"Snow White and the Huntsman" writer Evan Daugherty talks about the Hobbity-y genesis of the project, the surprising casting of the leads — and getting kicked off his own project
What does Snow White, a fairly tale about the fairest woman in the land, have to do with “Lord of the Rings” and the battle for Middle-earth?
Quite a bit, according to Evan Daugherty, who wrote a spec script nearly a decade ago that blended the two tales.
Daughtery was enamored of the film version of “Lord of the Rings” trilogy while an undergraduate at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Lucky for him, Joe Roth and Universal soon shared his affinity for this fairy-fantasy blend, turning Daugherty's script into director Rupert Sanders' “Snow White and the Huntsman.”
TheWrap spoke with Daugherty about how Peter Jackson’s epic inspired his rendition of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, the surprising casting of the leads and what it was like getting kicked off his own project.
By the time this is published, your first feature will have debuted, but this project dates to your time at NYU. You haven't been a student for years. What took so long?
I wrote it for fun. This was only the second or third script I wrote, but I tried to make some things happen with it, with friends or contacts in the industry, and no one quite got what I was trying to do — an action-adventure version of Snow White. No one saw where that would fit into the marketplace.
It existed on my hard drive for six or seven years and then Joe Roth’s “Alice in Wonderland” came out and it did really well at the box office. That sparked a bit of a trend, and I sold the script a year and a half ago.
Did you want to write about Snow White in particular or were you just interested in the idea of turning any fairy tale into an action adventure movie?
Snow White for some reason is the resident, evocative fairy tale. It’s the first movie that Walt Disney made, and Disney for the 20th century has been the primary interpreter of the fairytale. It’s the first fairy tale anyone would list.
I also chose it because it’s so simple. Some of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales are really out there and don’t make any sense. They’re about talking animals and other things that don’t feel like simple stories.
As you say, revisionist versions of classic tales have become quite popular, but you wrote this almost a decade ago. Why take that approach?
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t inspired by “Lord of the Rings.” I was in college and my sophomore year “Fellowship of the Ring” came out. My junior year was “Two Towers.” My senior year was “Return of the King.” College was four years of Lord of the Rings fever.
So then what do you see as the audience for this movie? It seems like Universal has targeted women in particular, but it has a “Lord of the Rings” feel … not exactly your “Twilight” audience.
The Brothers Grimm intended Snow White to be for boys and girls, but because of the Disney filter — it’s one of the branded Disney princesses — it’s seen as a girl’s story.
I’m very proud of the script taking that more female, feminine character and making it appeal to guys as well, particularly with the huntsman character. Hopefully it will. That was one of big reasons I wrote the movie.
I’ll do my small part to insist it was written by a dude in his 20s who was very into “Lord of the Rings” and into muscular action-adventure movies.
How different is what you turned in from what’s on screen?
The script I sold to Universal is fairly different from the movie that you see. At same time, it’s the same structure and same plot: Snow White will be killed by the huntsman, and instead the huntsman decides to protect her, crafts her into a warrior who then takes on the queen. The very conceit of an action-adventure Snow White is mine.
So what’s different?
When I sold the script I was also hired to stay on board and rewrite. [Director] Rupert Sanders and the studio had strong opinions about the direction it could go, and I worked on couple of drafts closely with Rupert. At about that point Rupert was executing his vision of the movie, seeing the visual.
And how did you feel when they brought in other writers to finish the job?
It wasn’t fun. I worked on the script for a number of months, and it was fairly close to a finished product. That said, had that movie been given a green light, they’d be green lighting a movie written by a first-time writer and directed by a first-time director. With a $150 million movie, that’s just very unlikely.
Ultimately they brought in a number of very talented, very esteemed A-list writers. [The two other credited writers are John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini]. The biggest change is my original script had a more humorous tone like “Princess Bride.” As people will see in the movie, it doesn’t really have that vibe anymore. It’s very intense and gritty.
That’s especially true with the dwarves. They’ve evolved a little bit from Sleepy and Dopey.
“Lord of the Rings” struck me as a way to have tougher, more warrior dwarves. People will be surprised and intrigued by their grit and toughness.
One of the things that was really cool in the casting of it was that all the guys in the movie who play dwarves, with exception of Nick Frost, are really well known, well-respected British gangsters. It enables them to be these tough cockney kind of dwarves.
You brought up the casting decisions. Of the stars, who did you see as being perfect for the role and who made you cringe?
The first person cast was Charlize [Theron] as the queen. It sounds like hyperbole, but there’s maybe three actresses in Hollywood who could play that queen and Charlize ranks as the very best. Beauty is integral to that character given her obsession with beauty and youth. She is also like a crazy killer and Charlize Theron won an Academy Award for playing a very real life serial killer.
And the cringe?
The casting of the other two leads was a little surprising. With Chris Hemsworth, I love “Thor” and am obsessed with Norse mythology but the Huntsman began as more of a mentor with hints of love in my original script. With Hemsworth, he’s younger so they said, “Let’s shift that paradigm a little. He’s still a mentor, but play up the love story.”
Kristen Stewart is the wild card. It’s a tough role; you need someone with oomph and grit. The director flew to Louisiana where they were shooting “Twilight” and was instantly won over. I’m not the target audience for “Twilight.” In “Twilight” it’s mainly romance she’s dealing with, so the question was, "Can she strap on armor and lead mean into battle and do an English accent?”
When I saw the movie, she is probably my favorite and the most surprising part. Thankfully, as I'm reading some of these reviews, some people are realizing that. Some people still unfairly have some kind of hang-up with Kristen Stewart because of the “Twilight” movies or something.
Having brought up reviews, are you nervous at all about the opening?
I am interested in how well the movie does mainly for the sake of the movie. The plight of the screenwriter in Hollywood is a difficult one. There are a lot of legendary horror stories about how the screenwriter is treated. This has been by all accounts a very good process. One of nice things about it is that I don’t think the success or failure of movie at the box office impacts me as a writer too much.
I’d hope to make more “Snow White and the Huntsman” movies, but obviously I’m working on other projects.
You’ve got “The Killing Season” with Robert De Niro and John Travolta coming out next year. What else?
An adaptation of the young adult novel “Divergent.” I have to turn in a second draft to that movie, which Lionsgate/Summit are keen on making. Supposedly they really want to make it in tradition of “Hunger Games” and “Twilight.” That’s the big thing I’m most excited about at the moment.
I've also got a spec that I'm going to keep slightly under wraps. Suffice it to say it's sort of in the vein of Snow White in terms of a reinterpretation. It's not a fairy tale, but a revision of a story of story that people know and love.
I love to explore and build and create these exotic worlds. That's a huge part of the fun of writing for me. It's not the real hard work — the meat of screenwriting. It's the special sauce you lay on top. But it's the real fun part of writing.