Here’s what you need to know about Cruella, the latest Disney live-action movie to hit theaters: It is not a fairytale. There are no princesses, talking snowmen, or magical godmothers to save the day. There is no love story, no promise of a happy ending. The main character is kind of an asshole for most of the movie.
Cruella is, however, a delicious revenge tale. A gritty coming-of-age period piece. A high-stakes heist that could rival Ocean’s 11. It’s everything you loved about The Devil Wears Prada, but darker. (Even Miranda Priestly would draw the line at killing puppies for a fur coat.) This version of Cruella may be fur-free—the movie explains the whole Dalmatian connection—but still. The fact people even think she’s capable of it says enough.
Emma Stone stars as Estella, an aspiring designer who makes her way in the world through picking pockets and other petty crimes with her found family, Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser). After a chance meeting with the Baroness (Emma Thompson), the head of a legacy fashion house, Estella lands a dream job working for her. But the relationship between Estella and the Baroness eventually sours, and it inspires the former to transform into Cruella—a more bold, maybe even evil version of herself.
“To me, it’s such a great narrative to see these two powerful women,” says Cruella director Craig Gillespie of the dynamic between Stone and Thompson, which drives the plot of the film. “It’s just about them being at the top of their game.” Exactly—it rocks.
Disney fans won’t be disappointed. There are plenty of Easter eggs to the original animated movie, as well as Glenn Close’s 1996 live-action remake, to thrill even the most diehard Mouseketeer. But the PG-13 movie feels removed and unique enough from the family-friendly entertainment corporation’s usual fare that you’ll forget halfway through that this all came from a 1961 animated story about puppies.
That was mostly intentional, according to Gillespie. Below the director tells Glamour how he approached the script, what it was like working with the two greatest Emmas in Hollywood, and more.
Glamour: Being on set with Emma Stone and Emma Thompson must have been so much fun. Was there anything that surprised you about working with them?
Craig Gillespie: It was amazing to work with the two of them. They are such versatile powerhouses, and the interesting thing was figuring out the dynamic of their characters together. It’s the most exciting part of the film. Cruella’s such a gregarious, flamboyant character, and Emma Stone would give me all these different energy levels from 0 to 10. We had to figure out, “Where’s the Cruella that fits the tone of this movie?”
And then Emma Thompson comes in. We found with her, the more refined and specific the movement—a slight eyebrow, a head turn, or the bite of a cucumber, the tiniest little details—gave us so much power. The stillness of her was really surprising against Cruella. It quickly became the dynamic that worked so well, and it’s funny because Emma Thompson is such a gregarious person. To see her distill it down to these minute little moments was fun.
Where on a scale of 1 to 10 did you and Emma Stone decide to land? Because her Cruella felt like a 10, in the best way possible.
It was not the 10. [Laughs.] I don’t think I realized until we started shooting the complexity of her performance. There are several Cruellas—there’s the Cruella in the red dress, which is really Estella discovering a character. She’s putting on the character of Cruella and winging it with the Baroness, so she has a pretty heightened performance there. But in the next scene, she’s going through emotional trauma and becomes this dark, alienating Cruella. And then we get to a Cruella that has to morph between the Estella and the Cruella—she becomes a more fully formed human being. The character has all these complexities, so there would be different heightened versions. I think probably that red dress would be the 10.
It was fun to watch, because it’s been a minute since I’ve seen a movie where things were dialed up in that way. One thing I also enjoyed was that parts of the movie felt like an homage to great heist films, like Ocean’s 11. Can you speak to that?
I had to do a heist education, which was mostly the Ocean’s 11 stuff. I wanted to figure out, how much does the audience need to know what’s going on? And as I watched those movies, I realized you actually don’t know anything. The more you keep the audience in the dark, the intrigue is there.
We’ve got this whole “bringing down the Baroness” agenda going on through the second act, but you really don’t know anything about how they’re going to do it. I was hoping the audience would still stay engaged. That’s where I did a lot of my homework with the heist films—to see that the trick of them is to keep the audience in the dark.
I talked with the movie’s makeup artist, Nadia Stacey, about the film’s incredible looks. What was it like collaborating from your end?
I pulled all this reference from the ’70s and the punk era, and Nadia embraced it immediately. I think because I was like, and not in a negative way, “Stop thinking like we’re doing a Disney film. We’re doing a period piece, coming-of-age story.” She went for it and had all these amazing references. Cruella, as a character, is never going to do the same hairstyle twice or the same makeup. It’s natural she would always be mixing it up. There was so much jammed into this film that she just ran with it. There’d be days where Cruella would turn up, and I’d see the look for the first time and be like, “Awesome. Looks great. Let’s go.”
Is there a moment or a scene you feel best captures the spirit of the movie? If you had to pull out one and put it in a time capsule, which would you choose?
I approached this like an indie film, even though it was massive, and there was always a lot of spontaneity and fluidity. There’s a big scene, it’s kind of the emotional climax of the film, when Estella goes to the fountain at the end of the second act. It’s a three-minute monologue, which is very hard for an actor to stand there and do with nobody else. Emma Stone is so talented, and I had no fear that she would be able to deliver. But I wanted her to be in a comfortable place and have the space to do it, so I sent her a piece of music that emotionally resonated with me. We had designed the scene to be done in several shots, but after listening to that music I called her and said, “I changed my mind. I’m just going to do handheld with one camera.” It meant she had to do the whole speech in one take. And then I said, “We’re going to shoot it at dusk, so you have 20 minutes.” [Laughs.]
Last question: What do you hope people take away from seeing the movie?
It’s two things. First, I love these two incredibly strong women going head-to-head. To me, it’s such a great narrative to see these two powerful women. It’s uniquely their story. There’s no subplot, there’s no love interest. It’s just about them being at the top of their game, and I love that part of it. And second, it’s really fun. It’s just a lot of fun.
Anna Moeslein is the senior entertainment editor at Glamour. Follow her on Instagram @annamoeslein.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Originally Appeared on Glamour