An interview with director Mark Osborne and star Mackenzie Foy of Netflix’s upcoming feature version of the beloved book.
by John Bucher (@johnkbucher)
The story of The Little Prince has delighted children and adults alike around the globe for many years. Fans were delighted to hear that an original take on the story was bound for theaters last year. However, as they often do in the film industry, plans changed. The movie was shelved and a groan from the fanbase could be heard around the world. Then suddenly, Netflix stepped in and saved the day, bringing the film to their streaming audience beginning August 5.
Director Mark Osborne worked with a stellar cast of talent including Jeff Bridges, Ricky Gervais, Paul Rudd, James Franco, and Rachel McAdams to bring the film to life. No stranger to animation, Osborne was nominated for an Academy Award for Kung Fu Panda. While the adults work pure magic with voicing the characters, it’s the children behind the voices that steal the show. Osborne’s son, Riley, voices the little prince while Mackenzie Foy, best known for her portrayal of Murph in Interstellar, voices the little girl. LA Screenwriter’s John Bucher sat down with Mark and Mackenzie to talk about the film.
John Bucher: I noticed there were a lot of mythological elements and tropes in the film, including a girl who makes a journey to the underworld (metaphorically), a wise old man, a talking snake, and a helpful fox. How do you think this project is going to speak to our current culture? Do you think our culture is hungry for new mythology and new myths?
Mark Osborne: As a seven-year-old little boy who saw the original Star Wars in a movie theater and knew nothing about the power of myth, but was completely floored by what I saw, it changed my life entirely. When I discovered later on in college what was really going on there, that made me want to be a filmmaker. It made me want to tell stories. It made me understand a little bit of how it actually worked and how the stories can come from your instincts, because there’s stuff that we all share. I would say there’s always an opportunity to tap into those. I’m a huge Joseph Campbell fan. I’ve started to devour that stuff. I think it’s a really interesting way to look at movies from an analytical sense of how they can work. It’s definitely been a part of my life.
John: You directed your son in the film. Can you tell me what that was like?
Mark: You know it’s interesting. I don’t think I had philosophical discussions with my son about the book, it was kind of just more playful. It was kind of in our life and he was just going to do a temporary voice to help out. I wasn’t sitting down with him, directing him. If anything we were just having fun and actually, it’s what I tried to do with Mackenzie, too — not make it too important, not make it too serious. We started recording together when she was 12. I just wanted to keep it fun and that’s what was amazing. These sessions are very difficult — they’re hours. They’re exhausting.
Mackenzie Foy: The hardest part about it for me was trying to keep the energy up. After about the sixth hour you’re kind of like, “Okay…” That’s something that is really important, especially to me as an actress, because energy is a very critical thing, especially in animation.
Mark: It’s much easier to record people separately, but in the beginning we wanted to put Jeff (Bridges) and Mackenzie together. Use that as a way to help develop the characters in my mind. We’re still trying to find the characters. As much as we’re doing script and we’re doing storyboards and we’re doing temp voice and we’re trying to figure it out, it’s not until someone like Mackenzie comes and brings her amazing talents that you start to see the pieces come together.
That was just a fun day. We’re at Jeff’s house, we’re in his recording studio. The thrill of making this movie was suddenly real. At that point I’d already spent years of trying to sell the movie all over the world, trying to find financing from all over the world. I sold the movie to Jeff, I’m showing him all the toys from the film and I’m trying to get him excited. Then to all sit down and start working, and on top of it to have Jeff fold a paper airplane and throw it at Mackenzie, it’s like, “Okay, I’m in heaven.” This is about as good as it gets. Really deep down inside, I’m like, “I’m not worthy. I shouldn’t be here. This is… I don’t know what I’m doing.” It’s very stressful to direct one of your heroes.
Jeff’s very good at improv. He keeps it fun. That’s the amazing thing. When you put a script down in front of the actors and say, “Let’s play with this. Let’s explore this together.” It’s not, “You need to say this and you need to say it in three seconds,” but “Let’s explore this.” Amazing stuff happens. We would always come away from the sessions with stuff we didn’t expect. Actually, there was a line reading that we did in the very first audition. When I look back to it, Mackenzie did this thing that was so funny and so unexpected and it was just so sweet and innocent. When I look back, I’m like, “That was the thing.”
John: Mackenzie, the character you played, what about her did you most relate to? You seem to really understand who she is in this story.
Mackenzie: The little girl — she has her life basically planned out for her, as you see in the film. At the same time, she’s really strict on herself. She’s like, “I have to do this. I have to do this. I have to be perfect.” But later on in the film you see that creativity, that silliness come out of her. I really relate to that. I’m very much a nerdy weird person. Being able to bring that out in her was really fun.
I actually read the book when I was in fourth grade. I really connected to the story. I loved it. I have the audio version. I have two different copies of the book. When they came to me, they were like, “There’s this film, The Little Prince. They want you to audition for it.” I was like, “The Little Prince? The Little Prince??” They were like, “Yes.” I was just, “This is incredible. Of course, I want to audition for it.” A lot of times you’ll come across people who are either incredibly familiar with it and love it — some young, some old — or you’ll come across people who have no idea what it’s about.
Mark: That was one of the challenges. Making the film for people whether they knew the book, didn’t know the book, and especially, for kids. I actually think I’ve encountered a lot of cultures in this whole promotional year where I’ve gone to 12 different premieres in 12 different countries and met all ages. I’ve met a lot of people that said they were forced to read the book as a kid and they didn’t like it. I think, to me, the book works best when a parent is reading it to a child. There’s a relationship there in the sharing. Then, it starts to create a conversation. My hope was to introduce this world of The Little Prince to people who might not know it, whatever age.
I hope that the movie creates a curiosity about the book and you might want to read it afterwards. The book is a weird book. It’s a very weird book, in a great way. I think that was even what Jeff said. He was like, “It’s a pretty weird book. It’s like a long poem.” I said, “Yes, that’s exactly it.” We wanted to celebrate that as much as possible. It’s not so easy to figure out how to actually do that.
I think, my whole hope is that kids will absorb it. That’s the thing we found. We screened it for families and audiences. Kids are glued to it. They’re trying to put two and two together. I think that’s when movies work the best when you’re not given every single thing. You’re asked to bring yourself into the conversation. And the book works best if a parent’s reading it to a child and towards the end of the book, if the parent is getting emotional and crying, the child looks up and says, “Why are you crying?” And then you have a conversation.
The Little Prince premieres on Netflix on August 5.
John Bucher is a writer, speaker, and story consultant based out of Los Angeles. He is the author of several books including The Inside Out Story and Master of the Cinematic Universe: The Secret Code to Writing in the New World of Media. He has written for entities ranging from HBO to U.S. Ambassadors. He teaches at The LA Film Studies Center and has conducted story seminars on five continents. He can be reached on Twitter @johnkbucher and through his site, tellingabetterstory.com.