ON THIS PAGE: MEET THE CAST: A HERO, A STAR AND THE PRETTIEST GIRL IN THE VILLAGE; DIRECTOR/PRODUCER AND SCREENWRITER MATTHEW VAUGHN; AND SCREENWRITER JANE GOLDMAN.
READ MORE ABOUT: THE SUPPORTING CAST: PIRATES, WITCHES, MERCHANTS AND PRINCES; THE DESIGN - DRESSING UP A FAIRY TALE & VICTORIAN VILLAGES, WITCHES' LAIRS AND LIGHTNING SHIPS; AND PRODUCER NEIL GAIMAN, WHO IS A PROLIFIC CREATOR OF WORKS OF PROSE, POETRY, FILM, JOURNALISM, COMICS, SONG LYRICS, AND DRAMA, FIRST CREATED THE WORLD OF "STARDUST"
In the magical land of Stormhold, just on the other side of the everyday Victorian village of Wall, a blazing star has fallen from the sky. This star is no ordinary meteorite but a beautiful young woman whose long tumble through the cosmos has instantly left her in peril - her secret powers now chased after by an incredible array of seekers. From a love-struck young villager who needs the star to win his beloved; to a ferociously wicked witch determined to gain back her eternal youth; to a covetous prince who will stop at nothing to beat out the competition for his father's throne; to a supernatural series of spell-casters, goblins and even a flying pirate - everyone the star encounters has an agenda, some good, some evil, yet they all desire just one thing: her heart.
The result is "Stardust," a rip-roaring romantic adventure that mixes and matches all the grand themes and imagination-sparking elements that have ever caused anyone of any age to fall in love with fairy tales.
Unfolding on both sides of a parallel universe separated by only a thin barrier of stone, "Stardust" reveals just how amazingly close the familiar and the totally fantastic can be to one another. Starring an extraordinary cast of exciting newcomers, rising stars and Hollywood legends - including Charlie Cox, Claire Danes, Robert De Niro, Sienna Miller, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jason Flemyng, Henry Cavill, Ian McKellan, Rupert Everett, Peter O'Toole, Ricky Gervais, Nathaniel Parker, Sarah Alexander, Kate Magowan, Melanie Hill and Joanna Scanlon - "Stardust" is this summer's most original escape into enchantment.
The inspiration for the film's epic chase after an unexpected fallen star began with one of today's most visionary and bestselling authors: Neil Gaiman, whose award-winning works span from novels to comic books to screenplays, each marked by a limitless sense of imagination and penchant for spinning memorable tales. In 1997, Gaiman published Stardust, a fireside-style fairy story that unfolded in a four-book DC Comics miniseries, featuring breathtaking illustrations from Charles Vess. When it was released a year later in book form, Stardust hit the bestseller lists and was named as one of the best novels of the year.
Among both critics and readers, the story drew comparisons to "The Princess Bride" and "The Neverending Story" with its mix of humor and magic, not to mention its whole-cloth creation of an original enchanted kingdom where a shooting star could be a stunning young woman who inspires an ordinary village boy to become the heroic young man of his dreams.
The story quickly became that very rare thing: a modern classic fairytale. "I set out in the beginning to tell a story about a young man who goes after his heart's desire only to discover it isn't his heart's desire," says Gaiman of the novel. "I started with that one idea in my head and followed that all the way to the end - and was very proud when I got there that the story did exactly what I had set out for it to do."
While Gaiman may have set out simply to spin a great yarn, once it hit the light of day and won over fans of all ages, Stardust seemed destined for the big screen. From its initial publication, there was talk of what an epic cinematic experience the tale could become in our contemporary era of high-tech movie-making and special effects. But, intriguingly, it took the passion of an indie director best known for his skill with the visceral and the gritty, Matthew Vaughn, to make this fantastic world come to life on screen with all its simple storybook charm intact.
Vaughn had earlier come to the fore as the producer of the fast-paced, fun-loving, influential British action comedies "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch," and made an acclaimed directorial debut with the clever gangster thriller "Layer Cake" featuring Daniel Craig in the role that helped to win him the iconic part of James Bond. Although the far sweeter, fairy tale territory of Stardust was a complete change of gears for Vaughn, he had been hooked by the story in mere moments of reading. Like all of Stormhold, Vaughn was quickly seduced by the meteoric beauty and all the characters who would use her in one way or another to fulfill their desires.
"I thought it was one of the most wonderful, original stories I'd ever read," he recalls. "And as a director, I'm mainly interested in telling stories, which seems like a forgotten art in modern movies. This was clearly a story that was meant to be made as a film."
Inspired by the magic Gaiman had created on the page, Vaughn sought out the writer's blessing. For his part, Gaiman had so far resisted handing out the rights to Stardust, but couldn't help but have his mind changed by Vaughn's obvious love for the material and exuberantly creative ideas. "Most of all, I trusted him," says Gaiman.
With Gaiman backing him, Vaughn next set out to draft a screenplay adaptation that would make the writer's characters come to flesh-and-blood life on the screen. He started by taking Gaiman's advice to seek out the British novelist/screenwriter Jane Goldman, who has been celebrated as one of England's most inventive new writers for her novel Dreamland, and served as the presenter of the popular UK television series "Jane Goldman Investigates," in which she explored the enigma of the paranormal, from ghosts to ESP.
Gaiman hoped that Goldman would bring her innate sense of romance, mystery and humanity to the story, while Vaughn would contribute an overarching creative vision for how the many-stranded quest to possess the star Yvaine could unfold at a blistering pace in two hours of visually stunning screen time. The partnership unfolded in just that way.
"Our goal in the adaptation was to keep the story as faithful to the book as possible while, at the same time, making it more cinematic and using a bit of our own poetic license to ensure that audiences will have a fantastic ride," Vaughn explains.
Goldman notes that the duo focused on providing, with no holds barred, all the storytelling pyrotechnics any fairy tale lover ever lusted after - but also inserted a few more down-to-earth observations about life, as the best fairy tales always do. "Inside this incredible adventure are a lot of ideas about identity and fitting in and following your heart, which I think are things that everyone can relate to in real life," she says.
The story's ultimate mix of the relatably real journey of a young man coming of age blended with the fantastical tale of witches, ghosts and dashing royalty all trying to kidnap a mystical fallen star with a razor-sharp wit paid off. When Neil Gaiman read the first draft of the screenplay, his support for the project grew even stronger. "It was thrillingly exciting for me because it was quite good," he says. "It was funny and scary and had a very filmic quality to it." Gaiman now joined forces with Vaughn and Goldman to develop the screenplay even further - each pushing the other's imaginations to a further edge.
When the screenplay was finally complete, the man who then came long to put the feature film into fast forward was producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who, perhaps not surprisingly, was also involved in taking the beloved Harry Potter from novel to motion picture blockbuster and family classic. Di Bonaventura was instantly impressed with the film's vision.
"The script was an extraordinary piece of material that successfully intermeshed many different tones," he says. "There was romance, there was drama and there was laugh-out-loud humor. Most of all, there was the story of a boy becoming a man and falling in love even as he also overcomes pirates, witches, megalomaniac princes and all kinds of wonders."
Di Bonaventura also felt the joyfully playful yet wrenchingly suspenseful film was entirely unlike any other epic fantasy of recent history. "Stardust" might take place in the realm of epic adventure but it brings in elements of realism and comedy we haven't really seen much in this genre," he comments. "I love 'Lord of the Rings' and 'Narnia,' but this film doesn't have that sense of earnestness and the characters don't take themselves as seriously. It's very unique and fun."
Di Bonaventura notes that, although the film became a star-studded, globe-trotting production, it was always driven at its core by a more independent spirit. "Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman both come from an indie background so the film became a very distinctive combination of big filmmaking techniques and independent filmmaking spirit," he says. "With this film, Matthew had a chance to bring his vibrant, indie aesthetic to a much larger canvas."
Summing up, di Bonaventura adds: "A lot of alchemy went into creating this magical movie, starting with Neil's book to Matthew and Jane's script and then on to the wonderful performances."
A HERO, A STAR AND THE PRETTIEST GIRL IN THE VILLAGE
"Stardust" is filled to the brim with enchanted, cursed, questing, hilarious and altogether larger-than-life characters - so there was little doubt from the beginning that the film would need to conjure up a cast with its own magical talents. In the end, the filmmakers could hardly believe the good fortune they had in the ensemble they assembled. "To have a film in which you have Robert De Niro showing a side of himself that's never been seen before, Michelle Pfeiffer delivering a wonderful star turn, Claire Danes delivering another of her phenomenal performances, Charlie Cox, a new face who is going to be a major star, as well as the legendary Peter O'Toole and the hilarious Ricky Gervais, was a wonderful experience," says director Matthew Vaughn.
The casting all hinged on finding a young actor to embody the story's central hero, Tristan Thorne, who grows up as a bit of a bumbling lad in the tiny English village of Wall, only to discover he is destined for incredible adventures beyond its borders and his wildest dreams. To play Tristan, the filmmakers plucked a relative newcomer who was ready for his breakthrough role: Charlie Cox, who was previously seen in "The Merchant of Venice" with Al Pacino, "Casanova" with Heath Ledger and Sienna Miller and in "Dot the I" with Gael García Bernal, had never had a leading role, especially one with so many opportunities, including the chance to fall in love with Siena Miller and Claire Danes and cross swords with Robert De Niro.
"For Tristan, we wanted someone who could start out a bit more awkward and become truly handsome, dashing and courageous along the way, someone with a sense of innocence and a sort of naïve, single-minded drive," notes producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura. "Matthew had a very clear point-of-view of what he wanted and Charlie came along as the favorite very early in the process."
Cox remembers auditioning "again and again and again" for the role, at first not realizing he was expanding on Vaughn's idea of the character with each progressive performance. "Usually, an actor auditions once, gets the part and then works out the character, but we actually developed the character during the audition process," Cox notes. "As it turns out, that was a huge advantage because, as soon as I got the role, I already knew Matthew and I were going in the same direction."
To play the role, Cox knew he would have to allow the audience to believe in this young man when he is being thrust into completely improbable adventures. "You have to have the audience believe in this world where a woman can be a star, where there are evil witches and magical spells, so you really have to bring your performance up a little, because these are obviously not everyday occurrences," Cox explains. "It was a real challenge to find the balance between constantly raising the stakes and yet keeping it as real as possible. It was hard work and it was also a lot of fun."
Tristan starts out wanting one thing and one thing only: to win the heart of the village beauty, Victoria. In his besotted yearning for Victoria, he makes the promise to journey across the great brick barrier that surrounds Wall into the forbidden realm beyond to bring back a fallen star. "I don't think Tristan really considers what this will entail when he makes the promise," laughs Cox. "He has no idea what he is going to see or experience on the other side of the wall, but he intends to stand by his word."
When Tristan does find the fallen star inside a massive crater within the magical land of Stormhold, she turns out not to be the asteroid he would have found in Wall, but a ravishing young woman, Yvaine, who has turned her ankle in her cosmic fall. From the second he sees her, sparks fly between them. "They really don't get along well in the beginning," Cox admits. "They're both kind of pissed off with each other and yet they desperately need each other, so they bicker and argue until, slowly, they begin to trust each other."
That trust takes Tristan completely by surprise as he begins to fall head over heels for Yvaine. "The fun part is that Tristan falls in love long before he realizes he's in love," Cox muses. "He's in denial and he doesn't want to believe it's true, but he just can't escape it. As he figures out his own heart, you start to see the character come into his own."
As Tristan and Yvaine journey through Stormhold towards Wall, they encounter all kinds of dangers and threats, including the pirate Captain Shakespeare, which precipitated a scene in which Cox actually had to swash and buckle with none other than the Academy Award®-winning actor Robert De Niro. Little in his previous professional work could have prepared Cox for this unusual and nerve-wracking event. "It was a bizarre, yet wonderful, experience," comments Cox. "Robert De Niro and I got together for a few days before filming and that was a good way to get to know each other and start figuring out the sword-fighting sequences. As it turns out, it was a really good fight!"
Cox also found himself in a wild duel with three-time Academy Award nominee Michelle Pfeiffer. "She's playing this ugly, scary witch so it was pretty crazy to see her in that kind of role, but I found her to be a truly lovely person and the moments I had on screen with her were brilliant," he says.
As for Danes, Cox comments: "We had a fantastic time working together and became quite good friends along the way."
Danes portrays Yvaine, one of the film's most challenging characters in that she is an utterly fantastical being - not an ordinary human woman at all, but a fallen star from the heavens now under great threat in Stormhold. The filmmakers chose Danes as one of very few actresses they felt was capable of walking that razor-thin line between the wildly cosmic and the down-to-earth.
"Claire is an impeccable actress," says di Bonaventura of the Golden Globe-winning star who first came to the fore in the acclaimed television series "My So-Called Life" and went on to deliver stand-out performances in a wide range of films including "Romeo + Juliet," "The Hours" and, most recently, "Shopgirl" with Steve Martin. "We needed someone with really strong acting chops to take Yvaine from this sharp-tongued character to the center of the fairy tale romance, and Claire brings that across as no one else could. She has the rare ability to just disappear into every role she takes on. Of course, Claire's character represents the one thing everybody in the film wants: her heart."
As a huge fan of Neil Gaiman, Danes was enthusiastic right from the get-go. She had previously voiced a role for the critically acclaimed animated feature "Princess Mononoke" for which Gaiman wrote the screenplay, and even wrote the forward to Gaiman's graphic novel Death. "Stardust," she felt, was wonderfully true to what she loves about Gaiman. "His writing is so full of imagination, wit and feeling - he's very special," says Danes. "And this story is unique among his works, it's colorful and rich and full of humor."
An even bigger draw for Danes was the way Yvaine is drawn in the screenplay. "She's a riot," says the actress. "I knew it would be a real challenge to try to render a star as a human being, but it was definitely a fun one."
Danes admits that at first Yvaine is the very opposite of shiny and inspirational. "She's quite angry when she crashes into the crater," she observes. "You know, she's been hurled out of the sky, has hit the ground very painfully and is almost immediately kidnapped by some silly young man she has no patience for - so naturally, she's in a bit of a bad mood. But the fun part is watching her real personality unfurl as the story goes on."
Ironically, Danes aimed throughout to keep her portrait of the star quite, well, grounded. "She's really written as a very amusing and accessible person, so I concentrated on bringing out what I thought were her very common, relatable circumstances - especially her desire for her home and her unexpected feelings for Tristan," she explains.
However, Danes confesses there was nothing common to her about doing scenes with Robert De Niro as an unconventional pirate. "It was really fun to have pirates involved because it's such a classic fantasy motif to escape into - but I did have to pinch myself when I realized I was being dragged across the floor of a pirate ship by Robert De Niro," she laughs.
Providing romantic competition for Danes is another rapidly ascending star, Sienna Miller, who most recently portrayed "It Girl" Edie Sedgwick in the film "Factory Girl," and made an early splash with a small role in Vaughn's "Layer Cake." She came to the role, she says, because it sounded "like a very light-hearted, fun role," adding, "Victoria is sort of the catalyst for this whole adventure."
Miller also enjoyed having the chance to reunite with Charlie Cox, who played her brother in Lasse Hallström's romantic comedy "Casanova." "We go way back and he's fantastic so it was great to work with him again," she says. "The film's really got so many great people in it - from Robert De Niro to Michelle Pfeiffer to Ricky Gervais - it's lots of familiar faces in very different, fun roles."
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
MATTHEW VAUGHN (Director/Producer/Screenplay by) started his career in 1996 as a producer with "The Innocent Sleep," a thriller starring Michael Gambon and Rupert Graves.
He set up Ska Films with director Guy Ritchie in 1997 and the following year made "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," which became one of the most successful British films of the decade.
This was followed by the diamond heist movie "Snatch" with Brad Pitt, Benicio Del Toro and Jason Statham. The film opened to great acclaim and went on to accrue $100 million worldwide.
In 2002 Vaughn produced "Mean Machine," a remake of the 1974 Burt Reynolds classic "The Longest Yard" starring Vinnie Jones and Jason Statham followed by "Swept Away" starring Madonna and Adriano Giannini and directed by Guy Ritchie.
He made his directorial debut with the critically acclaimed thriller "Layer Cake" starring Daniel Craig, Colm Meaney and Sienna Miller.
JANE GOLDMAN (Screenplay by), a novelist, screenwriter and television presenter, is known in the UK as the host of the series "Jane Goldman Investigates," in which she explores the mysteries of the paranormal. As a novelist, Goldman has garnered accolades for Dreamworld, a riveting thriller set against a sprawling Florida theme park hiding fantastical secrets. Among her several non-fiction works is The X-Files Book of the Unexplained. A good friend of Neil Gaiman, she appears as a character in his short story The Facts in the Case of the Disappearance of Miss Finch.
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