Casting for Disney's Maleficent is nearing its completion, with a few weeks still left before production is slated to begin. The Sleeping Beauty re-imagining (told from the eponymous villain's perspective) finally crawled out of development limbo earlier this year, beginning with Oscar-winning production designer/effects supervisor Robert Stromberg being hired on as director - followed by an official commitment from Angelina Jolie to make the long-gestating project her next starring effort.
Both acclaimed character actor Sharlto Copley and teenage starlet Elle Fanning (Super 8) were previously reported as being in talks to play pivotal roles in Maleficent. A new report from Heat Vision not only confirms their involvement, but also reveals that Oscar-nominated English actresses Miranda Richardson (Sleepy Hollow) and Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake) - both of whom are also well-known for their colorful turns in the fourth, fifth and seventh Harry Potter movies, respectively - are now cast members.
Richardson will play Maleficent's disapproving aunt, Queen Ulla, while Staunton will play Knotgrass, one of the pixies (fairies, in traditional Sleeping Beauty retellings) who cares for Princess Aurora (Fanning) after she is cursed to an eternal slumber on her 16th birthday by the film's magical namesake (Jolie). One of the other pixies, Flittle, will be portrayed by BAFTA nominee Lesley Manville - who, like Staunton, is a frequent collaborator with director Mike Leigh (Secrets & Lies, Vera Drake, Another Year).
Rounding out the Maleficent cast (so far) are the likes of Kenneth Cranham (Hellraiser II, Hot Fuzz) as a human king who desires to conquer the fairy kingdom, Sam Riley (Brighton Rock) as Diaval, Maleficent's raven who changes occasionally into human form - and (according to Variety) Underworld: Awakening's India Eisley, up to play a young version of Maleficent during the film's opening act.
Furthermore, Copley's character will actually be that of Stefan - the "half-human, half-fairy bastard son" of Cranham's character - and not King Stefan, as previously reported. (One imagines comparisons to the actor's District 9 transformed "half-breed" character are inevitable.)
Maleficent not only features much of the same personnel as Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland - including, Robert Stromberg, screenwriter Linda Woolverton and producer Joe Roth - it's also imitating that lucrative hit's casting approach, by featuring several respected English thespians alongside a bankable Hollywood A-lister. Similarities between the two titles are even more plentiful than those between Alice and the Mouse House's next Roth-backed, spinoff of an iconic fantasy story, Sam Raimi's Oz: The Great and Powerful.
Despite having grossed over $1 billion in theaters and secured two Oscars, Burton's Alice in Wonderland rarely seems to be referenced in anything but a negative light nowadays (as far as the film geek community goes). The movie was certainly visually splendid - and gets bonus points for attempting to offer a refreshing take on an over-told tale - but many cinephiles seem to regard Alice as being a pretty hollow viewing experience. Hopefully, Maleficent will buck that trend, while still turning a tidy profit.
Disney has scheduled Maleficent for theatrical release in the U.S. on March 14th, 2014.
Source: THR, Variety