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Career > > 2014 > Into the Woods

Into the Woods

December 25, 2014 | Walt Disney Pictures | 124 minutes
Directed by: Rob Marshall | Written by: James Lapine | Cinematography: Dion Beebe | Editing: Wyatt Smith | Costume Design: Colleen Atwood | Production Design: Dennis Gassner
"Into the Woods" is a modern twist on the beloved Brothers Grimm fairy tales, intertwining the plots of a few choice stories and exploring the consequences of the characters' wishes and quests. This humorous and heartfelt musical follows the classic tales of Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Jack and the Beanstalk (Daniel Huttlestone), and Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy) - all tied together by an original story involving a baker and his wife (James Corden & Emily Blunt), their wish to begin a family and their interaction with the witch (Meryl Streep) who has put a curse on them.
Cast: Meryl Streep (The Witch), Johnny Depp (The Wolf), Emily Blunt (The Baker's Wife), Anna Kendrick (Cinderella), Chris Pine (Cinderella's Prince), Christine Baranski (Cinderella's Stepmother), Lucy Punch (Lucinda), Tammy Blanchard (Florinda), James Corden (The Baker), Frances de la Tour (The Giant), Daniel Huttlestone (Jack), Mackenzie Mauzy (Rapunzel), Tracey Ullman (Jack's Mother), Billy Magnussen (Rapunzel's Prince), Lilla Crawford (Red Riding Hood), Simon Russell Beale (The Baker's Father), Annette Crosbie (Grandmother), Richard Glover (The Steward), Joanna Riding (Cinderella's Mother)

Twenty-seven years after it first premiered on Broadway, composer Stephen Sondheim and librettist James Lapine’s subversive, fairy-tale-based musical “Into the Woods” came to the big screen in 2014. In 1995, Columbia Pictures approached Sondheim and Lapine with the idea to make a movie using Jim Henson puppets, before a live action version was approached. The first reading had Martin Short and Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the Baker and his Wife, Neil Patrick Harris as Jack, and Rob Lowe as Cinderella’s Prince; the second reading had Robin Williams and Goldie Hawn as the Baker and his Wife, Elijah Wood as Jack and Roseanne Barr as his mother, and Steve Martin as the Wolf. However, the film adaptation remained inactive for 15 years. After the critical and commercial success of Chicago in 2002, director Rob Marshall approached Stephen Sondheim as he was interested in adapting “Into the Woods”. While plans fell through once again, Marshall rekindled his interest when he heard a speech by President Barack Obama on the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks to the families of the 9/11 victims, which seemed to evoke the same message as the musical’s most important song, “No One Is Alone”. Marshall firmly believed that Into the Woods was “a fairy tale for the post-9/11 generation”. The project was picked up this time by Disney – who were willing to make the film only on the cheap. It was budgeted at $50 million, a quarter of what the studio was doling out for other live-action fantasies such as Maleficent and Oz the Great and Powerful.

By early 2013, the casting of Meryl Streep as the Witch was announced by Disney. Streep had seen the Broadway play in 1987 and remembered “It was unlike anything else that I’d ever seen. And it was so unexpected. How it turned was sort of shocking. I loved it. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that, when I’m 65, I would be playing the part of the Witch. Never. I mean, it just was out of the realm of imagination”. Streep’s casting was followed by Johnny Depp as The Wolf as well as James Corden and Emily Blunt as the Baker and his Wife. Jake Gyllenhaal joined the cast to play Rapunzel’s Prince, but had to leave due to scheduling conflicts with “Nightcrawler”. The role was re-cast with Billy Magnussen by Meryl Streep’s suggestion after having seen him in Christopher Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike”. The cast also included two former co-stars of Meryl’s, Christine Baranski and Tracey Ullman.

When I turned 40, I got three witch offers in one year. And no other offers. Three offers to play a witch, but no love-interest things, no woman-scientist-adventurists, no ‘I’m out saving the world,’ no nothing. Just witches. I thought, ‘God, there’s got to be another way. (Meryl Streep, The Hollywood Reporter, December 2014)

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Meryl Streep recalled meeting Lapaine in his Manhattan townhouse, after being cast as The Witch. It turned out Sondheim had a new tune he wanted to run by them. It was called “She’ll Be Back,” and the composer thought the Witch could sing it at the point in the story when Rapunzel escapes from the tower to run off with a handsome prince. “I was in his living room and I had the sheet music in front of me and I was gasping because I didn’t know where to look,” recalls Streep. “I thought, ‘Is he going to ask me to sing it for him?’ Because I could never do that.” He didn’t. Sondheim performed the number himself, in what Streep describes as a “wavering, gravelly and insistent” voice. Afterward, feeling like a drama school acolyte, the actress sheepishly approached Sondheim and asked if he wouldn’t mind autographing her sheet music. “I’d be pleased to,” replied the great man, then scribbled something down and handed over the pages. His inscription to Streep read, “Don’t fuck it up.”

In July 2013, before filming began, Marshall put the cast through six weeks of rehearsals on a soundstage. The cast members visited Angel Recording Studios to separately record their respective parts in the presence of Sondheim himself. Over 90% of the vocal tracks in the final version of the film are from the recording studio sessions, while the rest were recorded on location or on the set. The advantage of blocking and rehearsing all scenes first was that the cast members could then precisely calibrate their voices in the recording studio to the planned appearance of each scene when later filmed. Principal photography took place at London’s Shepperton Studios in September 2013, with additional filming taking place at Dover Castle, Waverley Abbey and Richmond Park. A forest of ancient pine trees in Windsor Great Park was used for many of the scenes in the woods. “In the forest set, you piped the music in every day. Usually, you make a movie, it’s in silence. You’re talking, blah, blah, blah. And then, they put the score in six months later. You go to the screening, and you suddenly – it feels like a movie. But this felt like that world already. It really did every day,” Meryl Streep told the Los Angeles Times. Filming concluded in November 2013.

“Into the Woods” was released on Christmas 2014, just in time for the holidays and awards season. The film was met with positive reviews. The Hollywood Reporter wrote that the film “benefits from respect for the source material, enticing production values and a populous gallery of sharp character portraits from a delightful cast”. Stephen Holden of The New York Times lauded the film, writing; “Into the Woods, the splendid Disney screen adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical, infuses new vitality into the tired marketing concept of entertainment for ‘children of all ages'”. Leonard Maltin called the movie as “one of the year’s best films”. Similarly, Pete Hammond of Deadline praised the film as “the most dazzling movie musical since Marshall’s own Chicago.” and praised the performance of the cast, particularly Streep. Lou Lumerick of the New York Post called the film “this century’s best musical” and lauded the performances of Streep and Blunt as the best female performances of the year. Blunt and Streep received Golden Globe nominations as Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress for their roles, and “Into the Woods” received a nomination as Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy). In 2015, “Into the Woods” received three Academy Award nominations for Best Costume Design (Colleen Atwood), Best Production Design (Dennis Gassner, Anna Pinnock) and Best Supporting Actress (Meryl Streep).

☆   Academy Award – Best Supporting Actress for Into the Woods
☆   Screen Actors Guild Award – Best Supporting Actress for Into the Woods
☆   Golden Globe – Best Supporting Actress for Into the Woods
☆   Critics Choice Award – Best Supporting Actress for Into the Woods
☆   People’s Choice Award – Favorite Motion Picture Actress
☆   AACTA International Award – Best Supporting Actress for Into the Woods
☆   Washington DC Film Critics Award – Best Ensemble for Into the Woods
☆   Satellite Award – Best Ensemble for Into the Woods
☆   AARP Movie for Grownups – Best Supporting Actress
☆   Jupiter Award – Best International Actress

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