Emma Thompson and Emma Stone on their wickedly stylish Cruella rivalry
It's possible that Emma Stone and Emma Thompson had a little too much fun on the set of Cruella. "You must know, you can tell, how much fun she is," Stone enthuses of her costar. "She's so much fun! I mean, she would just come into the trailer like, we're having tequila. I love her to death."
"We had to control ourselves, put it that way," Thompson corroborates. "We had to prevent ourselves from having too much fun, because then the job would simply not have got done and we'd have had to have our makeup done lying on the floor, with ice bags on our heads."
Regrettably, there's no widely available footage of the Emmas' behind-the-scenes hijinks, but they brought that sense of mischief and their genuine chemistry to Cruella, director Craig Gillespie's live-action Disney origin story that brings one of the studio's classic villains to devilish, decadent, PG-13 life.
Stone stars as the fur-obsessed fashionista — known as Estella, until she isn't — who lives in an abandoned building in '70s London with her fellow outcasts and partners-in-crime (literally) Jasper and Horace (Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser). The trio of thieving squatters live in punkish harmony, but Estella has high-fashion dreams; it's Thompson's Baroness von Hellman, an established couturier, who spots Estella's talent and hires her to work in her atelier, where the Baroness becomes something of a mentor to the young designer — until their dynamic twists into a diabolical battle for fashion supremacy.
"One of the things I loved the most about the relationship between these two women is that there is no love story. There are no men involved," Stone says. "It is completely about two women that have a lot of genius in them and are not afraid to go toe to toe and to do whatever it takes to come out on top. I don't know that trying to drag someone else down to get to that place is something that I would personally love in real life, but my god was it fun to play."
For Thompson, too, that spotlight on women trying to have a career in a creative industry was a rich topic to explore. "Not only is there a great truism with some women who are at the top and won't allow room for another woman to be at the top, but also the great genius artists sometimes absolutely can't cope with any competition, and are sort of inhuman in their ambition and their need to be on the top," she reflects. "It's frustrating sometimes because you think, if these two got together, they'd be pretty something — but that's just not the story [here]. You feel like they're fighting to the death, and it's such a wonderful thing to watch because it's so icy, and sort of precise in a sort of surgical way as well. And exciting!"
"Honestly, it's the most delicious part of the film," Gillespie says of his stars' face-off. "It's a very tricky dance for them to do, and they do it amazingly well." He cites screenwriters Tony McNamara and Dana Fox's "delicious" dialogue as one of his favorite aspects of the women's rivalry, but the language these ladies really speak most fluently is that of style. The catwalk is the primary battleground of this war, with the two slightly deranged fashion geniuses in a constant race to upstage each other with the power of brilliant design.
Oscar-winning costume designer Jenny Beavan (Mad Max: Fury Road; A Room with a View) is the film's true third star, having outfitted Stone and Thompson in increasingly daring looks that dazzle the audience and challenge each other. "We got to work with some artists who are at the top of their game," Thompson says of Beavan and hair and makeup designer Nadia Stacey. "This was the haute-est of haute couture. It was haute-y haute."
For a film about a young woman finding her path — however psychotic we all know it will eventually become — fashion is a convenient backdrop; it's the ultimate tool of self-invention. That resonated with Stone, who remembers her dear friend Alber Elbaz, the former creative director of Lanvin who died just last month from COVID-19, as having taught and inspired her to love fashion as a profound form of expression.
With that always on her mind, "it was so much fun to play and to kind of live in the mind of a designer. Sketching out these ideas and then [seeing] them come to life on someone's body is just a really kind of miraculous thing," she says. "I thought that was a really cool and such a symbiotic relationship, too, with Jenny Beavan and Nadia Stacey, that what they're creating for [Cruella] is a huge part of the personality of the character. So they were doing a lot of my job for me, which was really not that common, I don't think, as an actor."
In real life, "I only wear overalls and flat shoes," Thompson claims. "Literally only, and Stone will attest to the truth of that." But the Baroness' highly architectural wardrobe (worn with the help of some "seriously industrial underwear") was "one of the most fun things" about playing her, the actress says. "It was a joy every time I had a fitting. I got so excited and we'd just start giggling, because the character suddenly goes, ding!"
Cruella hits theaters and Disney+ Premier Access on Friday, May 28.