IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Director Will Gluck Talks 'Annie'

Wednesday, 17 December 2014 23:44 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Director Will Gluck Talks 'Annie'

Opening in theaters on December 19th is Annie, which is a reboot of the beloved musical and ‘1980s movie. 

The new film is an updated version of the classic story and was directed by Will Gluck (Friends with Benefits, Easy A). The plot revolves around Annie (Academy Award-nominee Quvenzhane Wallis), a foster kid living with a mean foster parent named Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz). She soon sees her life change when business tycoon and New York mayoral candidate William Stacks (Academy Award-winner Jamie Foxx) takes her in. The movie was produced by musician Jay-Z and superstar actor Will Smith (I, Robot), and also stars Rose Byrne (X-Men: First Class), Bobby Cannavale (Chef), and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Pompeii). 

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Will Gluck about his work on Annie. The accomplished director discussed his new film, how he got involved with the project, his concept for the reboot, the out-of-the-box casting of Quvenzhane Wallis, if he was surprised by the media reaction to that choice, Jamie Foxx’s influence on the music in the movie, drawing inspiration from the musical as well as the ‘80s film, and breaking the forth wall. 

Here is what director Will Gluck had to say about Annie:

IAR: To begin with, can you talk about how you got involved with directing a reboot of Annie?

Will Gluck: It took 30 years of legal filings to finally get a chance to redo it. Producers Jay-Z, Will Smith and James Lassiter got the rights to Annie from creators Charles Strouse, Thomas Meehan, and Martin Charmin. They told them what they wanted to do and that they wanted to update it. They got their blessing and then they approached me to see whether or not I wanted to make it. I said this is something I did not think I would want to do, but let me think about it. I thought about it for a bit. Then I said if I was going to do Annie, here is how I would do it. I pitched my take on it to the studio and it is pretty much what you see (on screen). They said, “Go for it,” and there you have it.

What was the concept for the project when you first got involved and what was the idea for the film that you pitched in that first meeting? 

Gluck: I do not remember what the concept presented to me was. I am trying to remember the elements. They wanted to do it contemporary, and I think they wanted Jamie Foxx’s character to run for mayor. That was it. Then I wrote the script based on those elements. 

Was the goal always to cast an actress to play Annie that was a different ethnicity than how the character has been depicted before, or did you try to find the best actress for the role and it just happened to be Quvenzshane Wallis?

Gluck: Yes. We just started auditioning people. We never wanted to do that. Then at the same time we started auditioning people, this little nine year-old girl got nominated for the Academy Award. We were shooting a movie that needed a 9-year-old girl. I met with her. I was not 100% sure. She was fantastic. Then I started doing acting, singing and dancing with her. I remember saying, oh my God. This girl is Annie! There is no question about it. I went over to the studio and said we have Annie. We have found our Annie. There really never was a question to me about race or anything. Subsequently people make a big deal about it, but I would also say that if I decided to cast some girl who had blonde hair, they would make the same accusations. It is all about the red hair thing!

Were you surprised that Quvenzhane’s casting was big news?

Gluck: I am not surprised by anything in the news recently. Nothing surprises me. What I am very proud of is that we did cast Quvenzhane Wallis. Then we decided who we wanted to cast for Will Stacks. I went into the studio and we had a big discussion about what actor we wanted in this movie. Who is a big movie star? Who can sing? Who can dance? Who is about the right age? There are only about two actors that fit the criteria. We came out of that meeting with Jamie Foxx. I said, yes! I have always loved Jamie Foxx. He is such a talented guy. As I was walking away from the building, someone said to me, “Do you know that he is African American? So he and Annie would both be African American?” I said, no. I did not think about that. I know that sounds naïve, but when you are in the middle of this stuff, all you think about is the filmmaking. What will make the movie good? I will tell you this as well. Whenever we show the movie to kids, and we ask them, what do you think about Annie being African American? Kids say, “I do not understand. What are you talking about?” It is zero on the list of things they care about. For parents it is very high up there, which is an interesting social message.

In addition to being an Academy Award-winning actor, Jamie Foxx is also a Grammy Award-winning musician. Did he have any influence on the songs that he sings in the film?

Gluck: When you have Jamie, you use him for everything you can. I would play Jamie’s songs all the time. I would say, come listen to this. Then he would give his ideas. For the song “The City’s Yours,” we recorded it at his home studio. It was very much Jamie influenced because when you have someone like that, you let him or her run.

As a filmmaker, did you draw any inspiration from the original musical or the popular 1982 movie?

Gluck: I really wanted to honor the original Annie. I grew quite close to Charles Strouse. I would play him and Martin Charmin our music. Martin would give notes on the script. I really wanted to keep the DNA because they created a message, and I am just carrying it out. I am standing on their shoulders. The inspiration I did use was the bones of their music, which is fantastic. If you watch the movie, we put in about 35 references to the musical and the other movie. Some are very obvious, but some are very Annie geek heavy references. It is my way of saying I really respect Annie. I love Annie! This is just a new way of doing it. There is a lot of deep reference to Annie in this movie. There are a lot of references in the background and in people’s names. 

Finally, there is also a “breaking the forth wall” element to Annie. There are a few scenes where it seems like the characters are almost aware that they are in a film. Cameron Diaz’s character even says to Bobby Cannavale’s character at one point, “Why are you singing?” Can you talk about that aspect of the movie?

Gluck: To me, in this case, I did not want anyone breaking out into song and dance. Even from the first “It’s the Hard Knock Life,” Cameron comes in and says, “I said no singing and dancing.” I wanted it to feel real. If you are going to sing and dance, then I wanted to be able to comment on the fact that they are singing and dancing. I also love to put stuff in the background of my movies. It does not take anything away. If you do not notice it, then you do not notice it. I believe that every time you shoot something, you are setting an opportunity to shoot another story. There is a lot of stuff in the movie. It speaks to the characters as well. Here is a little clue that I will tell you. Bobby Cannavale’s character is named Guy. Twice in the movie Jamie Foxx calls him Gallo. Gallo is Spanish for rooster (the character’s original name). There are a lot of those things. The name of the Italian restaurant where Annie’s parents left her was called Domani, which means tomorrow in Italian. That stuff that you do not know, you will never know it. But if you do know it, to me it is another layer.

Annie opens in theaters on December 19th.

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