Best known for his big-budget, high-concept commercials for popular video game franchises like Halo and Call of Duty, director Rupert Sanders makes his feature film debut with Universal Pictures’ Snow White and the Huntsman. After his Saturday panel at WonderCon in Anaheim, Sanders sat down with the press to discuss the film, which opens June 1.
The director readily admitted that with a $70 million budget and an all-star cast, led by Charlize Theron, Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth, Snow White and the Huntsman was a large project to tackle for his first time at bat.
“It’s a big film. I couldn’t get a small film, ironically,” he explained. “It’s much harder to get a small film off the ground than it is to get a big film off the ground.”
Given that Sanders’ commercial work often includes exploding helicopters and enormous gun battles, it’s probably no surprise that Universal had faith he could shepherd such a large production. “Yeah, I’m actually– if you think of the money we spend on a minute [for a commercial], I’m actually making a fairly low-budget film at the moment,” he said.
Sanders’ Snow White and the Huntsman is one of two films based on the classic fairy tale arriving in theaters this year. The other, Mirror Mirror, is a romantic comedy directed by Tarsem Singh and starring Julia Roberts. When Sanders was asked if he was familiar with Singh or his version of the story, the director was diplomatic. “It’s definitely a big veering from what he does normally,” he said. “It’s a comedy, which is something that Tarsem is not known for, you know. I think that probably we’re both getting a lot more publicity because both films are out there. They’re very different. I think there’s room for both of them. Look, I hope we both succeed and I hope people will want to see two versions.”
In fact, all of the speculation about the two films going head to head could actually have a positive effect on the box office. “People love to go, ‘Oh, Hollywood is making two movies about the same thing. They’re so dumb,’” Sanders said. “And so everyone talks about it, and actually I think it helps the awareness of the project.”
Sanders’ Snow White is played by Twilight star Stewart, and the director was effusive in his praise for the actress. “She’s such a good actor that everyone thinks she’s Bella Swan,” he said. “They believe that that’s her, and obviously an actor is playing a role, you know. She is nothing like Bella. I got on really well with Kristen. It was great.”
Because Stewart is inextricably identified with her work in The Twilight Saga, Sanders was asked whether he was ever concerned casting her might ultimately be a distraction. “I’ve never seen the Twilight [films], so I didn’t really care that much,” he said. “I met her, I got on with her. She’s a great actor. She was right for the character. That’s it, you know? It was as simple as that for me.”
While Stewart plays one of the title characters, much of the promotional materials have focused on evil Queen Ravenna, portrayed by Oscar winner Theron. However, Sanders confirmed that Stewart is indeed the film’s focus. “The way it’s positioned, I think, is we’re starting to bring her in more and more,” he said. “We don’t want to give too much away, you know?”
Sanders also confirmed that his version of the Snow White story will explore the backgrounds of all the characters. “All of them have very rich backstories, you know,” he said. “They’ve all suffered a great deal of loss.”
Given that the film explores the theme of loss on such a grand scale, Sanders was asked a follow-up question about whether the film is appropriate for kids. “Well, it’s not for 6-year-olds, but I think it’s for 8 to 80. I think there’s a message in it for everyone,” he said, adding, “It’s certainly not for the kids who wear Snow White diapers.”
Disney’s animated classic Snow White has seven dwarves, but Sanders explained his version actually features eight. “It’s just weird how those things happen,” he said. “It wasn’t, again, like, you know, ‘We’ve got to have eight dwarves!’ It was just like, ‘Fuck it. Let’s have eight dwarves. The Snow White story, or Snow Drop story, they just had dwarves, you know? We weren’t trying to be Disney, it’s just we wanted one more.”
When pressed about what role the dwarves would play in the film, the conversation took an interesting turn.
“The dwarves really, you know, dwarves mythologically are latent sexuality, you know, they’re half-men. So, they’re kind of, they’re about sexual awakening,” Sanders said. “It’s really about another group of people who have lost everything because of the [Queen’s] reign, and they are touched by Snow White and they decide that they will fight for their pride again alongside her.”