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The Amazon-distributed reimagining, written and directed by Kay Cannon (Pitch Perfect) with a story by James Corden, stars Cabello in the title role and is packed with an all-star cast that includes Idina Menzel, Billy Porter, Pierce Brosnan, Minnie Driver and Corden, among others.
While most iterations of Cinderella focus on finding happily ever after with a fairytale romance, Cannon’s take focuses on a modern girl with big aspirations beyond waiting for her Prince Charming.
“I wasn’t really a big fan of the Cinderella story or fairytales in general,” the director tells The Hollywood Reporter. “A lot of the fairytales, they’re missing a parent or, for Cinderella specifically, it kind of felt like ladies just being mean to each other.”
Cannon said the project was a chance for her to shift some of those outdated concepts. “When James Corden came to me and said we can tell the Cinderella story using contemporary songs, I said, ‘Wait, so you’re saying I could retell the story as I’ve always wanted it to feel [and make it] more relatable to what’s happening and how women and girls view themselves?’ I was like, ‘I’m on board!’”
Cabello added of the film, “It’s kind of a rebellious, badass version of Cinderella that I think has these amazing modern progressive values. It’s different than the Cinderella you know.”
For Cabello, the film also happens to mark a major milestone: her big-screen debut. The performer credited the talented cast for what she called an overall fun experience, but admitted, “there were definitely nerves before, during and after.”
Cannon noted that she instantly knew Cabello was right for the part after watching her music videos like “Havana” and noticing her natural comedic instincts. “We did have a moment, the two of us, when she did a chemistry test because that was the first time that I was really seeing her act in the scenes. And we both looked at each other and she goes, ‘It’s good I can do this, right?’”
The two also shared a touching story: how, during one of their first meetings, the director gifted the performer with a real glass slipper. “When she was seriously considering the role, I flew out to Miami and I had a glass slipper and the producers were like, ‘Don’t give her a glass slipper, that’s weird,” the director recalled. “And I was like, ‘You’re right, that’s weird and like 30 seconds in I was pulling out that glass slipper and I was just like, ‘does this fit?’”
Cabello joked that, unfortunately, the director only got her one. “I wear one on one foot,” she said, adding, “it was such a beautiful gesture of hers. It’s a little beautiful glass slipper that I have in my house.”
With a modern retelling of the classic tale there was also the opportunity to reimagine certain characters. For Menzel, the role of Vivian was a chance to put a spin on the wicked stepmother trope. “It was fun to figure out the approach and the tone or how realistic to make her,” the Tony-winning Broadway actress said. “We’re in a musical but we’re also being super modern and real. I wanted her to resonate and understand maybe why she does the things that she does.”
Meanwhile, Porter brought new dimension to the fairy godmother as Ella’s glamorous protector, Fab G. Porter portrayed the character as genderless noting “magic has no gender.”
“It’s time. I’m just thrilled to have lived long enough to see the day for something like this to be possible,” Porter said. “When I got into this business in the mid-80’s as a Black queer man, this was not possible. This was an impossibility. So to learn to dream the impossible is very significant and I hope we can spread that energy through this work.”
For the role, the Emmy, Grammy and Tony-winning performer also drew inspiration from another icon: Whitney Houston, who famously played the part of the fairy godmother in Disney’s 1997 TV adaptation of Cinderella. “My goal as a 14-year-old teenage queen in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was to be the male Whitney Houston. So when I got a call to play this part, I squealed like a 16-year-old teenager, ‘I got the Whitey Houston part! I got the Whitney Houston part!’ I got everything from Whitney Houston!”
While that version featured music from Rodgers and Hammerstein, Amazon’s reimagining called for new music with original songs from Cabello and Menzel, and even a vocal performance by Brosnan. Fans also got a taste of the actor’s vocals in 2008’s Mamma Mia! with the actor telling THR, “at this point in my career it’s just a joy to be able to go off and play these kind of character parts.”
In addition to originals, Amazon’s Cinderella also includes a number of cover songs ranging from Menzel’s version of Madonna’s “Material Girl” to Porter’s standout performance of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Shining Star.” But, what was one of the first songs Cannon knew she had to have for the modern update?
“Very early on, I figured out I wanted ‘Rhythm Nation’ and ‘You Gotta Be,'” Cannon said, “because I wanted the town to have this traditional feel. Like with ‘Rhythm Nation,’ they’re all doing the same thing and I knew I wanted Cinderella to do something different because she’s different and fighting against tradition.”
Overall, the cast, calling the film “a carrier of many important messages,” credits Corden and Cannon’s vision in bringing this modern story to life. “[They’re] just so passionate about this movie and we all were,” says Cabello, “and I think that really shows on the screen — the love that went into it.”
Cinderella premieres on Amazon Prime Video, Sept. 3. Watch the video above for more on this story.
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