Joachim Rønning’s life path was set the day his family got a video camera. “I decided when I was 10 years old that I wanted to be a filmmaker,” says the now 47-year-old director of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (October 18). While shooting the sequel to Disney’s 2014 hit, which reimagines Sleeping Beauty from the evil fairy’s perspective, there were many “pinch-my-arm moments,” Rønning says, especially when the film’s three leads—Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, and Michelle Pfeiffer—shared scenes. “Those were my favorite days,” he says. “You point the camera at them, and you’re at the movies, basically.” Pfeiffer joins the cast as Queen Ingrith, a paragon of rehearsed civility who’s hiding a dark secret. “She did all her own stunts,” Rønning says of Pfeiffer. “That blew me away.”
Ultimately, though, the film’s emotional crux mirrors the original’s. The newly engaged Aurora (Fanning) is settling into a rebellious stage, and Maleficent is afraid of losing her. “Any parent can relate to that,” says the Norwegian director, who has two daughters, ages 13 and 15. “That day will come when they move out.” Rønning, who lives in L.A. with wife Amanda Hearst, is joining his second Disney franchise, having also cohelmed 2017’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. He made his first splash, however, with 2013’s Kon-Tiki, his biopic of Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl, which was nominated for a best foreign language Oscar. “That’s when all the doors opened,” he says.
This article appears in the September 2019 issue of ELLE on newsstands now.
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