The script for the dark fantasy flick Snow White and the Huntsman didn't just spring up out of the fairy tale fever over the last few years. When screenwriter Evan Daugherty was in film school at NYU, he penned this gritty take on the girl with skin as white as snow.
We chatted with the fairy tale scribe about the Huntsman's long journey from grizzled old man to sexy (but still grizzled) Chris Hemsworth. Plus, Daugherty elaborated on a few of our favorite characters from the movie, like the tribe of scarred women and the smiling pixies.
Let's talk about the long road with this screenplay. How many years ago did you start writing this?
Evan Daugherty: It was junior year of college. That was 2003. I went to film school at NYU and part of that was learning screenwriting.
There' s a big learning curve for screenwriting. I went into NYU not knowing anything about it or the format, the structure, or the craft. And we learned a lot of that in the the first couple years. I wrote a couple of not great ones.
Then I wrote Snow White, which I thought was pretty cool. It sort of came from one of our assignments, which was to take an old folk tale and update it. And I didn't do it with Snow White, I did it with Thor and played around with Norse mythology. I think that got my brain percolating about revising full fairy tales in new ways. That was part of it; the other part was thinking about this Huntsman character that I remembered from the Disney movie and the fairy tale, and thinking that he was a really compelling character that could be further explored and compelled into a bigger part of a movie.
The original pitch was Snow White meets The Professional, the Luc Besson movie, where he's a hitman teaching 13-year-old Natalie Portman how to be a killer. Similarly the Huntsman is a man-of-the-woods, hired mercenary, killer. Then, in Act Two he would become a mentor to Snow White and give her the tools she needed to take on the Queen at the end of the movie.
That was the genesis of it, and then it lived on my hard drive for a lot of years. I would show it to people, some people liked it, some people really did not get it and did not understand doing Snow White as an action adventure story. It took the Tim Burton's Alice and Wonderland making a billion dollars worldwide to get Hollywood interested in interesting plays on old fairy tales. I did not sort of cynically write this script after Alice and Wonderland came out (a lot of people thought that). I had it written, and when Alice and Wonderland came out and was pretty successful, I told my agent "I have this script." And they said, "well, let's give it to Joe Roth," the producer of Snow White and Alice. It was kind of a pretty quick process from there. We worked on it a little bit and then director Rupert Sanders came on board. We sold the script in September of 2010 and it's kind of been off to the races ever since then.
Obviously you wrote this in 2003 when fairy tales weren't all the rage, but now they are very popular and very successful especially Snow White. There's Mirror Mirror, Once Upon A Time — all of these are fairly centered around this character. Why do you think we are so specifically fascinated with Snow White these days?
There are a lot of big, well known fairy tales. But for some reason Snow White is very evocative and seems to last. A more intellectual reason, especially when dealing with the last 75 or 80 years, was that it was the first, and arguably the greatest Walt Disney movie ever. It was the first Walt Disney animated movie ever. And I think that's helped mythologize Snow White even more, I'm not sure if 100 years ago Snow White would resonate as it does now.
That said, there are some primal themes in Snow White about the quest for beauty, the dangers of growing up (as soon as Snow White comes of age she is targeted by the Evil Mother figure). Also, if you go back and read a lot of those Grimms' fairy tales (which I have) a lot of them are really goofy and complicated. They are overly complex and they don't really ring true to a modern day reader. Snow White, however, even in the original Brothers Grimm text is still very readable, very simple and it has themes that we can all relate to, as opposed to a lot of other fairy tales.
How much research into the Snow White fairy tale did you do while you were writing this?
The first draft I wrote without looking at anything. I felt that I was fairly well-versed in the fairy tale and remembered the ins and outs of it. But somewhere in this long eight-to-nine-year period (maybe it was draft three or four) I started additional research. The first draft I wrote I thought was pretty cool, but there was a lack of a thematic core or heart. Why is this movie relevant? It was more just a fun movie. It was extensive research into fairy tales that enabled me to create a new draft that worked really well. I was looking at a lot of fairy tale research and scholarship, most of which escapes my memories, but the Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim stands out.
The thing that was the most interesting and helpful about reading that was getting an in-depth look as to why these stories were told in the first place. True, they were an oral tradition that were told at bedtime or around the campfire, but the purpose was to prepare your children for the harsh realities of the world that they were going to grow up into. They wanted to prepare and strengthen these young people into realizing that the world can be a scary place, there are bad people in the world, and you have to be careful as to how you live your life.
When I realized that, that's actually what the Huntsman is teaching Snow White over the course of the journey. He's a hard guy who has lived a hard life, and he is bestowing his wisdom to Snow White to help prepare her for the challenges of first taking down the Queen and taking back her throne. And then the subsequent challenges of having to rule the kingdom all the difficulties that would come with that. That was a huge thematic idea that came from fairy tale research.
I read an earlier draft of your script and the biggest departure in the film was obviously making the Huntsman a love interest to Snow White. I also remember when Viggo Mortensen was attached to this script, did the change in character go with the change in casting from an elder Huntsman to a younger Chris Hemsworth?
Again, I wrote it nine years ago. And when I wrote it back then I wanted Sean Connery to be the Huntsman and have a really grizzled older Huntsman, which shows you where my head was at when I wrote the script. Sort of from the moment we teamed up with the studio and the producers, that became less of a feasibility and I became convinced that there was a way in the script that the character could become both a love interest and a mentor. But certainly the casting of the Huntsman got younger and younger. I wanted Sean Connery and the first people they talked to was Johnny Depp, Hugh Jackman, Robert Downey Jr., Viggo Mortensen, those were all older grizzled guys.
Ultimately, Chris Hemsworth came aboard, and I think he's great in the movie. He's really believable as a subtle, potential love interest. But definitely the love interest to mentorship ratio certainly changed. One of the biggest changes from the script to the movie — and I'll be honest I wish it was a little bit more like the original script in this one particular area is — there is some training and some advice that the Huntsman imparts to Snow White. There was certainly a lot more in the original draft, and that's something I miss a little bit.
One thing I loved in the script and in the movie was the village of scarred women. I really enjoyed that bit of world-building. Where did they come from?
That was in the original draft of the script, way back in the day. The fun of writing the script, for me, if you look at the original fairy tale it's maybe four or five pages long. But you have to build that into a 120-minute movie. So the fun thing is looking at every single element of that short fairy tale and figuring out how can I mine each of these little details and build them out?
One of them was thinking about the Queen. She's obsessed with being the fairest woman in the land. So part of my original story, and in the movie, the Queen hunts down the most beautiful women in the world and absorbs their beauty. So then what would women do to protect themselves from the Queen's wrath? What if they scarred themselves, so the Queen would no longer be interested in them, because she's obsessed with that vain notion of physical beauty? It was that, then the idea that they would seek refuge together living off in the far regions of the kingdom.
The fairies were also pretty great, how do write about fairies without making them cheesy?
Yeah, that's tricky. I wrote fairies into the movie, but I will give the credit to Rupert. When I sold the script I continued working on it for a couple months and that process was seeing the things that Rupert was excited about and helping to expand some of those things. So he was very much the fairy guy. I think it helps that the movie itself is gritty and dark and not just fairies, fairies, fairies the whole time.
That helps, it's almost like visiting the sanctuary is a welcome respite from the tough relentlessness of the rest of the movie. One other little part of it that I didn't write, it might have been improv on the set, which is this great tongue-in-cheek moment where one of the dwarves complain about the fairy music and stuffs moss into his ears. That awareness is light, it's a little whimsical surrounded by the other gritty characters.
Snow White and the Huntsman hits theaters Friday.