SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN CAST – Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth all had to be chosen for their roles before they could make Snow White and the Huntsman, but how were they chosen? With production due to start in the United Kingdom in fall 2011, casting director Lucy Bevan began the search for actors all across the world to bring life to this new vision.
The first role cast was also the wickedest: Queen Ravenna. The daughter of a sorceress, Ravenna slowly found her way to the dark side. Abducted by a vicious master when she was a girl, the only power Ravenna wielded was her astonishing beauty. Though her mother bestowed upon her an enchantment to protect her from the ravages of time, Ravenna is forced to maintain it by consuming the life force of young maidens. After she bewitched and killed Snow White’s father, King Magnus, Ravenna stalled her death and threw off the balance of life with an evil that spread like cancer across the kingdom. But her cruelty did not end there. To become truly immortal, Ravenna must consume the heart of Snow White…the moment her stepdaughter becomes the fairest in the land.
Reflects director Rupert Sanders on the power of this creature in our minds, as well as her role in this interpretation of the iconic story: “The Queen symbolizes death, and she is trying to stop her own from arriving. She is seeking immortality, so everything in the kingdom is thrown off balance. Oppositely, Snow White is the beating heart of life, and the Huntsman’s job is to take that life. If the Queen fails, life and death may fall back in sync and the kingdom will return to how it once was.”
Academy Award® winner Charlize Theron was brought aboard to play the fabled monarch. Discussing his decision to cast Theron, Sanders commends: “Charlize has given such staggering performances in her career, but she is also such an incredibly beautiful woman. She encompasses, more than any other actor out there, both power and beauty personified. She is Margaret Thatcher-meets-Kate Moss.”
Expounding upon the film’s symbolism and Theron’s decisions in bringing those tropes to life, Sanders adds: “When you are dealing with archetypes, you can play them big. People want to relish when the Queen says, ‘Mirror, mirror, on the wall.’ We want to see them coming from someone of this stature and beauty.”
Producer Joe Roth, walks us through the team’s casting process: “Choosing Charlize was the idea right from the start. I’d worked with her in the past. We went over to the commercial shoot she was on and waited for her to take a break. When she came over, in four-inch stiletto heels and dressed in a very commercial way, I thought, ‘Rupert is going to be blown away!’”
The producer was just as pleased when she arrived on set to begin filming and was game for the most intense of situations to get into character, including an uncomfortable swim in a tub of black oil. “Charlize gives a performance as ferocious as the one she was asking for,” adds Roth. “It’s an interesting amalgam: She’s always in control, she’s magnificent to watch and she’s fearsome.” Theron was attracted to the part because of the complex humanity of a betrayed and wounded creature—one that easily could have been drawn as a screeching stereotype. She explains a bit of the Queen’s backstory: “Ravenna’s mother instilled into her at a very young age that she can only be her true best self if she remains young and stays beautiful. She realizes that her magical powers are her survival. And that’s the road she travels.”
Though Ravenna has, according to Theron, “brutal instincts” and “an obsession with needing Snow White’s beating heart to give her immortality,” the reigning monarch hasn’t completely lost all traces of her humanity. Like Sanders, the actress appreciated the difficult lessons inherent in this timeless story. Theron shares: “Ravenna realizes that she wants something that, if she made different choices in her life, she could have had. But because of how she decided to live and the bed that she made for herself—one that she’s lying in right now—she can’t. It’s not even an option for her.”
When Snow White’s mother died and her father married Ravenna, the young princess found her innocence and compassion to be qualities the new Queen loathed. Locked away in a tower for seven years, Snow White grew up watching her father’s murderer rule the kingdom with an iron fist. But the young beauty, who had begun training as an archer, falconer and horsewoman, has escaped and now trains with an uneasy ally. The time has come for her to defend her people from the one who’s been crippling them. She makes an oath that she will become their weapon and challenges her fellow outcasts to ride with her against Ravenna.
Sanders knew that they had to walk a fine line with the character of Snow White. In adapting the centuries-old fairy tale, originally about a little girl who is more victim than fighter, it was important to the filmmakers that Snow White and her journey remain identifiable for contemporary audiences across the world. The hurdles and problems that she faces are issues with which girls and women grapple in modern day: loneliness and maturation, plus issues of trust, love and the power (as well as the ultimate fading) of beauty.
The casting of Ravenna’s nemesis was slightly trickier than finding her pursuer. The filmmakers were searching for an actress who could capture both sides of the archetypal character: the innocence, naiveté and tenderness that Snow White demonstrates in the first half of our story, and the tough, physical warrior princess that she becomes in the second half. They discovered a number of younger actresses who could play the first half of the movie brilliantly but had trouble convincing the team that they could carry off the tougher persona. Likewise, when older actresses auditioned, they could well portray the battle-hardened soldier but were unconvincing as the recessive captive that the film’s early scenes demanded.
After a worldwide search for a performer who could fulfill the demands of this expansive role, Kristen Stewart, known for her role as Bella Swan in the blockbuster Twilight saga, was cast in the much coveted role of Snow White. Comments Sanders of the team’s choice: “Kristen is such an incredible talent. She has obviously done amazing work in her projects to date, but this opens her up to an even larger audience and gives her a classical role. She’s previously been in films that are of our era and not done a film quite like this. This is her chance to rise, and to shine as well. The two track well together.”
Roth gives a bit of background on her casting: “We all felt convinced that Snow White was not shy but somebody who was an aggressive, assertive, positive Joan of Arc-like figure. We originally were looking for an unknown to play the character, in the same way we did on Alice in Wonderland, where we found Mia Wasikowska. However, Rupert and I decided to fly down to New Orleans, where the last Twilight film was being shot, and sat and talked to Kristen. We felt great about casting Kristen. She really did her homework for this role. She spent four months riding horses and four months with an English accent.”
Stewart introduces us to a young woman we thought we had long known: “We’re not trying to take Snow White and turn her on her side; we stay very true to who she is in the story. She represents a reminder of just how great people can be to one another.” Agreeing with Theron, the actress appreciated the material’s thoughtful take on beauty and power. Stewart says: “It’s been interesting to play a young girl who is completely unaware of any vanity. She just has none. In almost every other role you play, you’re at least aware of yourself and might have to play a girl dealing with vanity as she grows into a woman. The fact that Snow White has absolutely none of that, and Ravenna has the ultimate opposite, says something very nice about what people find beautiful in life.”
The performer appreciated the writers’ take on Snow White, a character initially trapped in a forest that draws its strength from any weakness. Stewart reflects: “I do admire strong characters, but this wasn’t strong for the sake of strong. It was so feminine and so human, and I love playing a character who is someone that you’re going to root for and throw your drink on the ground and stand up and go, ‘Yeah!’”
This part represented Stewart’s first time as an action heroine, albeit a conflicted one. She says: “Snow White is initially this disconnected martyr. After she escapes, she’s becoming this human being again, but she’s not necessarily fighting for herself. It’s like there’s a hole that can’t be filled. Most action characters are so self-righteous and vindictive, but she won’t do that. I’ve never seen that before, and I think it’s awesome.”
Stewart knew there would be much stunt work involved in a production of this size and scope, and she was more than ready for the challenge. For example, during Snow White’s escape scene, the actress was required to be literally up to her shoulders in an enclosed sewer set with dozens of live rats. As well, she had to jump off of a two-story building into a pool on a chilly London day to make this daring escape.
The other title character to be cast was, of course, the Huntsman: Eric, a hunter who knows the Enchanted and Dark Forests like the back of his hand. Not only did the Huntsman once have respect for the animals he tracked, he also still has the ability to think like one. But after his wife, Zara, died, Eric found his only comfort as a mercenary and a drunk. Now, the Huntsman has been tasked to follow Snow White into the forest and return her to Ravenna, who needs to consume her heart. But when Eric discovers the treachery of the Queen, he channels his rage into training a young woman who is determined to end what Ravenna began. Eric begins to see in Snow White an end to the darkness and to believe that the king’s standard could fly again.
Initially conceived as a character much older than Snow White, the Huntsman morphed during the screenplay’s development. Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth, was courted for the part after the filmmakers watched him in his career-defining role as the Nordic god of war. His charisma and on-screen presence convinced them that he could embody the tortured former soldier who finds salvation in a young woman called Snow White.
With his attitude, humor, intensity and physical presence, Hemsworth proved he could bring life to the character and serve as the ideal balance between Stewart and Theron. Shares Mercer of their choice: “We spent a fair amount of time exploring who should be the Huntsman and how to round out the triangle. Through the evolution of talking to many actors and getting their takes on it, we discovered Chris. He is becoming a huge star, and we knew we had to have him.”
Hemsworth’s first day on set was one of the most intimidating of the shoot: his big scene with Theron in which the Queen dispatches the Huntsman. Roth knew that Hemsworth was up for the challenge of matching wits with the Oscar® winner. The producer compliments: “The guy is built like a linebacker, he’s gorgeous to look at, and he has great depth of character. Chris is the guy that puts up 110 percent all the time.”
Discussing his part, Hemsworth says: “The Huntsman is a lost soul. He has given up on life and himself. When we first meet him, he’s a drunk, living alone in the woods working as a mercenary, hunting and tracking. He is then assigned the role of finding Snow White and bringing her back to the Queen.” Offering his reason for tackling the role, Hemsworth states: “I liked the idea of playing the reluctant hero: rough around the edges but with a good heart underneath. We tried to push the inconsistencies of his character, keep him unpredictable.”
Hemsworth also appreciated the “classic Western character” that the writers had drawn and the visual style that his director ensured. The performer adds: “I read it with Rupert, and I saw visually how creative he was. We had discussions about character and story, and I was inspired by what he said. I’ve worked with plenty of people who have done far more films than Rupert, but many are not nearly as equipped, focused or innovative as he is. He’s unreal. I love these types of films: big, fantastical, epic stories that have a real heart at the center of them. They’re relatable characters, and the story is about hope and inspiration and love and tragedy. These are the things that we all deal with, but the story is told on an incredible, vivid background.”
Although Hemsworth and Stewart carefully practiced their fight scenes together, mistakes were made during production. During a particularly vigorous take, Stewart accidentally punched the seasoned kickboxer in the face. His nose swelled up, and his wound had to be covered up with makeup. Stewart was truly a match for this Huntsman.