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Set Visit: Enter the mythical land of Sam Raimi's 'Oz the Great and Powerful'
Take a peek behind the curtain with stars James Franco and Michelle Williams
"Only bad witches are ugly." - Glinda the Good Witch of the North (Billie Burk), "The Wizard of Oz"
"That was a momentous occasion, I have to say," says Michelle Williams, her porcelain doll face framed by a short blonde pixie cut and bright red scarf as she speaks with us in a very un-Oz like conference room located near the soundstage where she's just finished shooting. "I forget who...I grabbed somebody's arm, and I said...'Wait a second, stop! We're on the yellow brick road!' How many people get a chance to say...first of all, I have been thinking about stealing a little piece of the yellow brick road. But how many people get a chance to say that?"
Even out of costume, there is an ethereal, almost elfin quality to the actress. She is just warm enough, but guarded, perhaps even shy. Before she arrived, we were expressly prohibited from asking any personal questions - an understandable request given the daughter she shares with the late Heath Ledger, a continued subject of fascination even years after his untimely death at the age of 28.
Playing the role originated by Billie Burk in 1939, Williams' Glinda (the Good Witch of the North) is many years younger and slightly more complex than her blemish-free predecessor. In this film - the premise of which is "inspired" by Baum's novels though with many liberties taken along the way - the less-experienced Glinda is the subject of a character assassination when Kunis' Theodora and/or Weisz's Evanora publicly (and falsely) accuse her of being, well, "wicked."
"I don't think [Glinda's] goodness is ever in question," says Williams of her character. "But I think that she has struggles."
Like I said: slightly more complex. Or at least, Williams wasn't willing to divulge any of the seedier details of what Glinda's specific "struggles" might entail. Or...well, any details at all, really.
"Have you floated yet in a ball?" someone asks.
"I've done some floating, I've done some flying," she responds before going quiet.
"Do you have a dual character?" queries another reporter, referring to talk we'd heard earlier that each of them has both an Oz version and a Kansas version.
"Yes, yes I do," she replies.
"You are Oz's old childhood love who he regrets losing, and then you're reflected in the fantasy world?" someone else follows up.
"Yes I am."
And so on.
In all fairness, Williams isn't exactly used to journalists being interested in a film of hers while it's still in production; prior to "Oz," the only big-budget studio film she ever took part in was Martin Scorsese 2010 paranoia thriller "Shutter Island."
"There have been a lot of first times for me on this movie," she reflected. "The imaginary world. You know, you see a big blue screen, but of course you won't see a big blue screen. You're gonna see things flying, and you're gonna see a sun setting. ...Most of the movies that I make tend to be smaller, and sort of more intimate. It's just a smaller crew. And I like things feeling like a family, so I've just tried to make this feel like a really big family. But it's a happy one because Sam's the dad, and it all comes down from there."
As evidenced by the red-faced, munchkin-battering crew member I'd experienced earlier, bigger budgets nearly always result in a heightened sense of pressure during filming - something that Williams, despite the calm she exudes in person, certainly isn't immune to.
"Some of the shots that we've done," she begins. "Really long tracking shots that involve crowds and...you know, you land in your bubble, and you walk through a crowd, you're greeting the crowd, you're saying your lines to James, you're walking up the stairs, you're in a long dress, you can't trip on your dress, you have to keep your wand in your left hand, you're still talking to James and then you're relating to people and then you're coming up to the stairs and then you turn around...and it's all in one shot, and it's like a 3 1/2, 4 minute take. And it was so exhausting after that I was like, 'Woo! I gotta get back in the theater!'"
She flitted out of the room soon after. I'd be lying if I said her absence didn't leave me feeling a bit cold.