Interview: Craig Gillespie Talks Cruella, a Sequel, Great Music, and More!

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

Full disclosure, I was not sure what to expect from a feature film centering around the wild and eccentric Disney villain Cruella De Vil. I had no idea that the Craig Gillespie-directed feature would be nearly as entertaining as this energetic flick is. It helps that you have a deliciously engaging lead with Emma Stone, as well as a fantastic Emma Thompson. You also have both Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser stealing scenes as Jasper and Horace. And we definitely can't forget the amazing Mark Strong – you can check out our interview with this incredible talent below. Cruella is a fiendishly delightful exploration of one of the coolest characters in Disney history, and I can't wait to watch it again.

This past Monday, I sat down with Mr. Gillespie to discuss his latest, as well as a little bit of I, Tonya chatter. Having been a fan of much of his work, the filmmaker was a big reason I had a little hope for this crime caper. And yes, it is a crime caper as well as a revenge tale. Craig talked about taking the film on a slightly darker journey, one that hints at a few intense sequences. He also talked about creating smart characters for women, ones that aren't simply waiting for a love interest to arrive. And if you haven't heard, the music and the soundtrack are exceptional. Craig takes us deep into the musical side of Cruella, and it's a treat.

Cruella is an unexpected thrill. The performances are exceptional, the music is brilliant, and the script is far smarter than I could have ever expected – well perhaps not considering they have the same gentleman who wrote The Favourite. Check out Emma Stone as Cruella in theatres or on Disney+ right now!

Why do you think that Cruella has such a huge following? What is it about this character that just connects with people?

I think maybe for the best or worst, she says what she wants to say and she's unapologetic about it, but she says it in a way with humor and it's entertaining, that I think people I'm sure at certain points maybe wish they could be like that, or say what they think or want to say to certain people. And she does it with such flair and abandon. I think she's having so much fun. It just feels like the character's having so much fun, which makes it fun. It's fun to watch.

Yeah, for sure. And I think what was special about this film was the fact that you go to a very unique place with it. This is a crime caper. This is a revenge flick. This is pretty dark.

Yeah. I was excited about that.

How do you get away with making a film that's technically based on a 101 Dalmatians character and make it so wild and so dark and intense?

Well, there's a lot of Disney films that deal with parental loss, so right there you're in a very dark, sad place. And this film's no exception to that. And I'm just trying to not give anything away. But they came to me and they had the skeleton of the movie there, even more so, I knew where these markers were throughout the film, this is going to happen at the end of the first act and that's going to transform her and put her on this journey, and then, she discovers this. And [there are] some very dark motifs going on. On top of that, when they presented this idea to me, they said, "We're going to do 1970s London, and we want The Clash, Blondie, and all of this music, and I'm like, "Great."

So getting that opportunity, I leaned right into it, and I was like, instead of having somebody else tell me I couldn't do it. I wasn't going to hold back. And they're incredibly supportive. I think that part was important to me, and it's this tone that I love to be in, with this dance between the humor and the drama constantly. And I really needed Tony McNamara for that, who had written The Favourite with Emma [Stone]. And I'd been working with him on a project when this came along, and Disney amazingly agreed. So once he could do that writing, because it's like the dialogue and that dance that they have and the banter makes it really entertaining, even though we can be dealing with some very like dark and high stakes.

Mm-hmm (affirmative). I want to mention quickly the music. Oh my God. Everyone's talking about the music in this film. How did you compile this? And how much of it… I know Mark Strong suggested the Tina Turner songs. That's amazing. How did you build this amazing list of tunes?

It was funny, as again, when Sean came to me, I think after I, Tonya, and he referenced I, Tonya, in terms of we used 48 songs in I, Tonya musically. So I had that green light to go into this project that way. So when I start working on the project and I start shot listing, it was Nicolas Karakatsanis our DP, who I worked with on I, Tonya as well. You have to design the film with music in mind. You have to create these shots that can sustain music for the transitions between scenes and so forth. So I knew where all the music was going to be, and they were like, alright, so this is how they're going to have a song here and this is going to be this and this. And then I cut on the set as I'm shooting and I'm just throwing music on it.

And I compile, much to I'm sure everybody's chagrin, I just listen to songs. I don't even know where I get them from at some point. I looked on my Cruella list, it was a day and a half's worth of music. It's like 700 songs are on it and I just keep throwing my Cruella file from wherever I hear it, I just grab it and toss it in. And it's mostly introductions to songs because you rarely get more than 45 seconds into a song in a film. So it's all these really strong intros, musically and emotionally. And I'm always looking for things that feel like the world I'm trying to create, or maybe surprisingly the opposite, with Doris Day's "Perhaps, Perhaps," we'd throw in a heist moment in the film because you wouldn't expect it.

The one that really stuck with me, and there's a bunch of other ones, but the Baroness, that was the first day of shooting, she gets up out of the car at Liberty's and it's this very direct front-on shot, and we're pushing in on her and she's got so much power, and everybody's scampering around inside freaking out she's going to be coming into the space. And that Doors song "Five to One," it just had this sense of doom about it, almost like this tidal wave of dread coming through the doors. And it just so fit what was going on emotionally in the scene, not necessarily the Baroness's character, because I don't think she listens to the Doors.

No, I doubt it.

It wasn't intellectually where I thought we would be with her, but just emotionally it worked for me. So I tend to go emotionally with the music, as opposed to confining it to the intellectual side of it.

Nice. Look, you did amazing work with Margot Robbie in I, Tonya. What an amazingly iconic performance, and dealing with a real-life character, a real-life human being. And with Emma Stone and Emma Thompson, what unbelievably good performances. How did you balance this? How did you find these layers?

First of all, they're such incredibly talented actors. And I find, say with the tone that we're working in, it's almost like I equate it to musicians, it's that you can't tell somebody how to play something. They either have it within them in a sense, to go to that next level. And so just intuitively these actors can do that dance, but to be able to do humor and drama within the same scene, sometimes in the same moments, if I don't have that talent to work with, I wouldn't be able to pull it off with these scenes. So there was a scene early in the film, and it's where Cruella sees that the Baroness has her mother's necklace. And that scene, the Baroness is so flip and cavalier about the death of this woman, and it made Disney nervous.

They were like, this seems like there's so much gravity going on, she's discovering about her mother's death and on the page, it looks kind of flip, but I just knew with those actors that the way that they can do that dance and still have it be emotional would be exactly what we needed, and with Tony's writing, and fortunately Disney supported it. But that to me, that's the tone of the film, doing a scene like that that's so… And then you've got Roger coming in, tripping over the carpet. And so you're dancing, you're going through all of these different notes within the same scene.

And it works beautifully. And I just watched that scene. I'm watching the film again while I was preparing. What is it about strong women? Because you're very good at that. Again, I mention I, Tonya, which is a wonderful film. What is that about finding that right person for the right role and presenting the strong, unique characters like Cruella, like I, Tonya?

I don't know. I've been married to my wife for 30 years and she is a very strong woman and it's just a part of my life. I'm surrounded by strong women. Women I work with, and I delight in it. I find it so much more interesting and sexy, and just fascinating to see these fully formed characters come to life. And both of them got to play these very strong career-driven women that was so refreshing to see there wasn't a love interest involved with either of them. It was just two people at the top of their game going head to head.

There's so much you could do with this. Are you looking in the future thinking how can we continue Cruella's story?

I am now.


At the time you're just trying to get through it. And there is a nerve-wracking thing, which we're trying to crack the code on what this film is in the balance with the humor and the drama and the energy of it. And then literally just the persona of Cruella, when you're dealing with such heightened characters, how far is too far? Where's the empathy? Can you still be invested in them? And now that we got through all of that, it's like, you know what, I'd actually like to see. Because it's almost like Cruella's just been born by the end of the movie. She's just become fully her own person. So yeah, we were talking about that and be like, yeah, I'd like to see what she's going to do with all that power now, how it's going to just eat her alive.

Well, I look forward to it. I look forward to whatever you have next man. You're an impressive filmmaker man, and it's an absolute pleasure to talk to you.

Thank you so much, James. Great to talk to you.


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JimmyO is one of’s longest-tenured writers, with him reviewing movies and interviewing celebrities since 2007 as the site’s Los Angeles correspondent.