Disney’s “Cruella” is a dark and twisted origin story for the titular chic and fashionable villain whose genius knows no bounds. As such, she has an excellent eye for detail and a deft hand to stitch that fabric together to create a powerful statement of rebellion. And that couldn’t have happened without director Craig Gillespie, as well as Jenny Beavan (Costume Designer), Nadia Stacey (Hair & Makeup), and Fiona Crombie (Production Designer).
ThatsItLA had a chance to talk to Gillespie, Beavan, Stacey, and Crombie about “Cruella” during the virtual press conference for the film. During that time, they spoke about the costume and production design, the hair and makeup, the generational inspirations behind the film, and how to make a good villain origins story.
“Villains are always so fun to portray because you just have more license to do things that aren’t quite appropriate or push the boundaries and create these larger-than-life characters,” Gillespie said.” It was not black and white. No pun intended there with ‘Cruella,’ but I wanted it to be in this gray area and be able to empathize with the choices that she was making and the situations that she was responding to, and I wanted to do it in a way that was really fun.”
Growing up in London during the time that the “Cruella” helped give Beavan the reference she needed to give life to these characters through their fashion. “Yes, I’m afraid I’m very old. And I absolutely remember it because it was that time after college, when I was beginning to work in theater, not film at all, though. I really wanted to be a set designer,” she said. “I mean, it was really interesting how you forget things. And then you do something like ‘Cruella,’ and it starts to all come back.”
Cruella’s arc takes shape through the various costume designs and persona changes, which needed to be reflected in the script. “We found that arc that you see her change over from a child, which is obviously a narcotic and rebellious and does things to a school uniform,” Beavan said. “I think when she gets to the Baroness, who is a little old-fashioned, but a very good designer, she learns quite a lot, and hence her skills. So, you can use all the elements that are actually under the story to make that change come about very naturally.”
But Cruella’s arc is not only visualized through several complex fashion statements. It is also expressed in the hair and makeup. Also, Cruella weaponizes makeup to create the Estella persona to deceive the narcissistic Baroness. “I think the biggest thing for me is that hair or makeup in this, which has never been come off in a film. For me, it’s used as a tool of deception. She’s got to disguise itself from the Baroness,” Stacey said. “So, when we first hear Stella, she needs to be believable that she’s a girl that’s growing up in the time in London, and then she’s creating this persona in Cruella. So, when she first starts arriving at these red carpet events, there’s a mask light quality and makeup as well because it’s she has to disguise herself.”
And wigs played a massive role in bringing the duality between Estella and Cruella to life. The latter proved to be a much harder task for Stacey, considering it was really busy time for wig makers when “Cruella” was being filmed. “We couldn’t get the white hair because it really hard to get hold of. It has to be processed in a particular way,” she said. “I only had two wigs for a long time. So, I kept using these wigs and then changing them.” Whether it was taking things off or adding things on, these changes reflected who Cruella was at the time of the film.
But finding the one actress who can match Stone’s fierce performance as Cruella during her formidable youth would not be an easy task for Gillespie. “It’s pretty formidable to try and find Emma Stone’s child version because she’s such a nuanced actor, and she’s got such a strength and a human to her performances all the time,” he said. “So, we did a pretty exhaustive search in London, looking for that. And Tipper [Seifert-Cleveland] really had that sort of spunk, defiance, and conviction to her beliefs that we were looking for.”
Recreating a specific period does present its challenges, but for Crombie, the real challenge was creating the number of sets needed for the film. “I think the biggest challenge was actually the number of sets. The film has great pace, and we move around a lot and are lots of little important moments that require different sets,” she said. According to her, over 120 some odd sets in the film varied in all different shapes and sizes. “I think one of the things that I’m most pleased about with the film is the level of detail in every single one of those sets.”
And the rehearsals for this film were unconventional, considering that the film is about a heightened character. “We don’t want to put everything out in the rehearsal room. But again, I do defer to the actors. Some actor’s processes are different,” Gillespie said. “It just turned out on this one we sort of went through it talked about what was going on in the scene, and the blocking of it, and what might work for blocking, so that when we got there on the day, we could play with it better.”
“The amazing thing with ‘Cruella’ is anytime you’re doing a heightened character, there is this journey of discovery to find where that balance is of how far to go with that character,” Gillespie said. “And Stone was amazing with that, in terms of bracketing it and letting us figure out together where that range is.”
Another great character in the film is Artie, an owner of a small fashion boutique. Though he is his own, there is definitely a David Bowie influence that inspires the character. “We wanted to we wanted to sort of cast a person that would be fluid and all the time, and not necessarily defined,” Gillespie said. “And Artie so great with that nuance, and just finding that personality, he ended up bringing a lot more than he was on the page to that. And we, you know, we even went back and showed an extra scene with him and Emma Stone because he brought so much that character.
Music is as much a part of the fabric of “Cruella” as the costumes themselves, and as such, Gillespie designed the movie, knowing it was going to have music. “So, you have to design shots that give space for music. And then very often on the set, I’ll be putting music on the set as I go,” he said. “I’ll be putting music on the scenes as we’re shooting them. So, like that Doors track. When we first meet the Baroness, I threw it on the day that we were shooting it, and it never changed.”
For the inspiration behind some of the fashion, Beavan said it was various because Cruella is diverse in her looks. “I looked at westward and McQueen and Galliano, trying to find all those funny things that that we loved with slinky clothes,” she said. “And, you know, my memory served me well once I tuned into tuned into my past.”
And these dresses that Cruella designs in the film are intended to make a statement and get the Baroness’ attention. “All those red carpet events, I was trying to do something dynamic, and I knew they were going to be very quick little pops,” Gillespie said.
“It was how the world was going to see Cruella. Just the idea of her turning up with a trash truck that felt like a very appropriately aggressive thing for Cruella to do, and it came from a place where they were always scamming or something they could get their hands on.”
Cruella’s fashion goes on as much of a journey as she does. But to make that happen isn’t as easy as finding the right fashion designers. It also takes a storyteller. “I always say, in case people get the wrong impression. I’m not a fashion designer. I’m a storyteller with clothes,” Beavan said. “In fact, in my real life, I have no interest in clothes. I just love telling stories with them.”
“There were these beautifully written characters that you could just get your teeth into, and for the Baroness, it is terribly clear once you get into that mindset of who she is and where her influences came from and her current situation,” Beavan added. Working closely with frequent collaborator Jane Law, they found a style for Baroness that was “asymmetric, very fitted and, very snobbish.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a Cruella film without any reference to dalmatians or any other dogs. “Obviously, the dogs are a large part of ‘101 Dalmatians,’ but I wanted to bring them in in a more grounded way,” Gillespie said.”
“We worked on story a lot with the role of the dalmatians and her [speaking about Cruella] relationship to them. They’re very intertwined with her emotional journey.”
As much as the Dalmatians are a part of the Cruella story, her dog, Buddy, as well as Horace’s Wink, play a prominent role in the film as well.” “And then also having these mutts that were part of that crew, and being able to have fun with that and design these set pieces that were almost grounded in reality and plausible for dogs to be able to do,” Gillespie added. “They were supporting characters in a way, and they had their own like personalities and concern.”
But the dogs aren’t the only cast of misfits to look out for in the film. Paul Walter Hauser, who plays Horace, and Joel Fry, who plays Jasper, join Stone’s Cruella as her henchmen. Together, the three make for a colorful vagrant trio that everyone will be rooting for. It’s a rare dynamic to see the three play so well off each other.
“Paul, I worked with on ‘I, Tanya,’ and I love working with him because when he’s doing his humor, you feel the human being underneath it and the pain. You know where that humor might be coming from or what is deflecting or what he’s hiding,” Gillespie said about reteaming with Hauser.” “He gets to do all those layers with his humor.”
“And then Joel, is so accessible, and he’s such a big heart, and he was the heart of the show, and he was the moral compass for Cruella, and he would call her on it, you know, in a sort of a brotherly way,” Gillespie said of Fry. “That dynamic between the three of them, I felt it really worked beautifully. I’d give them room to improvise, and they could play off of each other so well.”
“Cruella” opens in theaters and debuts on Disney+ Premier Access on May 29, 2021.