By Chancellor Agard
December 19, 2018 at 03:00 PM EST
Nicola Dove/Disney

Judi Dench′s physical transformation into a fairy police commander in Disney’s Artemis Fowl, which went beyond simply donning pointy ears, stunned director Kenneth Branagh.

“When we started to rehearse, she leant forward, and her shoulders stooped and her voice dropped, and then suddenly this gravelly, Churchillian, curmudgeonly figure started to emerge,” Branagh tells EW.

An adaptation of Eoin Colfer′s beloved book series, Artemis Fowl follows the titular 12-year-old criminal mastermind (Ferdia Shaw) as he starts a war with the old and secretive fairy world — and thus runs afoul (sorry!) of Dench′s Commander Root, the ill-tempered leader of the fairy police force, LEPrecon. Check out an exclusive first look at their battle of wits above.

Taken from the first scene the Dame shot for the fantasy film, the above still shows Root and her troops preparing to launch a siege on Fowl Manor. Unsurprisingly, Dench exuded authority from the moment the cameras started rolling on the scene.

“I saw all of those actors suddenly, naturally go to attention when they saw Judi, who had this swagger and this cool, who had this great leather coat, who carried the authority quite so effortlessly,” says Branagh of the scene, which included 400 to 500 extras. “She walked out of the craft, looked up at the house, and said [in an Irish accent], ‘Top of the mornin’.’ It was a real sense of a memorable character walking into a movie and owning it, saying ‘I love my clothes, I love my look, I’m in charge, and I’m here to make mischief.'”

Courtesy of Disney

As fans of the book know, Root was originally written as a male character and was involved in a subplot about Holly Short (Lara McDonnell) being the first LEPrecon captain; however, they decided to gender-flip the role, with Colfer’s blessing, because of how times have changed since the first book in the series came out in 2001.

“Eoin Colfer was always very much involved with the development of these scripts, and he’s a man who writes and lives right in the here and now, and I think he was very aware that larger conversations about societal roles have moved on from the time when he wrote this first novel where Holly as a lone woman in a man’s world was an important part of the story,” says Branagh. “Here, a sense of identity, a sense of what her father did, her place in Haven City, her place in LEPrecon is as important as her gender identification.”

Given the gender-flip, you can expect Holly and Root’s relationship to be slightly different from the book.

“We have tensions and passions inside her relationship with her fellow officers and with Root, but they’re also to do with her achieving her work on merit,” says Branagh. “It felt as though what we needed, whoever was the force, the personality, the intelligence, the kind of commanding disciplinarian figure to be someone against whom Holly could really react and interact with, who represented a sort of benign authority, and who, to some extent, was partly on her side, was partly her sponsor, was partly her mentor, and in a way sort of a role model. So the tensions between them, which come from the book, exist here but they’re in a different kind of form, and they can be as complicated as they are in the here and now in our own world. It felt like conversations like that had moved on.”

Artemis Fowl opens Aug. 9. 

To read more on 2019’s most anticipated TV shows and movies, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly on stands Friday, or buy it here now. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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