Cruella featured

From Iconic Villain to Fashion-Forward Anti-Hero: An Inside Look at ‘Cruella’

May 28, 2021Ben MK

They say every dog has its day. But when it comes to live-action reimaginings of some of Disney's most beloved animated classics, perhaps the more fitting choice of words should be that every villain deserves their own origin story. Now, following in the footsteps of Angelina Jolie's portrayal of Sleeping Beauty's Maleficent, comes Emma Stone's turn as Cruella De Vil, in director Craig Gillespie's surprisingly dark and twisty-turny tale of revenge, high fashion and, of course, Dalmatians.

Set in 1970s England, the film chronicles the rise of its titular character, from her relatively humble beginnings as a young girl with distinctive black and white hair named Estella to her eventual transformation into a punk-rock-inspired anti-hero and her ascent to the pinnacle of the British fashion industry. It's when Estella suffers the tragic loss her mother and encounters a couple of fellow orphans named Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser), however, that she begins down the path to becoming the iconic villain we all know. Finding a dangerous adversary in the wicked Baroness (Emma Thompson), Estella is inspired to reinvent herself as the sly and stunning Cruella, embarking on a mission to set right the wrongs of her past — irregardless of the cost.

"Villains are always so fun to portray," explains Gillespie. "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. It was really important to me that it was not black and white. I wanted it to be this grey area and be able to empathize with the choices she was making and the situations that she was responding to. And I wanted to do it in a way that was really fun."

"It's so much fun to do," comments Stone, who makes no qualms about which version of her character she enjoyed playing more. "Estella is sweet but she's not fully embodied. So I would say there is something about Cruella that is pretty enticing because she just is who she is. She's in full acceptance and autonomy there. That said, she does some things and crosses some lines that I don't think I would necessarily cross, but I kind of prefer Cruella."

"There is nothing more fun than pretending," adds Thompson, whose Baroness character definitely gives Cruella a run for her money when it comes to being mean-spirited. "Like Emma, I'm very interested in the dark side of a female character, because they're so rarely allowed to be dark. We're all supposed to be nice and good, and bad mothers are simply unforgivable. But the Baroness is so singleminded, so whilst I wouldn't necessarily walk that path, her commitment to her own creativity is rather admirable, I think, and difficult, probably."

All that said, the movie isn't just about the battle between Cruella and the Baroness, but also about the unlikely family bond forged by Cruella, Jasper and Horace. "That's the heart of the film," says Gillespie. "They are a family, the three of them, and they all play very different roles. Paul, I worked with on I, Tonya, obviously. And I love working with him because when he's doing his humor you feel the human being underneath it. And then Joel is so accessible and he has such a big heart. He was the heart of the show and he was the moral compass for Cruella. Just that dynamic between the three of them really worked beautifully."

Likewise, being set in the '70s, music also plays an important role in bringing Cruella to life. "I actually designed the movie knowing we were gonna have music," notes Gillespie. "You have to design shots that give space for music. And then very often on the set, I'll be putting music on the scenes as we're shooting it. So like that Doors track when we first meet the Baroness, I threw on the day that we were shooting it and it never changed. Then there's this great Nancy Sinatra song which was kind of spontaneous when we were shooting [Emma] in the elevator at Liberty's. So there's always music in my mind as we're going through it."

But what about the costumes? With the London fashion world as the backdrop to the events that unfold, surely there was one outfit that left an indelible mark on its stars. "My very, very favorite outfit that was absolutely ludicrous was the dress that I wear on the garbage truck," recalls Stone. "There was a forty foot train that wasn't attached to the dress, because obviously I wouldn't be able to move anywhere, so they added it to the dress at the last minute. It was like nothing you would ever be able to even remotely wear in real life."

And, of course, what would a film about Cruella De Vil be without the canine co-stars? "Obviously, the dogs are a large part of 101 Dalmatians, but I wanted to bring them in in a more grounded way," notes Gillespie. "We definitely worked on the story a lot with the role of the Dalmatians and [Estella's] relationship to them. They're very intertwined with her emotional journey. And then also having these mutts that were a part of their crew, and being able to have fun with that and design these set pieces that were plausible for dogs to be able to do. They were supporting characters, in a way, and they had their own personalities and concerns."

"I loved the cartoon," adds Stone, who has fond memories of 101 Dalmatians. "I especially loved that the dogs looked like their owners, I thought that was so funny. And I remember as a kid trying to see if dogs did in fact look like their owners — and a lot of times they do."

Cruella will be released simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access on May 28th.

You May Also Like