George Lucas’ next film will be in theaters in just a few days, and it’s a fairy tale. Strange Magic is inspired by William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and though the movie features fairy tale creatures you’re familiar with (elves, goblins, and fairies), it goes off book to present a tale about love and mischief with modern songs such as “Wild Thing” and “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” Lucas came up with the story and serves as executive producer on the film, and Gary Rydstrom directs.
Meredith Anne Bull stars in the film as Dawn. She’s the younger sister of Marianne (Evan Rachel Wood), and she’s embracing a carefree lifestyle. She’s boy crazy and green behind the ears and ends up falling in love with a surprising, not so savory person. We spoke with Bull about how she got involved with the project, Dawn’s personality, and the changes Disney made to the film once they purchased Lucasfilm.
Nerdist: Tell me about how you got involved in Strange Magic.
Meredith Anne Bull: It was back in 2011, and I actually auditioned for Marianne, the role that’s played by Evan Rachel Wood. They had us sing, and they gave us a list of songs that we could choose from, like covers. I sang “Thriller” and “Like A Virgin,” I think. They asked me to come back the next day to read for Dawn, the older sister. So, I did and then it was a really long process. I think I auditioned in April and then I had several callbacks, and they brought me into a recording studio and had me record one of the songs that’s actually no longer in the film. Then I found out in, I want to say June or July of that year.
I started working on it in 2011 and then things kind of slowed down whenever the whole merger with Disney and Lucasfilm happened. We were kind of like, “Oh, is this project still alive?” It was kind of touch and go there. I didn’t hear anything for a while, and there was some reworking of staff and then we just kept plugging ahead and here we are.
N: When the merger happened did Disney make significant changes to the film?
MB: Oh yeah. I don’t want to say big changes. I’ll say [they were] definitely Disney changes – like the songs. There were a lot of dark moments in the film, a lot of dark moments. I think you can tell when you see the Bog King that he comes from a dark place as far as a male lead in a Disney film. So, they changed a handful of the songs, and they changed a few things visually. But, as far as the characters and everything and the essence of the story, that’s all still the same.
N: Let’s talk a little about Dawn. What do you like about her?
MB: Dawn is wide-eyed and naive and optimistic. She’s a hopeless romantic, totally unafraid of love, and sees no wrong in loving everyone she comes in contact with. I love that there is youth in her that is so innocent.
It’s weird because as an actor I feel like so many actors hate watching themselves on-screen, and when you do animation it is so much easier to enjoy it because it’s not you. I mean, essentially they would film me recording so that the animators had ideas of my actual facial expressions and my body language, but it’s not. There are little things here and there I can see that they picked up on, but other than that it’s really enjoyable for me to watch because she is so youthful and just so pure. I feel like it’s hard to find in this day and age, that pure thing is rare.
The whole point of why we need movies like this is to take people out of their real life. I watch that Sunny and Dawn clip, and I smile at it every time. The relationship between Sunny and Dawn in the film is really adorable, and it’s also realistic because how many times has a girl been clueless that the nerdy kid or the non-jock is totally head over heels for them?
N: From the previews, her sister seems more practical and very different from Dawn. What’s their relationship like?
MB: They have a relationship that is definitely the older sister watching out for the younger sister. You don’t ever see their mother – I don’t know why or what happened to the mother – and Alfred Molina plays Dawn’s dad. He doesn’t always really know what’s going on with his daughters when he’s not around, and he doesn’t ever have to worry about Marianne. But he does have to worry about Dawn because she’s boy crazy and she doesn’t understand the ways of the world yet. She needs somebody to guide her and guard her so Marianne has to do that a lot. And I can relate because I have an older sister. I’m the younger sister and that’s totally been our dynamic and relationship.
N: You mentioned Alfred Molina – there’s quite a bit of star power in the movie. I know it’s not typical, but did you get to record with anyone else in the cast?
MB: I only got to record with Elijah Kelley a couple of times and I’ve met only the few of the stars in passing, but other than that, no.
And you know Gary, the director would be there and he’s awesome. He has seven Oscars, and he just knows what he’s doing. He would feed you lines a lot of the time, and so that would be helpful but it’s obviously never anything like what the actual characters sounds like. It’s just one of those things where you close your eyes and go for it and hope that you’re catching the right thing for them.
N: So, you have Gary as director but George Lucas developed the story. Were you aware of that when you auditioned?
MB: Yes, the title of the project was “George Lucas Animated Musical.”
N: I wasn’t sure since sometimes that kind of information is kept top secret.
MB: You know what’s funny is that this was on IMDB in 2008. It said “George Lucas Animated CGI Musical” and deep-seated fans were like, “What is this?” And then, like I said I came on in 2011 and it was called Primrose. That was the working title for this whole time. There were people that noticed Primrose was trademarked and so was Strange Magic. There were little things along the way, but essentially it’s like a hundred percent secretive and that’s freaking people out. They were like “Why are we just hearing about it now and why is it just being thrown out in January?”
Many fans were like, “Oh, this is a money thing and why [else] would they just dump this?” That’s so upsetting to hear because I know that I’ve never worked on anything that has been so heartfelt for all of the people working on it. When I came on to Strange Magic it was such a labor of love for everybody involved. For Gary, for Mark, for everyone. This is obviously the biggest thing I’ve ever done so of course every moment I was there was like the best day ever for me. But George has had this story idea forever and he is like this hopeless romantic, goofy guy. It’s hard when people speculate that this is something that they’re just trying to make money from or whatever. This story is so heartfelt and the music is incredible. The music is the life blood of the movie, and I really hope that people give it a chance and do see it and see the passion that is put in behind it.
N: I know you’ll be busy promoting Strange Magic in the near future, but what other projects are you working on?
MB: I’m working on my debut album. I’m recording a pop album right now. That’s a world that I’ve been working in for the last eight years or so and so I am hoping with the push of the music in this film that I’ll be able to get that music out there.
Keep with up with Bull’s latest projects at Twitter. Strange Magic is out this Friday, January 23rd.