By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Though the prequel to 2012 “Snow White & the Huntsman” is called “The Huntsman: Winter’s War,” the more compelling storyline of the action adventure is one of sibling rivalry between evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron resurrecting the role) and her sister Freya (played by Emily Blunt), who both possess magic powers.
After offing her husband during a game of chess, Queen Ravenna betrays Freya, who has found love and happiness with one of the members of the court. The jealous queen freezes Freya’s heart to love and unleashes in her an icy power she never knew she had. Retreating to a kingdom far in the north, Freya (resembling “Game of Thrones” Khaleesi character with her long, white-blond hair and snow queen-like gowns) raises an army of Huntsmen warriors as her protectors, with just one rule: they cannot ever fall in love. As a war for domination of the kingdom escalates between the two queens, the hero standing between them is Freya’s most elite Huntsman, Eric (Chris Hemsworth, reprising his role from the original). Alongside fellow warrior Sara (Jessica Chastain), the only woman who has ever captured his heart, Eric must help Freya vanquish her sister, and save the kingdom.
Oscar winner Theron (“Monster”), who hails from South Africa, and Blunt, a native of Britain, recently spoke about their new fantasy action adventure spun from the classic fairy tale, facing off as siblings and getting around in their beautifully designed gowns by three-time Academy Award winning costume designer Colleen Atwood (“Chicago,” “Alice in Wonderland”).
As she arrives for an interview, Blunt, who is expecting her second child with her actor husband John Krasinski, is a little tentative as she sits in a folding chair set up on a Universal Studios Hollywood’s soundstage.
“This chair seems to have caved under my weight,” she jokes.
Theron, who has two adopted children, also expresses some concern about the chairs set on a platform. The two appear to be in a playful mood as they talk about “The Huntsman: Winter’s War,” directed by French filmmaker Cedric Nicolas–Troyan, who was nominated for his visual effects work on the 2012 film.
Q: Charlize, what interested you in coming back to this franchise?
Theron: Chris Hemsworth!
Theron: I had a blast on the first one. I had a really great time working with Chris and I think I was in shock when I got the call because I died in the first one. Spoiler alert. So it was a little bit like, “Wow, how is that going to work out?” I was really flattered that they wanted to bring me back. Then, when I saw the script—and you’re always wondering what else is there to explore—I realized I was in a very fortunate position because of the character Freya. Two things I never thought Ravenna would ever do was love something and care for something so that was a new thing for me to explore through this character. And, to get to do it with a powerhouse like Miss Blunt, I was like “Where do I sign on? I can’t wait.”
Q: Emily, were you excited to join the cast?
Blunt: I was. I was really excited …
Theron: Except for Chris
Blunt: Except for Chris, yeah. This is really Chris’s life story in the movie and he did so well with it. You’re weary of it at this point. It was a big appeal for me to work with all the actors. I definitely wanted to do a Queen-off with Charlize, which was just so awesome and fun. And, I don’t think I’d ever played a villain in that heightened reality. I knew that would kind of be a delicious thing to play so that was a big part of it too.
Q: There’s a lot of female power and the girls are kicking bringing it, so can you talk about doing the action in this and showing off your fighting skills?
Blunt: Charlize and I spent our time hobbling around in high heels going, “My feet hurt.” That was the extent of our action.
Theron: (in a whiny voice) “This dress is heavy!”
Blunt: And then Jessica would come in to the make-up bus just pouring with sweat from some awful, stunt-coordinated thing.
Theron: I have a very vivid memory of Cedric one day when we were doing the fight sequence where (Jessica) jumps from the balcony and he’s like, “You’re a little close to the step right here but I need you right on the edge, and when she comes down you just have to turn,” and I was like, “Do you know what I’m wearing?” Then, he’s like, “You turn into ravens and it’s really fast.” I was like, “You lost me at ‘fast.’ Nothing’s going to be fast about this.” Then as I’m complaining and moaning about turning in the scene I’m looking at Jessica, who is ready to jump way up there with barely a harness on. There’s no mat and I’m like, “Oh my God. I need to shut up.” I had four crewmembers holding me up but I did it myself. I was like, “Can I get somebody to just hold me up right here?” We needed to get Chris in there. I was just holding onto them.
Q: You two engage in a Queen-off. So how important was body language because Freya and Ravenna carry themselves in certain ways when they are in scenes together?
Theron: Oh, I think the costumes really changed my posture. I would say that definitely really came into play. There is something about a corset that makes you sit up straight. The cape was, for me, a big one. I don’t know why, but I loved wearing that cape because it did something for me. I’d have to veer my neck forward. Otherwise my hair and my crown would get caught in the neck part of it. It definitely did something because when I didn’t have it on I could see a difference when we were watching playback. There was definitely a difference. It was almost like something coming at you that I had to naturally do because of the costume.
I feel like most of it was reacting to Emily. The scenes were written for us to listen to each other and respond. That’s what I loved. I felt like in the first film, I didn’t really have any of that because Ravenna was not letting anybody speak and wouldn’t listen to anybody and was kind of just yelling at people. This was nice because her sister can kind of get through to her, and she hears her sister.
Q: Charlize, what is new about your Ravenna character this time around?
Theron: I felt the character was the same but I could explore her in a different space and I felt like Freya’s character brought a breath of fresh air that I could survive on in this film. I think if that wasn’t there, it would have felt repetitive and I don’t know if I would have been interested in doing it so I think the core of the character is exactly the same but we are seeing different elements and different sides of her because she’s in different circumstances. On the first movie I never thought she’d love something and I think she loves her sister really deeply and it’s all the more crushing when she destroys the relationship so brutally. So I was very interested in that. (To Emily) Did I make you cry?
Blunt: I was staring off into the distance so long that my eyes started to water.
Theron: I do this to Emily quite a bit. I bore her to death. (They laugh.)
Blunt: Did I look like I was crying? I’m sorry. I was just in another world for a second.
Theron: Drunk again?
Blunt: Drunk again.
Q: The sibling relationship between the queens seemed very real.
Theron: Emily always says that family is the most complex relationship you can have. (Ravenna) had a brother in the first movie but she was so abusive to him it was kind of one-dimensional that relationship and I think watching two sisters in this one, there was something very intricate about it. It’s very real. I think family can sometimes do the most damage to each other.
Q: Emily, are you about to start production on the remake of “Mary Poppins?”
Blunt: (coyly) Maybe.
Q: When you began your career, did you envision any of this?
Blunt: No, I didn’t. Not to sound cavalier, but I had a pretty casual expectation of what would happen because I wasn’t even intending to be an actress. I did a school play and an agent came to see me and, within a year, I’m on stage with Judi Dench. It was so extraordinary to me and she was so kind to me because I really was so green and I knew nothing. I hadn’t trained. I hadn’t done anything and I was 18, and she really paved the way for me to approach the industry, to walk into every room with great hope because you just never really know where it’s going to take you. I’ve learned to really embrace the unknown and trust my instincts with the choices that I make. There have been movies I’ve chosen to do where no one else around me thinks I should do them, but I am drawn to the part for whatever reason. I’ve always just tried to make choices by what I’m inspired by and not a strategic move that I think would take me somewhere else in the industry.
So, no, I never imagined that I would be here. It’s still a very surreal place. You are breathing very rarified air if you are able to work within this industry. You are just so fortunate so to be able to make choices and choose to play people. Acting is the ultimate form of empathy in some ways. So, to explore that part of the human condition is just so exciting to me. I don’t take it for granted and I still feel very inspired by what I do. I love it. But I think I entered the industry not really knowing what on earth I was walking into and I think maybe that helped that I didn’t have any expectations for it.