But she’s so cruel.
She has a darkness. And how do you make a film about someone who curses a baby and make them relatable? It’s like the worst thing you could possibly do! But I think the script that Linda [Woolverton (The Lion King)] wrote, has quite a deep understanding. The exercise wasn’t how can we have fun with a villain? It was: what turns people evil and vile and aggressive and cruel. What could have possibly happened to her that would get her to that moment in the christening? She wasn’t invited, so she’s pissed off?
Without spoiling anything, there is a betrayal early in her life that involves Sleeping Beauty’s father [District 9’s Sharlto Copely]. So when you say she is relatable, are we meant to have sympathy for this devil?
I think what you hope to do is to make a film that has themes that are sophisticated enough for adults but for the children watching, they can learn and embrace something about being a fighter, about being abused, about what it is you protect –because there’s another side of her. I was reading it, and I actually had moments where I got emotional reading it and that was really surprising to me. It’s about the struggle that people have with their own humanity and what is that that destroys that and kind of makes us die inside.
You’ve got six kids at home. What did they think of their mom as this villain?
I told my kids I was playing Maleficent and they went “She’s so scary!” and I said “Let me tell you the real story but you can’t tell anybody” so I put them in the room and I told them the [film’s] story. So this was my test too, like any parent. And the next day, I heard Shiloh getting into a fight with another kid, defending Maleficent. Saying, “You don’t understand her!” They got into a bit of an argument and I thought that’s the reason to do the film. It’s not just that there’s more to people than meets the eye, but that there’s injustice in the world and children get fired up about injustice. [They] want the character they believe in to get up and fight. And when that character makes mistakes — which Maleficent does, and crosses many lines — you want them to be angry at her and concerned and confused and in the end, somehow understand something that they didn’t know before.
What did it feel like to be in her skin?
Maleficent was always so elegant. She always was in control. And to play her was difficult. I worked on my voice a lot. She’s bigger than me. She’s on a different level of performance that I have never done. She’s very still. She’s very sure of herself, but I couldn’t figure out her voice, I kept playing with these different types of British voices, making my voice darker and scarier.