Credit: Araya Diaz/

The Pretty Woman has turned into a wicked one.

Production began Monday in Montreal on the first movie in Hollywood’s Great Snow White Derby ’11, Relativity Media’s comedy-fantasy starring Julia Roberts as the Evil Queen, Armie Hammer as the prince, and Lily Collins as the apple-biting heroine.

A rival movie, Snow White and the Huntsman, starring Kristen Stewart, Thor‘s Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron as the queen, begins shooting later this year, and each film has been shifting release dates in a bid to debut first. (Roberts’ movie was originally slated for next summer, and Theron’s movie was heading for the following holidays, until the Theron picture’s producers announced it would come out June 1, 2012, which led the Roberts version to leap ahead to March 16, 2012.)

During pre-production, Tarsem Singh (the surrealist director of The Cell, The Fall and the upcoming mythological action-adventure The Immortals) shared details of the Julia Roberts version with EW.

Below, read why he chose America’s Sweetheart to play a monster, how fiery the rivalry is getting with the other movie, and why dwarfs make life “difficult”:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What made you think Julia Roberts would make a good bad-guy?

TARSEM SINGH: She’s the obvious choice of being goody-two-shoes, and I didn’t want an Evil Queen in the sense that already existed. In earlier versions, always it was mothers — mothers of the child. And then the Brothers Grimm came along, and said we’ve got to make it more family friendly and turn the mother into a stepmother, which I find really bizarre because most stepmothers are pretty great. I said, “It can’t be an evil, quintessential queen. I’m looking for a likable evil queen.” I couldn’t think of anybody who is more of a likable evil queen than her.

Is she Snow White’s mother?

No. She’s the stepmother, but other films are all about narcissism. Who’s more beautiful than the other? This one is more of a power struggle. She wants power, and beauty is just a part of that.

You chose Roberts before casting the other roles. Why her first?

We might have said, “Snow White first,” but no — the Queen comes first.… I just went about this in, I guess, the wrong way because it’s called Snow White. [Laughs] I just said, “What I want is the Queen, because that dictates how old Snow White is.” There’s a lot of banter between the prince and the queen and the person who is Snow White. So I knew the tough situation there was, if I went with Snow White, and went really young with her, and I got a queen who was much older, it would be really hard to play a comedy love-triangle with the prince because he could come off as pedophilic on one side and Oedipal on the other. So I knew the key was the Queen. Choose the Queen — that will dictate the Snow White.

A wave of fairy-tale movies was launched after Alice in Wonderland became a worldwide hit. But why do you think Snow White has triggered two movies simultaneously?

It’s such an iconic name. Everybody just always thought this was not public domain, but now everyone is coming to the correct conclusion that it’s not owned by anybody. And that’s kind of the hammer that dropped on everybody’s head together. Suddenly you find all these films coming out.

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

This folktale has been retold many ways over the centuries. Yours is aiming more at humor, and theirs seems more action-oriented. Is it possible to make two entirely different movies from the same source material?

I will bet you if you changed the name Snow White, all of the films coming out trying to be Snow White could exist in the same market. But everybody is going for that iconic name, thus it sounds like everybody is making the same film.

Are you confident there will be appetite for both?

Fortunately or unfortunately, there really, truly is only room for the first one of these. Two Snow White movies do not exist in this market. So for me, if you’re not first with this one, you’re not in the game. I made that very clear from the beginning to Relativity.

Is there an element you find particularly intriguing from visual perspective?

I think the visual thing that interested me the most was to do a 3-D movie in snow.

How about The Seven Dwarfs?

The Seven Dwarfs are more of a handicap than anything. Everybody has a different take on dwarfs. Dwarfs are funny/they’re not funny. Dwarfs are creepy/they’re not creepy. Kids like them/kids don’t like them. So I have to have a take on that. Dwarfs are not the thing that make the film easy. They make it difficult. Do you take [regular sized] people and shrink them? That’s been talked about for a very long time. [NOTE: Singh ultimately decided to use actual little-people actors for the characters.]

Is there a specific title for your film?

Right now, I don’t think so. It could be Snow White and the Something Something. [Laughs] Or it might be Something Something Snow White.

For more fairest-of-them-all coverage, follow EW’s Anthony Breznican on Twitter: @Breznican

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