Tarsem Singh is having quite a past several months with his film Immortals scoring huge at the box office and now he is back with Mirror Mirror. The live action imagining of the Snow White fairy tale utilizes the filmmaker’s astounding visual palette to show us a world inspired by numerous elements. Movie Fanatic caught up with the director for an exclusive interview, delving deeper into his fairy tale world. Singh speaks about how he tackled the massive challenge of bringing the fairy tale to life and surprises us with how he went about casting Lily Collins, Julia Roberts and Armie Hammer as Snow White, the Evil Queen and Prince Andrew Alcott.
When presenting anew an iconic fairy tale that has resonated for centuries, Singh threw out all the potential cultural reference points to the classic story and saw it as a different kind of tale. “I’ve never been a fairy tale fan. I’ve done three R-rated movies, I never thought of doing a movie for families. It wasn’t something I was looking to do at all,” he admitted. “But, I wanted to do a family movie, a proper family movie. For me, it was more along those lines. Then, when I read the script I realized that I would gravitate towards this one.”
He saw Mirror Mirror as a straight family story more than a fairy tale. “I never saw the animation version of Snow White before I started -- I finally saw it about a month ago. Those are 10-minute stories. You have songs, and everything else that makes them longer. But at its heart, it is a short story. It’s basic,” Singh said. The core of this particular story that was born centuries ago, the director said, is about control and vanity.
“It’s about someone who wants to be the most beautiful and will kill those who get in her way. So, I saw this as a story about a person who wants power. It just so happens that the way to get the power is to be the fairest of them all. Now, she wants vanity, a means to get power.”
Singh doesn’t necessarily see the Evil Queen as a villain per se. “The most interesting thing of all is when you want something and you go after it, you don’t think of yourself as a bad person,” the director said. He also saw her relationship with the iconic household item that provides the film’s title as unique to say the least. “For me, I found it interesting that the Evil Queen’s mirror is almost like a shrink,” he said and laughed. “You talk to the mirror, but you are really talking yourself into what you want to do.”
Having created visual spectacles with The Cell, The Fall and Immortals, Singh reported that his canvas of inspiration changes from film to film. “Funny enough, I don’t like the visual that much,” he said with a chuckle.
“For Mirror Mirror, I realized so much of it happens in a forest, and when I think about the forest on film, it is now owned by Tim Burton. I knew that I had to have a new take on it, and when I did, I knew I had a film. I went back, way back, and ended up of all things with director Andrey Tarkovskiy’s Ivan’s Childhood which takes place in the forest in the snow. The ambiance of it is something I thought looked so magical. It’s romantically graphic. I wondered if I could do the same thing by filming it in a studio. It won’t have exactly a black and white effect because there is no color anywhere, except maybe the clothes. I wanted to take the forest like Tarkovskiy and then add the colorful to it.”
Instead of filming on location, he built his forest and castle in a studio so the lighting could be controlled. “I had to stay away from Disney,” he said of his art direction. “I didn’t want to go in that direction anyway. I thought, ‘Let’s go Gaudi.’ Then it presented itself so easily with that Russian theme.”
Although producers were insistent on casting Snow White first, the director had other ideas. “I thought, 'No, I have no interest. We will find a Snow White. Finding an Evil Queen will be much more difficult.' The first person you want is the queen. I had only one queen and that was Julia Roberts. Fortunately, somebody told me she was really taken by my movie The Fall. I never thought I’d have a film that she would possibly like to be in and this was my chance. She has to play the queen. If she doesn’t play the queen, I don’t know where to go with it,” Singh said.
Next up… still not Snow White. “I wanted to find the prince. The romance he has is on both sides. We can’t have a guy who is age-wise too close to the queen, and then he would look uncomfortable romancing Snow White. If he’s too young, he might look wrong with the queen. I had to next find the prince,” Singh said. “Then, I looked at Snow White. Needless to say, I found the perfect one. It’s rare, but I got everyone I wanted.”