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By Dave Steele | @KyKernel
In less than two weeks, moviegoers will get the chance to see how one of the most beloved characters in film history came to be. Oscar Diggs, otherwise known as the Wizard of Oz, will embark upon a journey that will change his life forever. After being hurled away from his small-time circus act in Kansas, Oscar finds himself in the magical Land of Oz, where he is welcomed as a great wizard. He tries convincing the inhabitants of Oz that he is the powerful wizard they have been waiting for, but gets into all kinds of trouble along the way. “Oz: The Great and Powerful” is set before the events of the 1930s classic “The Wizard of Oz,” and stars James Franco. The flick is directed by Sam Raimi and will hit the silver screen March 8. Franco and Raimi joined a college conference-call interview about their experience with the film.
Q: James, how did you prepare for the role of Oz both physically and mentally?
A: I had to be able to carry myself as a magician because my character, Oscar Diggs, starts off as a traveling magician in a circus, and we even see a bit of one of his shows. So I needed to be able to do that, those tricks, convincingly and to hold myself on stage like a magician in a convincing way. So they hired one of the best magicians in Las Vegas, Lance Burton, to come to Detroit, and … I was fortunate enough to have private lessons with him, and he taught me how to … make it look like I’m having people levitate and make it look like they’re evaporating in front of everyone’s eyes, and then also just kind of how to hold myself on stage. You know, he taught me all of that, so it was great.
Q: What did you personally bring to the character, Oz?
A: I guess I’d been doing a fair amount of comedies recently, and I saw this movie and this role as a chance to use some of the comedy chops that I had been developing in some other full-out comedies … but do it within a movie that had more of an adventure tale, (more of) a structure … so I like this idea of a comedic character within an epic movie.
Q: What’s different about working with Sam Raimi now than it was when you were working on “Spiderman”?
A: I’ve known Sam for over 10 years. He is one of my favorite directors to both work with and … he makes some of my favorite films. When I worked on “Spiderman” with him, I was a supporting character and Sam Raimi identifies with his lead characters very closely.
Q: What inspired your version of the world of Oz?
A: Well I drew it all from the great author L. Frank Baum, his vision of Oz, that he had written about in 14 some books. And then, I was also inspired by the illustrator, (W.W.) Denslow. He was the original illustrator of the L. Frank Baum books. So a lot of inspiration was taken from his drawings. But I was also inspired by the great classic movie, “The Wizard of Oz,” of course. Who would not be inspired by that? A lot of the visuals of the (movie), but more than the visuals, what inspired me about the “Wizard of Oz” movie was the characters’ sense of love that they have for each other. How friends come together and that very soulful sweet message that comes at the end of the picture when we learn from the Wizard that all of us are complete; all of us broken, lonely individuals … have within us the thing to make us complete if we only recognize it. That gave me a great source of inspiration.
Q: What was the best part of working on the film?
A: The best part of the picture for me, as a director, was once I had worked on the thing for like two years and eight months, was to hear Danny Elfman, our composer, create such a fantastic score. Because he took the emotions that were in the movie and he elevated them. He took the drama and he deepened it, the thread enhanced it. So he basically made everything better; he was the secret sauce that brings it to the next level. That was the best part for me, to see the movie whole and be made better and be brought together.
Q: What are you most excited about for audiences to take away from seeing the film?
A: I’d like them to feel, and ideally I’d like them to feel uplifted … the best thing that stories could do for us is reverberate with truth and show us the way in a way that is not pushy or preachy, but … if you could recognize this is true, and that’s true, and see there is a way to be happy with material goods, without the pride, without sense of self being everything (and) all dominating, there’s a simple beauty in loving another person and friends coming together, in being selfless.