With Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children out in UK cinemas this week, Flickering Myth’s roving reporter Scott J. Davis was able to sit down with some of the cast to chat about the film. In the first of two exclusive interviews, he chats to star Ella Purnell about the film, working with Tim Burton and her chemistry with co-star Asa Butterfield…
Tim Burton has such a distinctive and unusual style of filmmaking, how was it to work with him on Miss Peregrine’s?
Dreamy! He’s such a dude and he’s so cool! He asks how your weekend was, what you’ve got your for tea, everything! After you get over the initial shock of his hair and him just being such an eccentric, wonderful, energetic person he is really calm and casual and I love the way he works – I’d work with him a million times over. He has this amazing kinetic energy where you can see the cogs in his brain constantly working and when the light bulb goes on you know he’s got it. He’s like a mad genius who mixes all these lotions and potions together.
Did he teach you anything that you will remember through your career?
One of the things he taught me that I’ll never forget is to rely on my own instincts. A lot of directors like to “take control” of a film which is fine for them and everybody works differently but what I love about working with Tim is that it always feels like a collaboration – if I went up to him and said something sounds clunky or sound right he’ll say “I’m glad you said that, let’s change it!” It’s an actors dream to have a say in things and to create your character with another person who cares equally about it and the film and your role.
How did you first get involved in the film? Was there a long audition process for you?
It wasn’t that long, it was about three or four stages – I had two auditions with Susie (Figgis, the film’s casting director) who I love and then I had a chat and an audition with Tim and then a screen test with Asa which was very funny because we had known each other for years anyway so he walked in the room and then I walked in the room and we both said “what are you doing here?!” Tim said this was going to be the easiest chemistry test ever! Then after that the job was mine.
Were you always a fan on Tim’s previous work?
100% percent. When people used to ask me who is your dream director to work with it was always Tim. I had articles about him on my wall, I had posters of all of his movies and when I found out I got the part in this I thought I’d take them down as it was maybe a bit creepy as he’s now technically my boss now! I tried to keep my cool when I met him but I think he knew slightly freaking out. Beetlejuice is obviously a classic but Edward Scissorhands is probably my all time favourite.
Your character Emma has some amazing abilities and a wardrobe to match, you must have felt so lucky to have such an amazing character?
That blue dress gives me nightmares. It was beautiful but I couldn’t sit down in it because it would crease so easily so I had to have a special chair created just for me and it was just a chair without a back and I everytime I wanted to sit I’d have to lift the dress over it and perch on the top and let the dress flow around – I think I got the award for the most inconvenient costume. I wasn’t really until you got in that costume that you realise you’re on a Tim Burton set.
Emma also wears lead boots to keep her on the ground, they looked uncomfortable…
They were really uncomfortable, I still have real scars! They weren’t heavy as they were made from polystyrene – the first ones I tried on were too light so I asked them to make them a little heavier to help the with the physicality of the role and had to constantly think “heavy, light, heavy, light”. And I worked with a movement coach for a long time and before every scene she would whisper “heavy, light”.
We spoke to Asa about filming the underwater sequence – that must have been a tough part of the shoot? How did you prepare?
It was intense and I couldn’t swim before I took this movie! When I got the part I said “I can do anything you want and I can swim really well!” When I read the script I was nervous about that scene as I’m not a great swimmer so my parents own a gym and they’re very into fitness so they took me swimming. It was incredible though – I had never been to that Pinewood tank before and I don’t understand how they did it but they managed to use this box which was covered in green and turn it into what it is – the magic of the movies. It took us about five days to shoot about five minutes of footage with ten hours of work, and me and Asa both wear contact lenses and we had to take them out underwater so it was the blind leading the blind!
The film relies on a lot of physical sets and costumes as well as CGI, were you surprised that a lot of surroundings are really there?
Tim is really into that. There were all these weird half-built props hanging around and I wondered what they were using those for if these were all going to be CGI but it was an amazing combination of real-life props and real life special effects. The carrot was a real life prop but it growing wasn’t so when Pixie (Davies, Bronwyn Bruntley in the film) has to pull the carrot it’s real but there was a stuntman pulling the other end to make her really work to get it out so it was really there. The same for the floating stuff I was up in the air on the harness and painted out the wires and on the underwater we had all the sets under the water with us and the skeletons were all real too. About 60/40 I think.
You also had the pleasure of working with Angelina Jolie for Maleficent (Ella played the teenage Maleficent), how did you enjoy that experience?
I never met her. I had just come out of hospital before and got a call from my agent saying they wanted me to play the teenage Maleficent, which was great, and they want me to fly in a harness for three weeks. I shot my scenes during the re-shoots as they had re-shot the first half of the movie so there’s a very quick shot in there and they used a lot of my stunts but you don’t see my face!
Many thanks to Ella Purnell for taking the time for this interview.
Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children opens in UK cinemas on Thursday September 29th.
Scott J. Davis