'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' Director Joachim Rønning Discusses Capturing a Universe

Behind one of this autumn's most-anticipated films, the director credits storytelling and a stellar cast (this time: Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning) as key to a good project.
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While there are many upcoming films to get excited about throughout the rest of 2019, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is surely one of the biggest. A sequel to 2014's Maleficent, which received mixed reviews but was a box office smash with an Oscar nomination for costume design, the film once again stars Angelina Jolie in a reinterpretation of the Sleeping Beauty villain's story. The plot follows the conflict between Maleficent and Elle Fanning's Aurora five years later when the latter has accepted a proposal from Prince Philip, which threatens the former's position as protector of the Moors, as the queen plans to use the wedding to divide humans and fairies. It's an action-packed film that takes its exploration of its titular character's nuances into a never-before-seen territory.

Such a dramatic plot amidst the high anticipation clearly requires the right director, and Joachim Rønning was ready for the task. After directing the likes of Bandidas, the Oscar-nominated Kon-Tiki, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man Tell No Tales, he knows his way around action and drama and may be on the brink of his biggest break yet. Just ahead of the Maleficent sequel's release, Rønning talked to L'Officiel USA about the joys of filmmaking and what audiences can expect.


This is very much an eagerly awaited sequel. How did you approach making the film and what was your vision for it?

This is the sequel, this is supposed to mark a progression in the beloved franchise, and I think it needs to say, "Welcome back to this amazing universe that you loved six or seven years ago."


How would you characterize the films, the universes, that you have helped to create throughout your career?

They vary a lot, but I think there's a couple of things that I always look for in stories: I want to tell stories that I've loved since I was as a kid. I do think that a great story is about exceptional and interesting characters first of all, but also having them set against unique backdrops. I've done movies where that backdrop is World War II or the Pacific Ocean, pirates, or a fairy tale. I do think that I tend to like to create some sort of a spectacle; I like to create movies that fit the big screen. But, at the other end of the spectrum, I am always looking for the emotional chord of any story because it's not interesting to have a big spectacle if you don't connect emotionally, and I think that's what's so great about Maleficent. It's such a strong emotional journey for the characters, and I really love that. 

Photo via Instagram / @ellefanning

Do you ever look back at your earlier films and reflect on your own development as a filmmaker?

I've been so lucky to work with the best cast and crew in the world on some of my movies, and I think that you learn from that, you learn from these people on an everyday basis. I think that's what's also so great about being a filmmaker: you can keep developing until you're 100 years old. Hopefully.


Tell me a little bit more about how your eye as a director has developed. Do you still sort of gravitate toward similar elements in each film? 

I do pride myself on being a visual filmmaker and storyteller. I always try to have the camera tell the story probably more than the dialogue.


How would you say your idea of fantasy evolved after you completed filming the Maleficent sequel? 

You know, not very much. The late 70s, early 80s, mid-80s; the family adventure movies from that era inspired me to become a filmmaker in the first place, and I think that's why I keep going to them, Back to the Future and Gremlins and Ghostbusters. All of those movies from the 80s were amazing. We didn't know how good we had it. 


What role do you think movies play in society today?

Storytelling is an integral part of human history. Storytelling has always been important for mankind, for building societies and being social. I do think that going to a movie theatre and watching something with a group of strangers and a couple of friends will always have its appeal. It's kind of absurd to think that you can sit for two hours to watch something on a screen in front of you and actually be carried away, and you can laugh, you can be afraid. I mean, it's an amazing art form. You can learn about World War II or travel to an alternate universe.

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