Into the Woods musical stars serenade

Into the Woods interviews

Director Rob Marshall and actors who sing Anna Kendrick and James Corden talk Disney's latest

Disney's Into the Woods is a big screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's witty, satirical musical that sees a collection of familiar fairy-tale characters venturing into the titular woods to achieve their hearts' desires.

Understandably, when it comes to a project like this, casting is crucial – after all, no-one wants another Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia! on their hands. Asked whether he preferred actors who could sing over singers who could act, director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine) sides with the musical's author: ‘Stephen Sondheim has said he prefers actors who sing and it's very clear from his material – it's not big enormous notes held forever, it's really thoughts that need to be expressed through lyric and feeling. So actors who sing Sondheim's material really need to be actors.’

With that in mind, Marshall's first call was obvious: ‘I cast Meryl Streep (as the wicked witch) first – I asked her to do it and she said yes, which was a dream for me, personally. I can't imagine a director on the planet who wouldn't die to work with her.’ Marshall also turned to Johnny Depp for a brief but delightful cameo as the Big Bad Wolf: ‘I had worked with Johnny on Pirates of the Caribbean and I love working with him – he loves to create characters and he was very excited about being part of an ensemble, even in such a small part. And also he had done Sweeney Todd, so he liked the idea of continuing in the Sondheim musicals.’

The appeal of singing in this particular Sondheim musical also struck a chord with Anna Kendrick, who co-stars as Cinderella. She recalls a strong connection to the original Broadway show: ‘I saw the Bernadette Peters VHS when I was about ten, I think. And, like many people before me, I thought that the first act was the end of the show, and then I remember watching the second act and being kind of upset that this was happening to these characters because they were characters I knew and loved and I remember, even at the time, feeling very challenged by it.’

Co-star James Corden (who plays The Baker, alongside Emily Blunt as his wife) concurs on the challenging nature of the material and is full of praise for Marshall, who cast both Corden and Kendrick after they took part in a sing-through workshop. Says Corden: ‘I can’t even conceive of how you take a show that is three-hours long and beloved by so many people, passionately, and you cut an hour and you don’t lose a beat of story, a beat of heart, a beat of humour – no-one else can take credit for that except for Rob.’

Corden also confirms that a key part of the appeal of the project lay in the central message of the film: ‘I don't know if it's a particularly healthy thing to tell children that this notion of “Happily Ever After” will just exist forever. And I think that's the best thing that Sondheim has done with this. There's a song called "No-one Is Alone" and the message of the song is that whatever your life is and whatever your circumstance, there are bad things coming your way and there's nothing you can do about it. At times like that you're going to feel like you're absolutely alone in the world and I think it's a good, positive, interesting message to say, you're not alone – you feel like you are, but you're not, because no-one is.’

General release from Fri 9 Jan.

Into the Woods: 'To Grandmother's House'

Into the Woods

  • 3 stars
  • 2014
  • US
  • 2h 4min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Rob Marshall
  • Cast: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski, Johnny Depp
  • UK release: 9 January 2015

Disney's long-in-the-making adaptation of Sondheim and Lapine's musical, in which a clutch of fairytale characters help a baker (Corden) and his wife (Blunt) lift a curse which prevents them from having a baby. Despite some great moments, the story drags; if you're a fan it's likely to please, but it won't win anyone else…