Kay Cannon talks Cinderella

Kay Cannon spoke with Solzy at the Movies about the new musical, Cinderella, launching September 3 on Amazon Prime Video.

There have been so many Cinderella films over the years including the Disney film in 2015. Did you have any hesitation to take on the project when James Corden and company reached out?

Kay Cannon: Well, initially, I absolutely did because Cinderella wasn’t a fairy tale that I really related to. I was more of an E.T./Annie kind of young girl and not really into the princessy fairy tales. There was just something inside me that kind of—I just didn’t feel connected to. It might have been as simple as the fact that she was blond-haired and blue-eyed and I was dark-haired and brown-eyed. I understood the underdog part of it but I just didn’t connect to it.

I went into it really hesitant but then once James said, what about modernizing it and making it a musical with contemporary songs, which is different. I mean, all the other Cinderella’s, I think, are so amazing and so great. I was like, okay, that feels different. And then I felt like, Oh, I could rewrite the story to make it more relatable to what young women, girls, and even cross-genders, like how people see themselves—sign me up and try to make it funny or whatever—just try to do my spin on it. I thought that that was a great thing to do. To add to that, I feel like there’s a reason why so many have been done—it’s such an amazing story and it’s the most iconic of underdog stories especially for girls and for women. I look forward to 10 years from now when there’s another one and it gets compared. I think that for every generation of young people that they should have their own version of Cinderella that reflects who they are. For me, it’s the Brandi/Whitney Houston version. That’s my Cinderella. For my daughter, I hope that this is her Cinderella—I certainly don’t want to be rejected by her.

One of the things that I loved is how you truly subvert what we know about Cinderella.

Kay Cannon: Oh, good. I’m glad that you feel that way—that you said that.

You’re no stranger to comedy but what was it like to take on your first musical feature film?

Kay Cannon: At first, I was like, oh, gosh, this is big. This is different. I’m coming off of Blockers, which is this rated R comedy, and then I’m going to do a PG musical. At first, it was a little bit daunting. After that, it was like, well, wait a second, these big musical numbers—I wrote the movie, I have a vision for the movie. The big musical numbers don’t feel that different to me than big comedy set pieces, right? You approach it the same way—you articulate your vision with your crew and you make it come to life.

I think a bigger challenge for me was I treated it like an animated movie in a way, in terms of the comedy of it all, because it was a PG movie. I had to find things that would make young kids laugh and then also have jokes that would make parents laugh or adults laugh. Finding that—that was a new exercise in the comedy space. But now, I feel like with Pitch Perfect being PG-13, Blockers being R, and then Cinderella being PG—especially for my daughter, I feel like at every level, she has like something to watch now if she wants to.

Kay Cannon with Camila Cabello and Nicholas Galitzine on the set of Cinderella.
Director Kay Cannon with Camila Cabello and Nicholas Galitzine one the set of CINDERELLA. Photo: Kerry Brown. © 2021 Amazon Content Services LLC.

Can you talk about directing this cast?

Kay Cannon: The cast is incredible. With the pandemic, we had all sorts of obstacles that we wouldn’t have normally have had in filming the movie. I was so blessed and I’m so grateful that I had the cast that I had because that was the easiest part. It’s all hard, but what I mean to say by that is they’re so talented and they all work so hard that it was just a joy, quite frankly, it was a joy to direct them. Everybody had something at stake—between Billy Porter playing this iconic Fairy Godmother character to being Camila’s first acting role to Nicholas Galitzine playing the prince and having to maybe sing outside of his comfort zone and having learn how to ride a horse and doing dancing and all of that—people were really committed and I think it shows.

Minnie Driver and Pierce Brosnan star in Cinderella.
Minnie Driver and Pierce Brosnan star in CINDERELLA. Photo: Christopher Raphael. © 2021 Amazon Content Services LLC.

Did you have any worries about when it came to Pierce Brosnan singing in the film especially after Mamma Mia?

Kay Cannon: Well, no. I mean, I asked Pierce—I was like, is it okay if we kind of make jokes about how you sing? Given that he’s so talented, he’s so charming, he’s so handsome; he’s had such a successful career. I mean, he’s been Bond…James Bond. I mean, come on. He was game. To me, that’s a comedy song. He was so committed. I think he’s so funny. It’s one of my favorite scenes in the movie is him singing too Minnie.

What was the most challenging part of making a film and then having to do post-production during the pandemic?

Kay Cannon: We really figured it out along the way on this uncharted territory. I feel, in a lot of ways, I have a lot of silver linings with it all because I shot about four weeks of the movie before we were shut down. I shot the ball and the Fab G sequence before we were shut down. Had we come back, I wouldn’t have been able to get the ball. I had 200 extras and stuff like that. We were in obviously indoors. Having almost five months to *the day off, I was able to put together what I had already shot and saw what I needed and what I had to rewrite. The good news for us was most of our stuff was outside. That helped, right? It helped to be outside and not confined to an indoor space but I had a ton of stuff. I had eight weeks left to shoot. I had the opening and the finale and “Material Girl,” “Somebody to Love,” and “Am I Wrong.” I had so much.

I was a warden, Danielle. I was obsessed with making sure that we were all safe. I was yelling at people. I’d be like, that’s not how you wear a mask, Helen! I was just on top of it. I feel really grateful that we shot it without incident. We didn’t have one positive test; we never had to shut down. Sony was instrumental, so supportive, and really made sure that we felt safe and good. They went the extra mile to make that happen.

Is there some sadness that you’re not getting that big theatrical release that you probably planned on going into the film?

Kay Cannon: There’s always that little moment of sadness and then I go to a place of gratitude, where I’m just so grateful we even got to finish the movie. I’m grateful that we’re all healthy. I’m grateful that we’re all safe. I really want people to see it and I want to want them to see it safely. Look, it’s a musical. You want to have a musical inside of a big theater and have a big group experience. Having said that and having watched other people watch it at home—because all of my previews and stuff like that, I was watching people in their living rooms watch the movie. One woman was folding her laundry. I was like, Oh my gosh, I can’t do this! This is terrible. (Laughs) But it does translate. I don’t know what your experience was but I’m sure there was a buffering situation for yours.

Oh, yes.

Kay Cannon: But for others, it appears that it’s really translating and that people are feeling joy. That’s my hope. My hope is that we reach as many people around the world and that they sing, laugh, and dance.

I’m looking forward to watching it again straight through without the buffering as my schedule allows.

Kay Cannon: Yeah. Did it cause it to be like a half hour longer?

It definitely felt like it. It may have been 15 minutes in total but it definitely felt longer than that.

Kay Cannon: Yeah, that’s no way to watch a movie.

What do you hope people take away from viewing the film?

Kay Cannon: I hope they feel good. I hope that they leave it feeling good—like when “Let’s Get Loud” keeps playing that they’re having a good time—that they’re laughing, singing, and dancing. I hope they watch it again because they love the music and the soundtrack. And then after that, I hope that maybe somewhere in the back of their head, they’re like, you know what, maybe women should be allowed to follow their dreams. Maybe we should be more accepting, maybe we should see things from a different perspective. Maybe it’s totally okay to have a man play the fairy godmother because they liked it so much. That’s my hope. My hope is that they felt like they got their money’s worth.

Amazon Prime Video launches Cinderella on September 3, 2021.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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