“Oz The Great & Powerful” Interview: James Franco, Mila Kunis, & Joey King Talk Sam Raimi’s World of Oz

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Sam Raimi‘s Oz The Great and Powerful opens this weekend in 3D and it’s one of the very few films that get’s 3D right. Something that Raimi had explained in our last interview. In this one James Franco talks about what it was like for him to reunite with the Spider-Man director, Mila Kunis talks about what it was like to be a witch, and hints at a lot of wire work in this film and a Wachowski film, and Joey King talks about her character packing a shiv. All this and more after the jump.

Mr Franco: What was it like to work with Sam Raimi again, but for a completely different film?

Franco: I love Sam. I’ve known Sam for over ten years. Because we did the Spider-Man Trilogy together. And he is one of the most fun directors to work with and that is no small thing. When you know a director on a film really sets the tone of just how people go about things. And so when you have someone like Sam, everybody is happy to be at work, everybody does their best. He’s a very collaborative director. You know, not just with the actors, with all departments. And it really makes people want to do their best because they all feel like they’re a big part of the movie and they, and-and they are. So, I love working with Sam. I’d do anything with him.

Mila [Kunis], your character, without giving anything away, has an incredible arc. And earlier Sam was saying how you kind of came up with the idea of playing your character as a woman scorned. And I’m just wondering, can you talk a little bit about that process, and a little bit about the arc but without giving away too much.

Mila Kunis: You know, it was one of those things where I couldn’t, I couldn’t, I got very nervous about playing such an iconic character or at least playing a character that had such an iconic end result. And I, and I didn’t want to ruin it and I didn’t want to re-create it and I didn’t want to re-interpret it. And so in order for me to wrap my head around it, I had to make sense of her origin. And, um, and-and then it was just given to me, kind of like a gift. I mean, here’s a girl who’s incredibly naïve and very young and doesn’t believe she’s almost worthy of love, has never really truly experienced love. Meets James’s character. Falls madly in love with him, very quickly, mind you, but nonetheless. And then gets her heart broken. And probably doesn’t have the emotional tools of dealing with heartache. Doesn’t want to deal with it. Takes the easy way route, given by her sister. And goes through an emotional transformation that’s mirrored by a physical one and so happens to change color. But, um, I honestly viewed her as just a normal girl who gets her heart broken who just so happens to be, um, a witch that can fly.

Joey [King] your character China Girl looks very sweetness and, but she manipulates people by crying. She’s packin’ a shiv. Do you think that she was as deep and so deep and dark, something going on there or what was your take on her?

King: Oh, she’s evil. No, I’m kidding. Um, she’s a, she’s a, she just called me a China Nerd. No, I-I’m very, uh… Well she’s very delicate and her appearance is that way, anyway. But her personality definitely kind of contradicts with her looks. She’s very feisty and sassy and she manipulates James and Fin – Oz and Finley – and it’s kind of funny because they totally get like duped by this little-little doll. A fourteen-inch little girl who’s made of porcelain. And she’s just like, “Please, take me away with you!” And then I’m just like holding onto his leg and finally they say “yes”. And then whole personality change. So she’s definitely, um, manipulative and she’s a, she’s very calculating and very smart. But I like her. She’s funny.

James, I saw that you had to learn magic for the movie. What was that like? And then have you used it in real life since to kind of show off?

Franco: Yeah. I got to learn with Lance Burton, who is a great magician from Las Vegas. And I got private lessons. It was pretty fun. And I could accomplish the tricks. There were even more tricks that made it into the film. We just had to cut some of them for time but, um, I got to learn quite a few pretty cool tricks that if I took them to parties, I probably would get a lot of attention. But I need a lot of help from Lance to pull them off and he doesn’t travel around with me. So it’s just sort of one of the skills that I’ve learned like along the way, like sword-fighting or, you know, flying a plane that I, uh, just don’t use very much after I’m-I’m done with the movie.

James, your character, you know, is cocky, looking for greatness, a heart-breaker, and then, you know, you want the audience to also feel sympathy for you. You know, how-how do you walk the-between that line? And also you’ve worked with Mila on Date Night, so how was that coming back to working with Mila again?

Franco: Well, I’ll answer the second part first. Mila and I have worked on many projects, at this point. Some very big, like “Oz” or “Date Night”. Some smaller projects that I’ve-I’ve yanked her, pulled her into. She did a short while we were in Detroit, she did a movie with some of my students from NYU and we’ve done Internet things so, I love working with Mila. She and Joey are my favorite actresses to work with. And, really I had a great time with both of them. And so when I was asked if I was interested in doing “Oz”, you know, I had to have a meeting with Sam but I’d heard that Mila was either getting involved or was already signed on and so that was one of the big reasons that I wanted to do the movie. And it was great, you know. We have great dynamics. Not only is she a great actor, I think one of the great things about Mila is she’s just a great collaborator. She’s very, um, easy-going. She’s done a lot of comedy so I think, you know, she’s very good at, um, uh, acting on her feet, doing improvisation, figuring things out in a, in a very, um, organic way. So, I’ll do anything with Mila. Um. And, uh, what was the first part?

Character acting?

Franco: Oh, oh, yeah, so, you know, the character, I think, as written, was very much Sam’s idea. I think it’s one of his big contributions. We had, you know, when you deal with Oz, as a subject, you, of course has a, have a fantastical land. And-and, um, so I had faith that Joe and the-the designers and everyone would be able to create, uh, a spectacular world. But you don’t want just, um, the, a movie that’s a journey through a fantastical world. You want the characters to have their own inner journeys. And so Sam’s idea was, I think it was Sam’s idea or maybe a collaboration, that, uh, with the writers that, um, the character would also have an inner journey. And he would start off one place and then have room to grow once he got to Oz. And, I thought, as, you know, kind of selfish as he is, as much of a cad as he is in the beginning, it would never go to the point where he’s unlikeable because all of his, manipulations and conning of people are sort of played for laughs. And you can’t quite blame him for being the way he is because of his history, you know? He grew up in circumstances where, you know, you just wanted to get out. He wanted something different. And so performing was he saw a way out. And so he’s gone a little too far in his ambitions and it’s blinded him to the love of the people around him. But, in another sense you can’t blame, you know, the initial reasons for-for, you know, wanting to, for being the way that he is.

Mila, I just wanted to ask about your amazing stunt work ‘cause evidently you did a lot of your own work up, way up there with a, with a broom, are you just a really physical person? Do you keep yourself strong when you’re not doing stuff like that so that when you do it, you really can get on top of it? And was it fun?

Kunis: Yeah. I mean, um, apparently I like it ‘cause I keep doing movies that requires wires so I guess I had a great time. It’s just about same, uh, the truth is it’s not hard. It’s really not hard to be wired and to have somebody else be responsible for the wire work and your life. Your only responsibility is to sustain seventeen hours on those wires. So, you know, uh, yeah, I guess I do work out a little bit for that purpose. Like the movie that I’m doing that’s following up this one, I think, requires a lot more wire training than-than this one did. But at least this one I know prepped me for it. Yeah.

Which movie coming up?

Kunis: The Wachowski movie. That one requires a lot of wires. A lot. Everything seems to be wired. Yeah.

James, the film was beautiful to watch, visually speaking. Did it have any impact or inspire your own art work?

Franco: My artwork? Um. Yeah, I suppose. I mean,you know, when we went and shot the premiere a few nights ago, and it was the first time that I think we’d seen the-the full thing with all the effects and-

Roth: First time anybody has.

Franco: Okay. So, and, first time anybody’s seen it with all the effects and knowing all the work and time that went into that and hundreds, maybe thousands of people that you know that realized: I think a piece of art. So, you know, it’s just, if anything, it’s just a beautifully, you know, made movie and the images are, you know, just artworks. I don’t have, um, that kind of team underneath me for my own work, but, um-

Kunis: You have a pretty great team.

Franco: I have a great team that does other things. Um. But, uh, yeah. I mean, it might inspire me in some ways. Who knows? Who knows what will happen.

Joe [Roth], what’s your prior experience with the original Oz stories? Childhood memories and that sort of thing. And also why do you think the story continues to resonate today?

Roth: Well, I watched “Wizard of Oz”, uh, as a kid. Uh, I think it came out every Thanksgiving or Christmas and I would never miss it. And you know, I thought it was a great fantastical journey and it was one of those two or three movies that I couldn’t wait to see every-every year. I think that it resonates, uh, for so many different reasons because each of the main characters have to go through transformation. A coward becomes a hero. You know, uh, someone gets a heart. Dorothy gets to grow up. Um. In the Baum book, actually, uh, it’s not a dream. In the MGM movie, it is a dream. Uh. We wanted to make sure that we were consistent with Baum’s work and say that this is not a dream. This is really happening. So it’s, uh, uh, you know, the, uh, the whole color, the idea of color coming in at that time. You know, so it’s just a really memorable piece of work for not just me but for-for most everybody. So of all those early iconic films, uh, that one stuck with me. That and, uh, the one with, um, Laurel and Hardy going down a, downstream which I can’t, I can’t remember what they, that movie was called, but they show that every Thanksgiving, too.

Joe: Did you bring anything from your work on “Alice in Wonderland” into this film, as well?

Roth: Well, yeah, if you’re a producer with a brain at all, not even a big one, but a brain, you try to at least reverse engineer thoughts. And, um, so with “Alice”, you know, we had a story that people loved. We picked out things that we thought were, made them memorable. Uh. We hired a fantastic visual director in Tim Burton and had a really wonderful cast. So when the idea of who is that man behind the curtain and how did he get there? I was immediately struck by the idea that here was a movie that everyone had seen but no one really knew who that guy was. He was only in the last few minutes of the movie. So I thought it was a really wonderful starting point. And then, uh, Robert Stromberg, who I had worked with as a production designer on “Alice”, I had brought him along and introduced him to Sam and I think he became an integral part of that. And then once again, for me, as a producer, besides the idea, casting is the most fun and I wanted to make sure that we had a cast that would stand the test of time. And so I’m hoping in years to come when we watch this on our wrist watches or wherever, however it is, you know, watch movies twenty years from now,  it’ll be like, it’ll be not just the all-star cast from 2013, but a cast of, you know, actors who have gone on to further greatness.

James, you’ve got a like one of the most eclectic careers going around. And I was just wondering, how do you find the balance between doing a mainstream project like this and some of your more, shall we say adult type of projects or extreme experimental things? And do you ever get any flak, over it? Do you have to take that into consideration officially, also, wiwith filmmakers when you work on a big project like this?

Franco: I mean, I’m, uh, I do many different kinds of projects. I try and be very responsible about how and where they’re released and I know that, you know, they’re for different kinds of audiences. And so when I do a film that’s released at Sundance, you know, I feel like it’s, you know, I’m entitled to do material that pushes bound-boundaries because that’s an audience that, um, can take it and there’s a place for those kinds of movies and-and that’s one of the places. So. And then when I do a movie like this, I know what the intention is and I’m not going to try and bring in material or anything that doesn’t fit in this world. It’s my job to align myself with the intention and tone of this world. So, it’s just a matter of knowing the kind of project I’m working on and, you know, fitting myself into that.

If you haven’t already done so, check our interviews with director Sam Raimi and film stars Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, and Zach Braff.

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