By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—“The Nutcracker” is as much a Christmas holiday tradition as figgy pudding, Santa Claus and the exchanging presents.
Disney’s new music-filled live-action fantasy “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” is based on the E.T.A. Hoffman’s 1816 story, which later inspired Alexandre Dumas’ “The Nutcracker Story” and subsequently served as the basis for Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s two-act ballet. The film is directed by Lasse Hallstrom (“Cider House Rules”) and Joe Johnston (“Captain America: The First Avenger”) based on a screenplay and story by Ashleigh Powell.
Mackenzie Foy (“Interstellar”) plays Clara, a 19th century Londoner who is mourning the recent loss of her beloved mother. When she reluctantly joins her father and two siblings at an elaborate holiday gathering at her godfather’s grand estate, she magically winds up in a strange, beautiful and mysterious land where she meets an assortment of unusual characters who have a connection to her late mum. Clara is a surprisingly resourceful and determined girl who makes it her mission to find and return a key that unlocks a secret to the four realms.
Keira Knightley (the “Pirates” movies, “The Imitation Game”) portrays sweetly daffy Sugar Plum, the regent of the Land of Sweets with an agenda. The visually stunning film also stars Oscar winners Helen Mirren and Morgan Freeman, along with Matthew MacFadyen, Richard E. Grant and Jayden Fowora-Knight with a special performance by ballet star Misty Copeland.
Foy and Knightley spoke about joining the latest iteration of the “Nutcracker” story.
Q: Mackenzie, were you familiar with the Nutcracker story?
Foy: I’d seen the ballet when I was little. I would go and see it every once in a while during the holiday season. I always really enjoyed going to the ballet and seeing the (artists) perform. The ballet is so beautiful and the grace and strength that they can achieve is just mind blowing. Then, with the film, I was able to go deeper into the story with the book and all the different legends.
Q: Keira, how about you? Had you ever seen the ballet or the Sugar Plum Fairy in it?
Knightley: My mom took me to see it when I was about six or seven and I loved it but I didn’t like the Sugar Plum Fairy. I wanted to be the Mouse King. Then she bought me a sword and I used to run around pretending to be the Mouse King. Then I got a phone call as an adult saying “Do you want to play the Sugar Plum Fairy?” and I was like “I want to be a fairy, yeah!”.
Q: Did you like your costume and makeup?
Knightley: Yes, but if you are playing a fairy you want wings and they made mine in the computer afterward so I still haven’t seen my wings yet. Not fair!
Q: How did you approach playing her?
Knightley: I like to do as much research as possible and there isn’t a lot of research that you can do about the Sugar Plum Fairy. I did go onto YouTube and watch as many different versions of her dance as I could and they were all amazing but I thought “I’m not a ballet dancer so I can’t do any of that.” Then I thought, the most famous thing about the Sugar Plum Fairy is the theme, her music (she sings it).
I thought “Wonder how I can get that in there? Maybe I can laugh it. Maybe her voice needs to match that. All you know is that everything about her has to be sugary and sweet. It’s a very silly character. So, I took my kids into a playground and there were some six-year-olds playing and I tried the voice out on these six-year-olds and they burst out laughing. Well, they are the audience so I thought “Well, I’ll do that then.”
Q: Who exactly is Sugar Plum?
Knightley: She is the regent of the Land of Sweets. Not the Queen but she’s the boss in the Land of Sweets which is definitely made out of a lot of sweets (candy). We go up in a balloon and that was amazing, a balloon basket with sweets all over it. It was like Fantasy Land for a kid.
Q: Mackenzie, tell us about your character.
Foy: My character’s name is Clara and she is this young woman who is incredibly intelligent. She’s interested in mechanics and science and she finds herself just hopeless and sad because she has lost her mother. Her mother leaves her this gift and she finds herself in this world where she really discovers who she is.
Q: Clara likes Phillip (played by Jayden Fowora-Knight). How do they get together?
Foy: Clara meets Phillip as she goes into the Realms. Phillip is the Nutcracker and he helps her along her journey by encouraging her to be herself; to do everything she can. He’s there to help her. What I really love about their relationship is that he’s the hero and she’s the hero. They are the hero (together). They help fight Mother Ginger and save the day. I really love that.
Q: How does Clara get started on her journey?
Foy: Clara finds herself in the Four Realms when she receives this mysterious gift from her mother and it is locked. So, she follows a string to find a key and then the adventure begins.
Q: How was working with Keira Knightley, who plays Sugar Plum?
Foy: Keira is amazing. I absolutely love Keira and being able to work with her and even just talk with her between takes, it was so much fun getting to know her. She is truly, truly an incredible person.
Q: Keira, how did you like working with Mackenzie Foy?
Knightley: Ah, the brilliant and wonderful and amazing Mackenzie Foy plays Clara who is a very intelligent girl, an engineer, scientist and inventor who has to go to the Four Realms to save the world and that’s what she does. I loved working with her. Most of my stuff is with Mackenzie and with Jayden as well. It was just lovely to spend so much time with such an amazing young woman.
Q: How does Sugar Plum know Clara?
Knightley: Well, I was her mother’s best friend so I become her best friend as well and I’m just desperate for her to save our world because Mother Ginger (Mirren’s character) is trying to destroy it.
Q: Is there a message?
Knightley: Well, the message is that a girl saves the world. She doesn’t get rescued. She does it herself. She rescues herself and she rescues everybody else as well. So, the message is “Go on girls! Go and save the world!”
Q: Mackenzie, how does Clara change while going through the Realms?
Foy: As Clara goes through the Realms, all of the people that she meets, all of the challenges that she faces, they all unlock a different part of her that she didn’t know she had. So, as you go through the film with her, you are discovering who she is as she does. It’s really cool to see that journey.
Q: What was your favorite scene?
Foy: It would be when Misty Copeland performs the ballet. She has a scene where she dances. I was very lucky to be in that scene and sit there and watch her perform. It’s probably the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.
Q: What is really special about the film?
Foy: What makes this film special is that it follows this young girl who is just a normal, ordinary girl who finds out that she is a princess and she goes on this epic, life changing adventure that’s full of magic and also heart.
Q: What will audiences, particularly younger moviegoers, take away from seeing “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms?”
Foy: I really hope that young people, when they see this film, see that they can be anything in the world as long as they believe in themselves. I hope that they see that there is magic and adventure in every part of the world.