By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Scottish actor Richard Madden plays the prince in Disney’s new live-action version of the classic fairy tale “Cinderella.”
The former “Game of Thrones” star recently spoke about taking on the iconic fantasy royal character, working with “Downton Abbey” star Lily James (who plays the title character in the grandly produced fairy tale), director Kenneth Branagh and the rest of the illustrious cast that includes Derek Jacobi, Stellan Skarsgard, Cate Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter.
Q: What was your experience like on a Kenneth Branagh set?
Madden: It was a joy, maybe because he’s also an actor. This is my first big film, and it’s a part that a lot of guys have played before. Audiences come to this with their own perception of who Prince Charming should be. Ken understood that and the pressure that comes with it. He just gave me confidence every day that allowed me to play and took away the anxiety of being on a massive movie set and playing a character in which everybody has an idea of who their prince is. He took all that away and that’s why I’m thankful to him.[private]
Q: Your character introduces himself in his first meeting with Cinderella in the forest as Kit, not the prince so as not to frighten her away. So do you feel more like Kit than Prince Charming?
Madden: Yeah, I feel like he’s just a normal guy in a very weird situation.
Q: Did being a part of the “Game of Thrones” phenomenon prepare you in a way to be a part of a Disney phenomenon? Will that experience help you deal with the fans?
Madden: They’re quite different demographics. It’s kind of weird. You kind of hope they don’t watch your other work. I don’t know if it prepares you. It’s just good to be a part of different things. There’s a lot in this that is suitable for adults as well as kids. It’s not just a kids’ movie.
Q: What we love about the prince is his tenacity in finding Cinderella after she leaves the ball, leaving behind the glass slipper. Have you ever pursued a beautiful girl that you saw at a bar or party with such tenaciousness? Are you the romantic type?
Madden: I suppose I am the romantic type, but I’m in a very happy relationship (with actress Jenna Coleman) so I don’t send anyone else flowers.
Q: How was it riding the horse?
Madden: I love working with horses. I really do. I wanted to kind of not be thinking about it on the day we shot the scene in the woods. Obviously, I trained to ride horses for “Game of Thrones.” In this, because that scene is so important (where the prince meets Cinderella for the first time), Ken and I talked a lot about making that choreography between the Cinderella’s horse and my horse significant. Lily and I are trying to control these beasts beneath us, which is more than a little symbolic. So beforehand, I practiced dressage and jumps and stuff like that. It was really cool in terms of my training for this.
Lily couldn’t ride before we started filming this. So there are lots of parallels. There’s me trying to calm Lily’s horse and I tried to help guide her through that, the same as the prince is doing.
Q: Had you met Lily before? What was it like preparing for this with her?
Madden: I didn’t know her before. We had about five or six days of rehearsal before we started filming. I actually had talked and walked through a lot of the scene with Ken. I think it was just clever casting on Ken’s part. He cast well. Between me and Ken and Lily, there was great chemistry, which is why we are working together again next year. Lily and I are going to be in “Romeo and Juliet” on the West End in London, with Ken directing.
Q: No pressure?
Madden: No pressure! With Lily to act with and Ken directing, I know it’s going to be a wonderful experience.
Q: How was it working with Derek Jacobi, who plays your father, the king?
Madden: He’s just a stunning actor to be around. He’s funny. I wanted to kind of build a relationship where there was a sense of humor between these two. And Derek’s got a sense of humor, which is why we could play around and improvise, and did. When you’re on set with an actor like Derek Jacobi, it’s not hard to tell the truth. You look in his eyes and he’s so open and creative and ready to play.
Q: How did you prepare for the big dance scene at the ball, especially maneuvering around her massive ball gown?
Madden: There are three people in this relationship. It wasn’t fun. I’m not a naturally gifted dancer and I don’t enjoy it. I didn’t go to any of those classes in drama school. I was like, “I’m not going to learn to dance! I don’t need to dance!” And then, instantly, I regretted it. On this, I trained three or four days a week for about two-and-a-half months, before they let me near the real dress. I did destroy two practice dresses completely. They were just ripped to shreds. It was like cats got hold of them.
Again, like the horseback riding, I wanted to focus in that scene on the acting with Lily on the day (we shot the ballroom dance) instead of focusing on what I was doing with my feet. We just trained really hard to make that happen.
Q: How was your costume a tool to get the performance you wanted?
Madden: I had conversations with (costume designer) Sandy Powell when we started because I wanted to retain masculinity to this prince. Some of these Disney princes can be wet or fop-ish, and that ties into the costumes a lot. Sometimes they’re just decadent and extravagant costumes. So I said to Sandy, “How can we do all that but keep it masculine?”
When I saw my outfit for the ball for the first time, it was white, covered in sequins and glitter, and I turned to Sandy and said, “Uh, we talked about this!” But, actually, it is masculine still. It’s empowering and it makes you feel regal. It helps your posture.
Q: Did you look at the prince’s movements in the Disney animated version of “Cinderella?”
Madden: Yeah. Ken really helped with this. He puts as much time into researching the time period as he would if he were doing “Macbeth” or something. So we kind of looked back over history to see what a prince would have done in a situation like the ball and interacting with other people.
It’s interesting, because with royals, these days, you never see them leaning on one leg, but they often have to stand for hours and hours talking to people. There are subtle things that they do, and they do kind of rest on one leg, but you don’t see it. So there were these little details that we put into it that you might not see but it’s a way to create a fleshed out character and make him a bit more real.
I had to get rid of my swagger and learn how to walk properly.
Q: What was the fun for you in making him a three-dimensional character that we want to end up with Cinderella?
Madden: With Cinderella, she’s a wonderful woman, and the audience is with her throughout the film. So I had to find a way to create a guy who is worthy of her affections. And that was difficult. I was trying to get rid of that old-fashioned view of things. I loved the old animated version; it’s great. But I think that concept of a woman with a terrible life who needs a man to come rescue her doesn’t apply and isn’t something that we should be teaching kids. So this was more interesting because I had to make a character that’s worthy of her heart and affections. He has to be someone with a sense of humor and I wanted to make him aware of his own privilege and have compassion for everyone around him. That was really exciting for me because you don’t see the prince like that in the animated version. You don’t even know his name. So Chris Weitz (the writer) and Ken started from scratch on this and built someone who was more fun and a bit more real.
Q: What was the inspiration for the name “Kit?”
Madden: Chris Weitz came up with it when he was writing the script.
Q: Was Chris on set during production?
Madden: He was there a couple of times but he wasn’t there a lot.
Q: Since he’s writing one of the next “Star Wars” scripts, did he share some stories with you?
Madden: I wish! While we were filming, they were already building the sets for “Star Wars.” You’d drive by the studio and see bits of space ships, but they quickly put up eight-foot high fences. I was like, “******!”
Q: Do you like doing epic scale productions like this?
Madden: More and more so. You have the fear, initially, because it’s a huge production. But also, you have a lot of time to do stuff. That’s great as an actor because you have time to play and it’s not as rapid fire as smaller productions are. We shoot 10 episodes of “Game of Thrones” in the same amount of time it took to make this movie. So we have less time to prepare to do our jobs. That said, on this we didn’t have a lot of fake walls or CGI. That was a massive ballroom set, with 2,000 lit candles during that scene and 600 extras. When you put all that into it, it kind of makes my job a lot easier. I’m kind of actually in the middle of it. So, the big scale was very helpful.
Q: What was your favorite iconic moment to recreate?
Madden: Despite all my moaning about it, the ballroom scene was my favorite. Just doing that waltz with Lily in that dress was special.
Q: What’s coming up besides “Romeo and Juliet?”
Madden: I finished a film in December with Idris Elba, called “Bastille Day,” which is kind of a modern-day thing. It’s great because I’m in jeans and a t-shirt, for a change. It’s an action-y, thriller-y “French Connection”-type thing, hopefully with a bit of humor in it. It’s good, because I’m playing someone who’s not royal. He doesn’t have a good moral compass. He’s a pickpocket, street rat, which is totally different from anything else I’ve done.
I also did “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” for the BBC, which will be on in the summertime.[/private]