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James Franco And Sam Raimi Share Secrets Behind 'Oz: The Great And Powerful'

Sarah Mickelson |
March 7, 2013 | 9:56 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

 The Great and Powerful in a hot air balloon. (Tonightatthemovies/Flickr)
The Great and Powerful in a hot air balloon. (Tonightatthemovies/Flickr)

Oz: The Great and Powerful may seem like just another remake of the celebrated Wizard of Oz film. But it's far from it. Star James Franco and director Sam Raimi shared some behind-the-scenes details from their experience taking on the saga of L. Frank Baum's legendary wizard.

Franco gives life to the Wizard, also known as Oscar Diggs, who begins as a wily magician with questionable ethics seeking only fame and fortune.

When he’s suddenly transported from Kansas to the Land of Oz, he inadvertently becomes the man everyone hopes will save the kingdom from evil forces. Oscar grapples with the fact that he doesn’t possess the magical powers everyone thinks he does, but with the help of three witches, he realizes he may still be the hero everyone's looking for. Over the course of the movie, Oscar turns the Land of Oz into a better place while also turning himself into a better man.  

For inspiration on designing the film's magical world, Raimi notes that he drew not only from the Judy Garland classic film from 1939, but also from the original creator of the Land of Oz, author L. Frank Baum. Lucky for Raimi, Baum wrote fourteen novels centered on Oz, so he never lacked for source material.  

This wondrous land of Oz serves as the backdrop for what Raimi identifies as the message of the movie, the idea that “we are all broken individuals, but we all have within us something to make us complete if we only recognize it.” This message would be difficult to portray without what Raimi calls his “secret sauce”: composer Danny Elfman and his original score.

Raimi’s greatest pleasure was seeing a movie he spent almost three years working on be brought together with Elfman’s music. To Raimi, Elfman connects the threads together, and without him it would be difficult to get the audience emotionally invovled in the film.  

Franco found the Baum books to be just as insightful for delving into his character of Oscar, the Wizard. Having been a fan of the books since he was eleven, Franco was particularly keen on scoring a role in the film. That and the fact that he’d worked on three previous films with Raimi: the Spider-Man trilogy released last decade. It seems Franco desired to establish a better connection with him.

“Sam identifies with his lead characters, so [on Spider-Man] he identified with Peter Parker,” Franco explains, “and because my character was trying to kill Peter, I felt Sam blamed me for that.”

Since Franco felt a little less love than Tobey Maguire on those films, he welcomed the opportunity to play the protagonist. This time around, “Sam identified with my character, so I felt more loved,” he adds with a laugh.

To prepare for his role as a magician, Franco received training from the premier magician of Las Vegas: Lance Burton. During private lessons, Franco learned how to make people levitate, evaporate, and most importantly how to hold himself on stage.

“Oscar starts off as a traveling magician, so I needed to do that convincingly,” Franco explained.

While the role of Oscar offered Franco a chance to learn a few party tricks, he also welcomed the opportunity to embody a new kind of character. He said he was fascinated by the juxtaposition of fantasy and comedy and the opportunity to play that up within the context of an epic movie. 

Franco wasn’t the only one learning  things during the project. While this wasn’t Raimi’s first movie, he wasn’t used to making a movie with so many major characters. Because each had their own backstories, he said he found it difficult to juggle them all inside a two hour film. He had to learn what stories to cut and figure out how much to leave for the audience to fill in the blanks.

“That's really the secret I think – letting the audience participate,” he reveals.

Oz: The Great and Powerful, directed by Sam Raimi and starring James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, and Michelle Williams, hits theaters Friday.

You can reach Staff Reporter Sarah Mickelson here.



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