Kay Cannon on ‘Cinderella’: ‘I flipped it on its head’

The director of the latest live action version of the fairytale says she started with a traditional base and added modern twists

What is the crux of the Cinderella story — is it the ball where a magically-transformed Cinderella dances the night away with captivated Prince or the glass slipper that she leaves behind and which the prince uses to find his belle de ball?

“I would pick the ball over the slipper,” says Kay Cannon who has directed Cinderella, the latest live action version of the fairytale starring Camila Cabello. “So much happens in the ball. That is where Cinderella finds love. The ball is the culmination of the magic, amazing-ness, aspiration and beauty. When you leave the ball, the magic goes away and the slipper stays.”

It is different

Speaking over a video call from California, Cannon, who has written and produced the Pitch Perfect films, says she tried to take all of the best parts of the fairy tale, what everybody loves, and find a new way of presenting it. “I tried to flip it on its head and make it more relatable to what we are going through now. Stylistically, I started with a traditional base and added modern twists to all aspects from costume, hair and makeup to using contemporary and original songs.”

Songs sung true

Cinderella is a musical with old favourites including Madonna’s ‘Material Girl’, and Janet Jackson’s ‘Rhythm Nation’, and new songs. “I wanted to have the songs feel like dialogue on the page. They needed to make sense and propel the story. It was a puzzle, to figure out which already-existing songs I could use and at what point in the story.”

Cannon wanted Cinderella to be looked at as an original movie so she wanted the character to have an original song. “When we cast Idina Menzel as Vivian, Cinderella’s stepmother, I felt we had to do an original song for her as well because I was telling a slightly new version of her story. She had dreams that had been squashed. She lost her husband because she tried to follow her dreams. I wanted original songs to reflect the new elements.”

Dress it up

Director Kay Cannon

Director Kay Cannon
 

Every telling of the Cinderella story has the big ball-gown moment. There is twist here as Cinderella is a designer. “It was a career in which Cinderella could follow her dreams. Cinderella being a designer also made sense, because I knew I was going to take her to a ball. I wanted her to go to a ball, because she was trying to network and sell her designs, rather than to find a man. It felt very organic.”

The costumes also followed the stylistic formula of traditional and trendy. “Charlotte (Spencer), who plays Narissa, one of Cinderella’s step sisters, is actually wearing a J Crew shirt in one of the scenes. It has got a great design, is elegant and modern. It is paired with a designed skirt, which feels from a long time ago with an absolutely modern vibe.

Let the fun times roll

Camilla Cabello ín a still from Cinderella

Camilla Cabello ín a still from Cinderella
 
| Photo Credit: Kerry Brown

Pierce Brosnan and Minnie Driver have a great deal of fun playing Prince Robert’s (Nicholas Galitzine) parents, King Rowan and Queen Beatrice. “I love working with Pierce and Minnie. I love them as a couple, I felt they were a great king and queen together. When it comes to Pierce, he is so talented and game to do anything.”

Billy Porter, who plays the gender-switched fairy godparent, Fab G, is on screen for less than 12 minutes, Cannon says. “It is such a fun sequence. He is funny and sings incredibly well and does it in style in five-inch boots.”

All the singing and dancing has drawn comparisons with Hindi cinema. “It is quite a compliment and I am glad of the comparison.” Naming Slumdog Millionaire as her favourite Indian film, Cannon says, “I apologize for the answer because I am sure that is what a lot of Americans would say (laughs). The finale number, ‘Jai Ho’, has a similar vibe; that is what I was going for— an inclusive dance party where everyone is having fun.”

Cinderella streams on Amazon Prime Video from September 3

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