WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, in theaters now.
Disney's Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, the sequel to 2014's Maleficent, includes not one but three strong female leads. There's the title character, played by Angelina Jolie, a dark fairy who may not be warm and fuzzy but cares deeply for adopted daughter Aurora. There's Aurora herself, played by Elle Fanning, who has grown up to be queen of the fairy-kingdom of the Moors and, as the movie begins, accepts Prince Phillip's marriage proposal. Finally, there's Phillip's mother Queen Ingrith, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, who exploits the differences between Maleficent and Aurora to pull them apart, in service of her own agenda.
During a press conference for Mistress of Evil, all three actresses discussed what it was like to play their characters in the movie. As the newcomer to the world of Maleficent, Pfeiffer said she was attracted to the role of Queen Ingrith immediately, "I was really delighted and surprised when I read the script. And I was excited just at the notion of working with [Jolie and Fanning].”
While the film is a fairy tale, just like the original Maleficent, Pfeiffer found, "it’s a very unusual fairy tale. It’s what I also loved about the first film. It was so surprising... What I loved is that it kind of played in this grey area and it talked about good versus evil… in that… all of us have a little bit of everything in us. And I think in terms of strength and how that manifests itself, it’s [different] in everyone."
As for Queen Ingrith, Pfeiffer observed, "I mean my character is really brilliant and diabolical but I wouldn’t consider her terribly wise." She added, "She’s damaged… nobody behaves that way unless they’re incredibly damaged on some level… She just doesn’t wear it on her sleeve. In some ways what she resorts to is really, truly out of a very deep fear."
Given the awful things Queen Ingrith does in the movie, Pfeiffer relished the opportunity to bring out the nuances of the character. She said, "I felt like I had a lot of freedom to try and bring some other colors… try to find the humanity…"
Meanwhile, Fanning felt Aurora's kindness and femininity were extremely important aspects of her character, but that didn't mean she wasn't strong and capable too. Fanning explained, "You know in the second film what’s so great is that she’s definitely a young woman now. And she’s grown up, she is stronger, she has much more conviction within herself, and she’s learning how to gain her independence.... Aurora’s taking charge of her own life, but with kindness, which is the most powerful [thing] of all."
Fanning was also quick to contrast the way Aurora's strength is manifested in Mistress of Evil and the way the strength of other female characters is often manifested in movies. She noted, "We didn’t want Aurora to... be [wearing ] armor and have a sword and she’s fighting and that makes her strong. That’s not Aurora’s true nature. I love that she symbolizes that. There’s nothing wrong with that. We get to show strength in accepting your femininity, and Aurora does it in a pink dress -- very bad ass.”
Pfeiffer concurred, saying, "One of the things we loved... about Aurora’s character is that in many ways she is ultimately the strongest and the wisest of all of us."
Meanwhile Jolie talked about coming to terms with the idea of people seeing her as Maleficent, a traditionally evil character. She observed, "It’s funny… when you’re not an actor you’re always figuring out who you are and how people see you, you don’t know as much -- maybe now with social media everybody knows everybody’s opinion -- but as an actor it’s strange, you put yourself forward and somebody says ‘Well that’s very you.’ And you think, ‘Really, is it?’"
She continued, "And when I got a call and they said ‘We thought you were the only person that could play Maleficent, it was so obvious,’ and then everybody else says, ‘Well, it’s so obvious,’ [I just thought], ‘I’m really not sure how I’m supposed to take that.’"
Despite her misgivings, Jolie took the role and now admits, "I love her. So maybe I just need to fully embrace it at this time in my life."
As for getting the chance to play the character a second time, Jolie said, "I was so happy to feel strong again and to have fun. And I adore being her…. and I’m now very proud of being associated with her.”
Directed by Joachim Rønning, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil stars Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Skrein, Jenn Murray, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Juno Temple and Brenton Thwaites. The film opens Friday nationwide.