“Oz the Great and Powerful” is a 3-D prequel to the 1939 classic film “The Wizard of Oz,” which is based on L. Frank Baum’s book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” In “Oz the Great and Powerful,” viewers see the origins of the Wizard of Oz, also known as Oscar “Oz” Diggs (played by James Franco), who starts off being a selfish con-man/magician before a tornado dumps him in a land where it has been prophesized that a wizard will save the inhabitants from a tyrannical wicked witch.
When Oscar finds out that he could be crowned king of the land and get all the material riches that come with being king, he seizes the opportunity to pretend that he is prophesized wizard. There’s one big condition to him being crowned king: He first has to defeat the wicked witch. Here is what Franco, Michelle Williams (who plays Glinda the Good Witch), Mila Kunis (who plays Theodora/the Wicked Witch of the West) and Rachel Weisz (who plays Evanora/the Wicked Witch of the East) said in interviews at the Los Angeles press junket for “Oz the Great and Powerful.”
Interview with James Franco
Is the rumor true that you read L. Frank Baum’s books before you got the role in “Oz the Great and Powerful”?
The rumor is true.
Did the books influence your decision to take the role?
I have been a fan of the world of Oz since I was probably about 11, maybe younger. So I thought it was a really great opportunity to jump into the world of my childhood imagination.
When we first meet Oz, what is his primary motivation and how does the arc of his story develop?
My character Oscar Diggs starts off as a traveling musician. And he is bit of a selfish man. He is a bit of a womanizer. And he is a little cruel to his assistant, played by Zach Braff. And then he’s whisked off to Oz by a tornado. And in the Land of Oz, he gets to relive everything he went through on Earth. He has a second chance to do things over. At first, he does things in his old way, but gradually he learns to do things differently.
Were the practical sets designed by Robert Stromberg helpful to you?
Yes. I talked to Robert about this. He’s worked on many films that create fantastical worlds. We won an Oscar for “Avatar” and he won an Oscar for “Alice in Wonderland.” And he said that the way that the way he created the Land of Oz was the way that he preferred, because it was a combination of practical sets and blue screen.
So in that way, in post-production, he can create this incredible world behind the actors for the computer. But when we shot on set, I and the other actors had sets to interact with. And we didn’t just have a bunch of blue things that were around that we had to pretend were real things. We had real things to look at and interact with. It was the best for everyone.
You learned how to do magic tricks in real life. What was that like?
I got to work with the great Vegas musician Lance Burton. He came out two weeks before we started shooting and just worked with me on magic. And I told Sam [Raimi] that I would be happy to do that, I would be happy to go out two weeks early to work on this magic if they didn’t cut anything out, that if I went through all of this, it would all stay in the movie. Well, just as you would expect, the movie was too long, so one of the first things to go were some of the magic tricks in Oz’s show. There’s still some in there. I made people levitate, but you don’t get to see the full array of my magic skills.
You previously worked with director Sam Raimi in the first three “Spider-Man” movies. What was it like to reunite with him for “Oz the Great and Powerful”?
I love Sam. I’ve known him for over 10 years. He’s become a very good friend. We have a great working relationship. He is one of the most fun directors to work with, but of course he also makes great movies. He is great at combining huge spectacle films with grounded human stories.
And the way he balances those two sides is very unique to him and very innovative. If you look at the way the first “Spider-Man” film was put together, I think it provided the template for all the superhero films that came after him. I think he’s done something similar with the world of Oz.
What can you say about the actresses who play the three witches in “Oz the Great and Powerful”?
In the film, we have three of the best actresses around: Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis and Michelle Williams. They’re all very different actresses that play different parts. I acted with all of them, and it was a different experience with all of them, as it should be — each enjoyable and each very rich. It was great.
Interview with Michelle Williams
What was your primary motivation to play Glinda the Good Witch?
There really were so many. It was a wonderful convergence of so many exciting reasons to take this movie on. I really wanted to work with Sam so much. I wanted to make a movie for kids. I wanted play a character who brought out the best in human possibility.
How would you describe Glinda?
I think she goes through a bit of an evolution. In the beginning, she’s waiting for — aren’t we all? — our prince to come. Somebody who can save the day and rescue her and the people she’s been entrusted with from this terrible situation. And then she realizes that there is no such thing as perfect and that he is the wizard, but he’s not quite what she was hoping for, and she’s going to have to take a more active role in her own fate.
And before Oz enters Glinda’s world, what is her world like?
I like to think of her as a really good mommy or a school teacher or something. She’s taking care of a group of people: the Quadlings, the Tinkers and the Munchkins. She’s been harboring them. They’re, in essence, refugees. She built a protective bubble around them. They’ve been living in Quadling Kingdom while she’s been in exile of sorts from Emerald City.
Can you elaborate on the evolution of Glinda’s relationship with Oz?
She’s been expecting a wizard to come and save them and deliver them from the tyranny of the Wicked Witch. But then she realizes that he isn’t the man she was hoping for. So then she has to manage her expectations and surmount what she was hoping for and deal with the reality that’s in front of her and try and bring out the best in him.
What was it like working with “Oz the Great and Powerful” director Sam Raimi?
I just think he’s a great guy. And to me, that’s as important as being a great director. He’s someone I can always turn to, go to — he was like a touchstone on set for me.
How did the practical sets built from production designer Robert Stromberg affect how you played your role in “Oz the Great and Powerful”?
They were hugely important. You did not feel like you were flapping out in the breeze on this giant green-screen set. He really brought it all home for you — literally. He grounded it for you, gave you real stairs to walk up. You can glean feeling off of all of these things.
Space changes the way that you feel. Space affects how you feel on the inside. So when you look at this set, the details are so distinct and so meticulous and so beautiful, it’s inspiring to be around. It’s more inspiring than green screen.
How does Glinda motivate Oz to change for the better?
I think she holds the space for him to grow into his best self. I think that her belief is what sees him through.
Interview with Mila Kunis
What made you want to take on this role in “Oz the Great and Powerful”?
Very rarely are you given the opportunity to have a physical transformation along an emotional one for a character. And so I thought it would be a really fun aspect to play with.
Do you think audiences will find Theodora relatable?
I think she’s incredibly relatable. It’s a woman scored. It’s a woman who gets her heart broken. It’s a young girl who doesn’t want to deal with the emotional stress of a broken heart. It shows the effect of when you take the easy way out, when you don’t want to deal with the emotional aspect of pain, this is what will happen in a mystical, magical world.
You and James Franco previously worked together in the movie “Date Night.” What was it like working with him again in “Oz the Great and Powerful”?
Great. We’ve worked on another one since. James and I, we just like to keep working together. We like to do one movie a year.
How would you describe “Oz the Great and Powerful” director Sam Raimi?
Sam’s great. He’s the most collaborative director I’ve ever worked with. He respects the cast. He respects the crew, most importantly. He loves filmmaking so much. And he makes you excited. He’s great.
What happens when Theodora and Oz first meet?
They meet under the impression that Oz is fulfilling a prophecy. And Theodora wholeheartedly believes that he is the chosen ne, the great one that’s come to save them all, and she falls madly and deeply in love with him.
Can you describe how the Robert Stromberg-designed sets of “Oz the Great and Powerful” affected your performance in the movie?
Robert is absolutely brilliant. I think it made it much more realistic because everything’s tangible. You walk on to set and you’re in Glinda’s castle or in Emerald City or on the yellow brick road instead of having to imagine it, which is great in its own right because all the depth aspect to it was put I afterward. The initial foreground was so fun to play with.
What was your favorite scene to film in “Oz the Great and Powerful”?
Michelle [Williams] and I didn’t get to do very many things together, so the shooting the [scene] in Glinda’s courtyard was really fun.
What do you want audiences to take away from “Oz the Great and Powerful”?
I just want people to have fun. I don’t want people to take away anything. It’s Oz. As long as you can escape for two hours and enjoy yourself and be transported to a magical world and then walk away with a smile on your face, then it’s succeeded.
Interview with Rachel Weisz
What elements of Evanora’s character attracted you to the role?
I really liked how bad and manipulative Evanora is. She’s the one who’s having all the fun while being bad, and that struck me as being kind of a cool character.
What was the biggest challenge in playing Evanora?
I’ve never played a fantasy character before. This is the first time I’ve played a character who’s not from Earth. So I suppose that was a challenge, just to completely base someone purely on fantasy. That was a challenge but that was also the fun of it.
What can you say about the stunts you did in “Oz the Great and Powerful”?
I believe I did all my stunts. I don’t think anyone else did any of my stunts for me. So yeah, I think it’s pretty much always me, which means I had to learn to fly, which means I was taken up on a harness and went on the equivalent of a zipline.
Evanora and her younger sister Theodora have a complicated relationship. Can you talk about how important that relationship is to the story?
In the story, my younger sister, played by Mila Kunis, she is very naïve and sweet and good. But I know that we have the same parents, and deep down, she is repressing her evil side, so my biggest hope in life is to be able to persuade her to the dark side.
What happens when Evanora first meets Oz?
Well, I first meet Oz and, to me, I can pretty much vouch for the fact that he’s not the wizard. Plus, I don’t want him to be the wizard because I want to have the throne, and if he becomes the wizard, he’s going to take the throne. So I want him dead. Whatever happens.
And actually, I’m pretty much right in my assessment of him because he is just a con man from Earth. He has not yet become the wizard. I’m very suspicious of him. I don’t trust him, but I feel like I want to charm him. And then I decide to use him to kill Glinda.
Can you talk about Evanora’s fashion and how it complemented the look of Emerald City?
I just have one dress. It goes from emerald green to black. It transforms to black when the audience finds out that I’m evil. So it’s sort of showing my true colors. It’s covered in sequins and it has feathers on the shoulders. It has sort of a feather collar.
It’s a little bit militaristic via Vegas. It’s big lashes, big push-up corset, big hair. Big. Everything about it is big. Evanora is kind of big. She’s really over-the-top. The costume is essential to the character. I couldn’t have played her in jeans and a T-shirt. It wouldn’t have worked out.
How would you describe “Oz the Great and Powerful” director Sam Raimi?
Sam is a gentleman. He’s very romantic. He’s very kind. He’s very empathic. He has an incredible child-like imagination. He’s an incredibly sweet, sweet person to be around and to work with. He’s patient and giving. He’s lovely. He’s a really lovely person.
For more info: "Oz the Great and Powerful website"