'Cruella' stars Emma Stone and Emma Thompson had a ball being evil
As the song goes, if Cruella de Vil doesn't scare you, no evil thing will. It’s hard to imagine anyone less frightening (and certainly less evil) than the two Emmas — Stone and Thompson. The two actresses recently sat in on a digital press conference for their movie “Cruella,” out in theaters and streaming on Disney+ on Friday. They're about as cheerful a team as you could find on a Zoom.
The film, which is an origin story for “101 Dalmatians” villainess Cruella de Vil, stars Stone as the puppy snatcher, now reimagined as a 1970s London fashion iconoclast. Thompson plays her nemesis/mentor, a cruel couturier named the Baroness.
Here’s what the American-Statesman learned from Emma Nos. 1 and 2. (Which is which? Hard to say.)
On the dark world of ‘Cruella’
Stone was surprised that the House of Mouse allowed director Craig Gillespie to take the film to the not-so-nice places it goes. “It’s definitely dark for a Disney movie,” she said.
Thompson, on creating a “fabulous nightmare” in the murderous Baroness: “If my husband were in the room, he’d say no acting, really,” she joked. In seriousness, Thompson is used to playing good women in frocks; she was excited to play a proper villain.
Speaking of those frocks
“The frocks, they wore me,” Thompson said. Throughout the film, both Cruella and the Baroness wear impressive, imaginative period fashions. They were sculptural works of art, Thompson said, which also meant taking a restroom break was a challenge when she was wearing them. (The task required a team of people, she said.)
The shoes were a real challenge: “I don’t wear anything higher than a flip-flop, really, in real life,” Thompson said.
Stone said her “very favorite” outfit was a gown she wears while riding a garbage truck in one memorable scene. The outfit’s 40-foot train was “absolutely ludicrous,” she said, “nothing you would ever be able to wear remotely in life.”
And another bonkers garment that really brought the character of Cruella to life for the Oscar winner was a dress that covers a car with “a switch of the skirt.”
“That really was the moment where I was like, I am in a movie,” Stone said.
What about the dogs?
Of course, “Cruella” comes with some pooches. The Baroness keeps three killer Dalmatians at her feet at all times. The dog actors were sweet, Thompson said, but the filmmakers used CGI to make them look nasty.
And the dogs were great co-workers.
“They’d reset to their marks and wait and get a little treat,” Thompson said, miming her best canine impression.
On being a meanie
In “Cruella,” Stone actually starts out playing a rebellious thief and aspiring designer named Estella. As the movie is an origin story, the character takes a turn eventually toward her ruthless alter ego. “There is something about Cruella that is enticing,” Stone said. She preferred playing the villainess in her traditional form, since Cruella is in “full acceptance and autonomy” of who she is.
The Baroness believes that hardness is the only way, Thompson said. “I am very interested in the dark side of a female character, because they are so rarely allowed to be dark,” she added.
Another facet of the character that attracted Thompson: the Baroness’ pursuit of ambition at all costs. The “Sense and Sensibility” star said that if she herself had not been single-minded in her career, even she might have had to “put my genius at the back of the drawer.” The pursuit of purpose and passion helped Thompson understand this fashionable monster.
'Cruella' review:Emma Stone rocks the frocks, but the story? Woof
“Do you think anyone walks through the world thinking they’re evil?” Stone asked. “I don’t think so. I think they think they’re correct.”
But at the end of the day, Thompson said, “we’re acting, so we’re not being really mean.” However, there are truly mean, hardened and narcissistic people in every walk of life, including show business, Thompson said — pointedly not naming names. The Baroness, like those people, is venal, and she can’t bear to see anyone else succeed, especially a plucky young talent with two-tone hair.
“I found it very difficult to be with Stone, who’s more beautiful and talented,” Thompson joked. How did she deal with it herself? A little less murder than the Baroness — mostly by drinking Negronis late at night, she said. (Again, joking.)
Who would actually win?
“Cruella” is all about a rivalry between two baddies. Who would prevail in a fist fight, though?
“The Baroness — she’s heavier,” Thompson quipped. Though she might not get the chance, the actress added. “Cruella is far too nippy on her feet.”