February 25, 2024

FSM Media

by Dianna Ranere

Director Sam Raimi Oz The Great and Powerful Interview #DisneyOzEvent

We had the pleasure of interviewing Director of Oz The Great and Powerful, Sam Raimi. Talk about a thrill! I have watched all of his movies and was really interested to hear how he became involved in this film.

Q: How Was it having the weight of the Oz movie on your shoulders.

Sam Raimi: … it was a great sense of responsibility not to tread upon the good name and the beloved classic, “The Wizard of Oz”. That was my biggest fear. And that was a heavy responsibility. In fact I didn’t even wanna read the script. When I heard it was a prequel to “The Wizard of Oz”, I said, “I don’t wanna mess with that classic.” And so I didn’t read the script. And then a couple of weeks later I was looking for a writer. And somebody said, “Read this. It’s a writing sample.”

So under that auspices I read the script. And I thought, “I’m falling in love with this story and this world and these characters.” And so I thought, “That’s why I gotta make this movie ‘cause I feel uplifted by the end of this thing.” I love watching the main character learn how to become, you know, this selfish guy found a little bit of goodness in his heart and learned how to become this selfless individual. And that could be really uplifting for the audience.

So it’s really those things that drove me to make it. And I thought, “If that’s really what I make the movie about, I won’t be treading on the good name of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ at all ‘cause it’s another positive story.”

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Q : How did you make your judgment call on what was going to be too scary and how to reign back the scary so that it still was a child’s or a family film.

Sam Raimi: That’s something I was weighing all throughout the process. In the writing of the script I’d made sure there was no violence in the thing ‘cause I really wanted to make it a family picture. And there really isn’t any violence in the thing. The worst it gets is these real scary baboons came– come out of the mist where they go looking for our main characters so they hide in the cave. ……..there’s a scary witch at the very end. But I thought, “I changed the makeup once or twice to make it a little less scary.”

But then I thought, you know, when I think back on ‘The Wizard of Oz’, ……they used to show it like every Thanksgiving or every Christmas. I can’t remember which. But I remember thinking, “This is the sweetest movie I’ve ever seen. But it’s also the scariest.”  I tried to find a line like you’re saying where it’s scary for the kids, but not so scary the parents think, “I shouldn’t have brought my child to see this.” Just to the edge where the parents are about to take the kid away but the kid’s going, “No, let me stay.” [LAUGHTER] So I was trying to — to find that line actually. And I thought, “If there’s no violence and good wins out…..

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Q : As far as the role that James Franco played, did you always want him for Oz?

Sam Raimi: I wasn’t thinking about James.  I had a long relationship with James and I really liked him very much. But I was thinking, Johnny Depp would play the part or maybe one or two other actors. And it didn’t work out for them. And then I heard that James was interested. So I thought, “I never considered James. But he has the qualities,” as I sat myself down and thought about it, that I needed.

This was the story of a real heel. A cad. A two-timer. He’s not a good friend. He’s a very selfish individual. Yet he wants to be great. He wants to be something more. He just doesn’t know how. He doesn’t know what true greatness is. And through the love of this little girl who looks at him like a father and through a flying monkey who like a good friend demands he do the right thing. And — and wanting to become worthy of Glinda’s love, he grows as an individual. And finds a little bit of selflessness in himself. And in so doing becomes the great thing he always thought he could be. Never expecting that was the route to become this great wizard.

So in James I saw a generous spirit emerge working with the other actors. I saw kindness, a consciousness form ‘cause I knew him when he was like 21 and I saw these good qualities emerge until he became a friend of mine, not just an actor and a director. That’s really what it was. And that’s what casting’s about for me. Finding the essence of the character in a person.

— sometimes a great actor comes in but they’re not the essence of the character. But James had all the qualities.

Q : Which character would you say it your absolute favorite out of all of them?

Sam Raimi:  I admire Evanora, Rachel Weisz’s character because she’s so nasty. And she doesn’t try to hide it. Yes she puts on [LAUGHTER] illusions but she really digs who she is. I admire that about that character. I think I love James Franco’s character. There’s so much I can identify with. Unfortunately with a character that’s more in Kansas than the guy he becomes. But I understand wanting to become a better person. I mean it’s a dream. Whether I’d ever have the courage of that character to do what he did I don’t know. But I can relate to the character. I understand his failings and his simple desires and his low qualities. But I love the China Girl. She’s for me my sweetheart.

Q : Can you tell us about the selection process for the other characters and the actors that you chose 

Sam Raimi: Well, basically the selection process was………I would meet different actors and they would come in and we would talk about the role. And I would try to get a sense of who they were. Can you play Glinda? Do you have a sincerity of your soul?”

And  it’s hard in an interview situation because they’re pretending to be something, you know, and I don’t want that. I really want to know who they are. So as quickly as I can get past the niceties and really start talking to them, the better for me to really understand who they are. But basically different actors I heard wanted to come in and read and audition for the role. And I’d meet and talk with them. And it went very much like any other process for the actors, for the technicians. We would discuss the work. And if we found that we were talking about the same thing and we’re really connecting. Then usually we would bring them aboard for the project.

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Q : With the sets there was so much lushness and details. Did you go into it saying I want this set to be so real for the actors to experience and become that or what was your thought process on that?

Sam Raimi: Well once the look was decided by myself and the production designer of the entire production, then it came down to what are we gonna build and what would be just CGI? And yes, it was important for me to have real places for the actors to touch and see so they could ground the movie. Because it’s such a fantastical adventure, I really needed to ground it more than a regular drama with real human performances. We had to explain the emotions that we understand and can connect to.

So having them grounded was important. And that’s why we did have sets. But we also had sets because I wanted a very unique look in Chinatown, a unique look in Emerald City. I wanted the Land of Oz to be this uniquely fantastical place. The dark forest to be a particular type of scary, et cetera. So many worlds within this fantastic world. James Franco on that yellow brick road. Dappled sunlight happening on that yellow brick road, the CG artists that had to continue that world had to do just that. Just continue this look we filmed on set. With the lighting, the exposure, the detail. They don’t have to create it on their own because I thought I’d lose control of the look of the picture. So I wanted to really specifically always have some stylistic element on film that the artist’s job was to extend. Which is still a great artistic job, but at least it’s a unique look that’s carried on.

Q : How was it going back to your hometown and film 

Sam Raimi:: It was great going back, ………. I wanted the job to stay in either the United States or Michigan specifically where I’m from. So, Disney let me bring the movie to Michigan. And we were able to keep the money in the states and employ a lot of Michiganders. And they were great actors. And they were really such a hard-working crew. Everybody in Hollywood was super surprised how talented and how deep the technical skills were of the Michigan artists and technicians. And it was a real eye opener for a lot of guys working on the movie how great those Michiganders were. And I loved going home.

Q : Would you go back and do another movie in Michigan?

Sam Raimi: In a second.

Q : How different was it working on this movie as opposed to other movies that you worked on before?

Sam Raimi: Well the size of it was enormous. That took some getting used to. Because the Land of Oz is how Frank Baum wrote it, it was — it has such impassable deserts, fantastical waterfalls, outrageous mountains and woods. We couldn’t really go and shoot Ireland and let it work for the green hills of Oz. Or we couldn’t shoot some great New Zealand mount scape ‘cause it just wasn’t outrageous and unique enough. So everything had to be created in the computer.

And working with the great production designer, Robert Stromberg, he did that by creating the smallest things first. The smallest blade of grass. What does it look like in Oz? What does the smallest blossom look like? And then multiplying by a thousand to see what a field might look like. And then working into building each individual tree to make it a unique thing. And everything — everything had to be created. There was not a pocket watch that should have been, you know, manufactured by some Swiss company. No, no, it had to be an Oz watch. There’s not a vehicle. Every car — it had to be handcrafted. So the enormity of building a world was the most difficult job.

Q : I love how you paid your respects to the original movie and portions of that was very nice to see. At the end I would like one more. So are we gonna get a sequel?

 Sam Raimi: That’s very nice of you, thank you. I think that’s all up to the people of Disney Studios. It would have to be critically acclaimed and the audience would have to want it. So that’s still way down the line. It’s all unknown right now, whether that would happen for the Disney people to make that decision.

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OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL lands in theaters on March 8th!!
Be sure to follow Red Carpet Premiere conversation on Twitter by following the hashtag #DisneyOzEvent 
Follow The El Capitan Theatre on Twitter and Like El Capitan Theatre on Facebook.

You can also follow @DisneyOzMovie on Twitter, Like Oz The Great and Powerful on Facebook for all of  the latest news about the movie.

Disclosure:  I was provided with an all expense paid trip by Disney in order to bring you this information. All opinions and experiences expressed are my own. I was provided with the images and information by Disney in order to bring you this post. All opinions and experiences expressed are my own.  This is accordance with Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255 Guides Concerning the Use of. Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.