatians and they called me. So I have Glenn to blame for my journey! (laughs) But it is interesting to keep growing, to be at the forefront of new technology, finding different ways and techniques to direct different stories.”

Q: Where will you go from here?
A: “I don’t really know, I am leaving it open. This movie means a lot for my career so I am waiting to see what happens. There are a couple of films I want to do. I have been talking with Disney about doing a film based on a comic from the early 1900s, which you may not be aware of called Little Nemo In Slumberland. It is a comic about a little boy who goes into a dream world. It is kind of like the reverse of what we did with Enchanted, taking a real person and putting him into an animated world. So we will see what happens.’

Q: Would you like to do an entirely different kind of project?
A: ‘I think about it everyday, I would love to do a drama that is emotional?

Q: Were you a big Disney fan as a child?

A: “I saw Jungle Book when I was five years old. My mom tells me in that moment I decided to be an animator. I have been drawing all my life and I cannot remember a time when I did not have a pencil in my hand to be quite honest with you. And she says I turned to her and said: ‘Mom I am going to draw Disney cartoons when I grow up’. I have a fondness for Jungle Book - that film really speaks to me. My mom would buy me the record albums and there was a sleeve on the inside and I would draw all the Disney characters. I was obsessed with them. I still have a couple of them. My Mom was very encouraging; she actually bought me a book on animation. I took to it so naturally. She didn’t know if my dream would ever come true, it was a big dream, but she always supported me. For me as an adult, the trick is to keep growing and evolving as an artist, but still be true to that dream – who I am and what I love. This film is part of my dream and I consider myself quite lucky that this movie came together the way it did and that audiences have been responding such a positive way. I am so happy.”

Q: You must be thrilled with Enchanted?
A: “I am thrilled, I am proud of the film, it makes me cry.”

Published: May 29, 2008

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Kevin Lima and Amy Adams on set


Princess Giselle (Amy Adams) is a fairytale princess about to be married to Prince Edward (James Marsden). But the evil queen (Susan Sarandon) thrusts her from her fantasy world to present day New York City, where she meets Robert (Patrick Dempsey), a handsome lawyer, who lives with his young daughter Morgan (Rachel Covey). Giselle quickly discovers that the reality of life and love are quite different from what she imagined. But in order to make her dreams come true, she needs to avoid the poisoned apple with which the queen’s henchman Nathanial (Timothy Spall) is trying to tempt her and avoid the wicked queen.

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