'Maleficent' Writer: I Cried Writing Angelina Jolie's Big Moment (Q&A)

 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

[WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Maleficent.]

Linda Woolverton has once again struck box-office gold, with her Maleficent bringing in $170.6 million globally during its opening weekend.

Woolverton, whose credits include Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King and Alice in Wonderland, says the film's key scene -- in which Maleficent's (Angelina Jolie) kiss awakens Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) -- was one of the more emotional experiences of her professional career.

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"You have to rewrite these things 100 times, and every single time I wrote it I could barely get through it," she tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I did Homeward Bound, you know that dog movie? Every single time I wrote the moment over the hill when everyone comes back at the end, I would cry into my hand over the keyboard. The kiss scene was like that for me."

Here Woolverton discusses the biggest challenges of writing a blockbuster and why she inverted that kiss scene.

What were some of your big challenges when you were approaching this?

The biggest challenge was how to make a villain into a protagonist. How on earth was I going to justify that this woman would curse a baby? (Laughs.)

Where did that motivation start?

We based this on the Disney movie, not the fairy tale. I was looking at that scene, and I had done some research, and the biggest surprise is that she's a fairy, not a witch. I've always wanted to do a dark fairy story. Then I watched that scene where she curses the baby, and I'm thinking "well if she's a fairy, where are her wings?" Suddenly it was "boom. Lightbulb. Oh! It's the wings!" Then I worked backward from there to create the Stefan relationship.

There are points where Maleficent is quite charming. She saves the baby from running off a cliff. We slowly realize she likes the princess.

At what point along the way do we finally get that her heart is changing, melting? That scene was pivotal in letting the audience know she's not going to let that baby fall of the cliff. The skeptic could say it's because she wants the baby to live so the curse can come true. But the reality is she's falling for this child.

How early did you know it would be Maleficent's kiss, not the prince's, who wakes her up?

Very early. The whole movie was moving us toward that singular moment.

Did she redeem herself?

Even if you can never come back from something so horrific, what's done is done. She doesn't ask for forgiveness, and her love for Aurora is her redemption.

How did you approach the battle scene where Maleficent ended up fighting the king?

It was important Aurora could find the wings so she could give Maleficent her wings back. There are brilliant people who do stunts and figure things out, and we had a brilliant director. So I thought it would all change, honestly. I wrote the iron thing falling down from the ceiling, thinking it would be a placeholder. But it worked.

What was Stefan's path when you were thinking about his development?

Both he and Maleficent turn corners. She makes a right choice, and he makes a wrong choice. He becomes obsessive, and that obsession drives him a little crazy. Originally the other king wanted Maleficent's death, but Stefan couldn't kill her. There's a tiny part of him who is a decent human being, but he's so driven for power and riches.

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What scene did you enjoy writing the most?

I liked the scene with the raindrops on the fairies inside the house. I liked seeing her enjoying her wickedness. And Angie did that so well.

What was the most significant scene in your mind?

The kiss scene.  You have to rewrite these things 100 times, and every single time I wrote it I could barely get through it. I did Homeward Bound, you know that dog movie? Every single time I wrote the moment over the hill when everyone comes back at the end, I would cry into my hand over the keyboard. The kiss scene was like that for me.

You must have those moments in a lot of the movies you write.

It's very cathartic for me. You can't write the truth if you're not feeling it. I get to be Maleficent when I'm writing these things.

What do you think about when you write scripts that are going to end up being huge movies?

I don't think about how big it is. I am totally writing for myself. Because I've done it, I do know these things go out into the world, but I can't think about that. I need to think about what the best way to tell this story is. I use my own experiences, because a life is full of victories, failures, defeats and bad choices. They are sort of universal things that happen to people, and I am hoping people are going to relate.

Now that you have had more life experience, is there anything about this film that you couldn't have written 20 years ago?

I don't think I could have written as complex a lead character. She has a lot of different colors to her, and I probably wouldn't have brought my own life into it as much. I have a daughter, so I'm sure I wouldn't have written the same character 10 years ago.

Was there a scene that was particularly challenging?

The biggest challenge of the whole thing was that intervening 16 years. You are really stuck with that. In the best of storytelling, you don't sit around where not much happens in 16 years. It was this big thing stuck in the middle of the story that we had to contend with.

What was your solution for that?

There's not a lot of action happening. We did have Stefon building his castle of iron, but what's going on in the heart of the story is her relationship with Aurora. But we couldn't stay with it together. You have to cut away to other things. It was a balancing act.

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