‘Wicked’ Director Had to Wait for Strikes to End Before Filming ‘Defying Gravity’

“In a snap, everything just stopped,” Jon M. Chu told attendees at CinemaCon

A Black woman stands holding a microphone and smiling on stage in front of a green background, holding up her hand with matching nail polish.
Cynthia Erivo speaks about "Wicked" during the Universal presentation at CinemaCon in Las Vegas on April 10, 2024. (Photo by Valerie Macon/AFP)

Jon M. Chu sat down for an interview on stage at CinemaCon to discuss the making of his upcoming musical “Wicked” and talked about how one of the Broadway show’s most iconic numbers, “Defying Gravity,” couldn’t be filmed until after the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes had ended.

Most of the shooting for the first entry in the two-part film adaptation of “Wicked” had been finished when the SAG-AFTRA strike began July 14. Chu said that he and his team had just 10 days of shooting left in London — but those shoots involved the soaring number where Elphaba, played by Cynthia Erivo, sings her showstopping song while flying astride a broom.

“We were saving some of the big stunts for later in the shoot so Cynthia could learn to fly and sing at the same time,” Chu told the CinemaCon attendees in Las Vegas. The film is notably using live vocals for its musical numbers. “When it looked like the strikes were happening, I didn’t really believe it. I was so focused on the film.”

Chu recalled that when SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher announced the strike in a fiery news conference, a big portion of the film’s crew were watching it while he and his team rushed to finish the shoot.

“In a snap, everything just stopped,” Chu recalled, as Erivo, her costar Ariana Grande and the rest of the film’s cast left the set as mandated by the actors’ guild.

The SAG-AFTRA strike continued until Nov. 9 and the final days of the “Wicked” shoot did not take place until this past January. During that shutdown, Chu focused on editing the footage that had already been shot, but said that he felt for Erivo as she had been preparing for so long for her role’s biggest scene. Now, she had to wait for months to actually do it.

“She was ready to fly,” Chu said. “I spent the next however many months talking to her almost daily to help her let go of a character for a moment before coming back.”

But when they were finally able to finish shooting “Wicked,” the director said, he was impressed by Erivo and Grande’s ability to pick up right where they left off.

“I was worried with Ariana… could she drop back into playing Glinda again? And she did right away, like a pro,” Chu said. “And Cynthia was psyched. I think we benefitted from having more time to prepare for those ‘Defying Gravity’ shoot days.”

The two-part “Wicked” will be released in theaters on Thanksgiving weekend in 2024 and 2025.


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