'The Huntsman: Winter’s War’ Stars Reveal the Making of a Fairy Tale Sequel

For Charlize Theron’s evil queen Ravenna, 2012’s “Snow White and the Huntsman” didn’t exactly end with “happily ever after,” but that doesn’t stop her from enjoying a reunion with co-star Chris Hemsworth in “The Huntsman: Winter’s War.”

One-part prequel and one-part sequel, the Universal Pictures film explores the backstories of Theron’s wicked monarch and Hemsworth’s noble huntsman Eric, including their connection to Ravenna’s cold-hearted sister Freya (played by Emily Blunt) and Eric’s counterpart Sara (Jessica Chastain), who’s every bit as skilled a warrior.

The stars and the film’s director, Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, recently gathered on the Universal Studios back lot to reveal the secrets of spinning a fairy-tale follow-up out of whole cloth.

On what attracted them to the film

Chris Hemsworth: I had a great time in the first one, but it was a darker-in-tone film. When we were shooting that, we were talking about the potential of doing a sequel or a spinoff, or both, or whatever, then this came together first. I liked the fact that there was an opportunity to have it be much lighter in tone and have a greater sense of humor to the character, and still have that epic adventure, but it be more fun. That’s what we aimed for with the script, and Cedric had the same intention.

Charlize Theron: I had a blast on the first one. I had a really great time working with Chris. I think I was in shock when I got the call because I died in the first one. Spoiler alert. So I was a little bit like, how is that going to work out? Then I was just really -- I was really flattered they wanted to bring me back.

Then when I saw the script, you’re always kind of wondering what else is there to explore. I realize that I was in a very fortunate position because of the character Freya, because two things that I never thought Ravenna would ever do was love something and care for something. So that was a new thing for me to kind of explore through this character. And to get to do it with a powerhouse like Miss Blunt over there, like, “Where do I sign on? I can’t wait.”

Emily Blunt: It was a big appeal for me, to work with all the actors. I definitely was wanting to do a queen-off with Charlize Theron, which was just so awesome and fun. And I don’t think I’d ever played a villain in that heightened reality. I knew that would be a delicious thing to play. So that was a big part of it too.

Theron: Emily always says that family is the most complex relationships you can have. She [Ravenna] had a brother in the first movie, but she was so abusive to him. It was so kind of one-dimensional, that relationship. I think watching two sisters in this, there was something intricate about it. Yeah, I agree with you. It’s very real. I think that family can sometimes do the most damage to each other.

With Freya’s character, there was like a breath of fresh air that I could kind of survive on in this film. I think if that wasn’t there, this would have felt repetitive, and I don’t know if I would have been interested in doing it. So I think at the core, the character is still exactly the same, but we’re seeing different elements and different sides of her because she’s in different circumstances. On the first movie, I never thought that she’d love something. I think she loves her sister really deeply.

Jessica Chastain: I had just done a lot of movies where I was playing characters going through very dark things, and I was so bored with my life. I was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m always on a set and I’m constantly playing these sad things. I want to do something fun.” So being on the set with all of these people, we laughed a lot. It’s the most laughing I think I’ve ever had on a set.

Cedric Nicolas-Troyan: On the first movie, the Huntsman himself as a character was very different than the tone of the film. It was like, he had this swagger, he was coming in and out of drama and going and doing the Huntsman as his own movie. It was very important to carry that tone. I mean, we took a chance there because it’s a very different tone than the first movie, but it was the tone of the character that Eric is.

On the movie’s action scenes

Blunt: Oh, God. I have to leave [the action scenes] to Jessica, because Charlize and I spent our time hobbling around in high heels going, “My feet hurt!” That was the extent of our actions. Jessica would like come into the makeup bus just pouring with sweat from some awful stunt coordinating.

Chastain: Universal sent someone to New York to work with me. We had to have a way of fighting that made sense opposite Chris. Because Eric is, he’s like a wall. He has this brute force and he can take a punch. He takes a lot before he falls down. Whereas Sara, if she’s hit, she’s probably going to go down immediately. So just because of our size difference, the fighting style needed to be faster and using the opponent’s momentum and their weight against them.

Hemsworth: I definitely [changed my fighting style for this role]. Yeah, different weapons, obviously, dictate how I do it in a huge way. As far as Thor goes, he has much more non-human sort of strength and abilities. Eric just has to be grounded in reality.

Chastain: I went to London for three weeks to work with a stunt team before we started shooting. The last week I started training in the shoes that I wear, which have lifts in them. About four and a half inches. They look like flats, but inside it’s a heel. And that was shocking, because I thought after a few weeks with a stunt guy, I was like, “Oh I got this” – in my tennies. Then all of a sudden, I put the boots on and was like “Wow, this is really different.”

Theron: I have a very vivid memory of Cedric, one day when we were doing a fight sequence and I remember it so vividly. He’s like, so, “I mean, you’re a little close to the step right here, but I need you right here on the edge, and then when she comes down, you’re just going to have to turn.” And I was like, “Do you know what I’m wearing?” And he’s like, “… and you turn into ravens and it’s really fast.” And I was like, “You lost me at ‘fast.’ Nothing’s going to be fast about this.” And as I’m bitching and moaning about turning in the scene, I’m looking at Jessica, who’s, like, ready to jump. She’s, like, up there, she’s got, like, barely a harness on. There’s no mat. I’m just like, “Oh, my God, I need to shut up. Pull it together.”

Nicolas-Troyan: What you have to realize is, like she said, she can’t turn, but that’s half the truth. Because what you have to realize is like, a lot of those shots, she is actually like doing it. The amount of shots in that sequence that are performed by the stunt double are minimal. There is like two or three. Every time you see all those, she does it in that dress. That is amazing.

Theron: I had four crew members holding me up, but I did it myself, guys. I was like, “Can I get somebody to just hold me right here?” There was like five guys surrounding me. I was just, like, holding on to them. They’re like, “We can’t get Chris in the frame.” I was like, “I don’t care. I can do it now. Let’s do this.”

I think that the costumes really changed my posture. I would say that definitely, really came into play. There’s something about a corset that will make you just sit up straight. The cape was like for me a big one. I don’t know why. I loved wearing that cape because it did something with my [posture]…I had to kind of like veer my neck forward, otherwise my hair and my crown would kind of get caught in the neck part of it. It definitely did something.

When we didn’t have it on, I could see it different when I was watching playback. There was definitely a difference. It was almost like something coming at you that I just had to naturally do because of the costume. I feel like most of it was just reacting to Emily. The scenes were written for us to really kind of listen to each other and respond. That’s what I loved.

I feel like in the first film, I didn’t really have a lot of that because Ravenna was just kind of like not letting anybody speak and wouldn’t listen to anybody, and was just kind of yelling at people. This was nice because her sister can kind of get through to her, and she hears her sister.

On the mood on the film’s set

Hemsworth: To be honest, there was a whole difference of energy on this because we all had our kids there on set a lot of the time. Normally, the set being this sort of tense, respectful, quiet sort of place. That was just thrown out the window when the kids came. They were chasing each other around with the weapons and yelling, “Get him! Kill her! Do that!”

Theron: So we’re raising them really well.

Hemsworth: We raised them really well. Taught them how to survive in a vicious kingdom.

“The Huntsman: Winter’s War” opens Friday nationwide.

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