Beware the unloved.
If there is a lesson to be learned about the cruelest among us, it might be that one. Most villains, when you find them in real life, are born from pain, and pour it back on the world to keep from drowning in it. A few are heartless sociopaths who derive their power from persecution, and care about nothing else in the world but their own force of will.
And some are just mad they didn’t get a party invitation.
Consider Disney’s Maleficent in this latter category. Unhinged, and irrational. Or at least, she was.
For all her sophisticated grace and simmering seductiveness, for all the bombastic magic she wields at her razor fingertips, the thing that really grinds her horns, both in the Brothers Grimm folk tale and in 1959’s animated Sleeping Beauty, is not being welcome at the christening of the king’s newborn daughter, Princess Aurora. But she shows up anyway, pet crow in tow, mad enough to curse a baby.
As monstrous motivations go, it’s pretty thin. So credit her enduring appeal mainly to the elegant design of the late Marc Davis, one of Disney’s original “Nine Old Men” animators (who also brought Tinker Bell, Cinderella, and Cruella De Ville to life) and the icy purr of voice actress Eleanor Audley (who previously was Cinderella’s wicked stepmother.) Plus, Maleficent turned into a badass dragon who breathes green fire. Her status as one of the best of Disney’s worst is a triumph of pure style. And maybe her shallow reasoning made her seem a little more evil. She attacked that infant over nothing, man.
But the evolution of folk tales is never complete, and on May 30th a new $200 million, PG-rated version of the Sleeping Beauty story – titled simply Maleficent — will fill in the blanks on that wicked (and wickedly hot) evil fairy, with Angelina Jolie sporting the yellow eyes and ruby smile of the self-declared “Mistress of All Evil.” It turns out, there is a deeper agony at play than a social snub.
“What we wanted to do is not reinvent that character,” says director Robert Stromberg, the Oscar-winning production designer of James Cameron’s Avatar and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. In other words, this film isn’t trying to show Maleficent was secretly good all along, like the revisionist Wizard of Oz novel and musical Wicked. “Instead, we wanted to try and create layers of that character that you didn’t think existed,” Stromberg tells EW. “There are two sides to every story. This is about examining the other side. And once you ‘ve become dark, how much hard it is to see the light again.”
For his leading villainess, he has Jolie, 38, in perhaps the greatest casting since Danny DeVito played The Penguin (only just a tad sexier.) In the midst of editing Unbroken, the true-life tale of World War II heroism she has directed, she sat down with Entertainment Weekly for lunch on the Universal Studios lot to discuss good girls who go bad, the fun (and heartbreak) of menacing child visitors, and finding something to like about a woman who is loved by no one – maybe not even herself. While preoccupied with evil, Jolie also talked about doing some good in the world, speaking for the first time about the double mastectomy that likely saved her life – and perhaps many others.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When word came out you would be playing the role of Maleficent, people said: ‘Oh, she’s perfect for that!” So, is that a compliment or insult?
ANGELINA JOLIE: [Laughs] It is really funny when people say you’d be obvious for a great villain. She was just my favorite as a little girl. I was terrified of her but I was really drawn to her. I loved her. There were some discussions about it before I got the part, and I got a phone call from my brother who said “You got to get your name on the list for this!”
Were you like, “Geez, thanks a lot?” Or did you see it, too?
What’s interesting about her that what I do relate to, and what I think everyone relates to, is she’s not what you assume she is.
NEXT PAGE: Jolie on creating sympathy for the devil…