For Lily James, playing the titular character in Cinderella was a dream come true.
And watching the actress—and her character—realize her dream was a moving experience for the cast and crew. When Cinderella made her debut at the ball and danced with Prince Charming (Richard Madden), even her Evil Stepmother (Cate Blanchett) got emotional. "When Richard and Lily began to dance, it made me just want to weep. You just don't see that!" Blanchett said in a behind-the-scenes featurette, which fans can see in full when the movie is released on Blu-ray, Digital HD and Disney Movies Anywhere Sept. 15. "You don't see those grand, romantic moments where you say, 'Yes!' There's a couple of beautiful, really difficult lifts. Everyone just erupted into applause, naturally, when it happened because it was so beautiful and because I think you're really, genuinely rooting for her."
Ahead of the film's home release, director Kenneth Branagh spoke exclusively with E! News about how his movie both pays tribute to Walt Disney Animation's 1959 animated classic but also makes its own indelible mark in cinematic history. Since the live-action film's release in March, it has grossed over $542 million worldwide.
Although Cinderella was physically transformed by her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter), "She lit up from within," Branagh said of the character's big moment at the ball. "She didn't trade one personality at the door; she brought her real self into this real place and found a way to be at ease."
Preparing for the scene was no easy task.
"It was the thing to which we were moving most carefully and sort of scarily. From the moment I began, the conversation every day was, 'How are we going to do this?'" he told E! News. Branagh first spoke to production designer Dante Ferretti, asking him, "What are you going to build for us? Can it be somehow traditional but can it sort of knock our socks of as well?'...Then I'd sit with [costume designer] Sandy Powell and we'd talk about, 'What's the color scheme across a range of colors? Can we bring the world to the ball? Can we bring the costumes of many nations to the ball? How can we make Cinderella stand out? And then how can we make that dress be as wonderful and wondrous as it needs to be?'"
"There were a thousand macro conversations, from beads on her dress, to the markings on the household staff, to the thickness of the wigs to the number of swords to the kinds of instruments in the orchestra, to the beginnings of the dances, to the construction of the music and the composition and the rehearsal of that. I mean, it must have been nine months to get from the first conversation to being on that set," the filmmaker continued. "Our anticipation, just like the characters' anticipation in the story of the ball, was massive. For us it was something we dreamt about and planned for months. And when we got there, do you know what? It was just as wonderful as we had ever dared hope."
The ballroom dancing scene took about 10 days to shoot, Branagh said.
At one point during the ballroom shoot, he recalled, "I got on the P.A. and spoke to everybody on the sound stage, so I'm addressing 500, 600, 700 people between the people in front of the camera and behind camera. For me, there was a sort of real beauty to this effort. I felt that we were walking in the footsteps of the Disney animated classic and that we were paying homage to all of those efforts. We were part of a continuum that was the world and its love for Cinderella, the world and its love for the previous movie, and trying to honor both of those things but do something fresh ourselves. It felt like we had a big responsibility but we were very privileged to be there. I was a bit choked up, I must say, feeling that."
Can anyone blame him? "At the center of it was just this intention that this girl in this story should have a beautiful moment of happiness. That was the message we were trying to send out to everybody in that room and everybody in the world," Branagh said. "We wanted good things to happen to good people, and this trip to this ball could be an emblem of one of those moments in anybody's life."
Now that fans can watch the movie anytime they like, they might pick up on some of Branagh's subtler moments. "There are little things that I like. Ben Chaplin, who plays Cinderella's father, comes out of the mother's room at the beginning and he says to the doctor who's attending to her—it's whispered, you can hardly hear it—he says to the doctor, 'Thank you. That must have been very difficult for you.'" Branagh told E! News. "And when Cinderella meets the farmer at the door who comes to bring the news of her father's death, she says—and I think it' a beautiful moment of performance for Lily—'Thank you. That must have been very difficult for you.' Those kinds of echoes are all the way through the story."
"The kinds of things she reads and quotes, I'm happy that by the end of the film the Fairy Godmother is quoting Miguel de Cervantes, talking in another context about Don Quixote, another dreamer like Cinderella who sees the world not as it is but as it could be," the British director said. "I like those sort of resonances coming out."
Given Cinderella's success, might Branagh make another live-action fairy tale?
"I have no plans to do it at all, but I do love the story of Pinocchio," he said, adding that Rumpelstiltskin is also rich with "interesting and disturbing" material. "I sometimes think about those stories. But at the moment, Cinderella is still happily in my system, so my work on fairy tales or even animated Disney classics—should I be lucky enough to be asked again—is currently happily sated with this picture."
Walt Disney Pictures' Cinderella is out on Blu-ray and Digital HD Sept. 15, as well as Disney Movies Anywhere, whose new partners include Amazon Video and Microsoft Movies and TV, joining iTunes, Google Play and Vudu in the app.