An interview with Director James Bobin of Alice Through The Looking Glass. Get the insights on the movie, Sacha Baron Cohen and more!

Interview with Director James Bobin #ThroughTheLookingGlassEvent

I was invited on an all expense paid trip by Disney to attend the Alice Through The Looking Glass Press Junket for an exclusive interview with Director James Bobin.

James Bobin grew up in England and Alice played a big role in his life. He fondly recalls his parents reading the book to him as a child, a tradition he continued with his own children. He has a copy of the front piece of the original manuscript, which hangs in his children’s playroom. While on set (for the Muppets) with his Production Executive Kristen Burr, she had mentioned the name Alice and instantly his eyes light up. James had already been working with Disney, he’s directed a few Muppets movies in the past, when he was approached to direct the sequel to Alice in Wonderland. It was only natural that he would want/need to be a part of this film. Read on to learn more about my interview with Director James Bobin and some insights on the film you won’t read anywhere else!

An interview with Director James Bobin of Alice Through The Looking Glass. Get the insights on the movie, Sacha Baron Cohen and more!
Photo courtesy of Disney

Interview with Director James Bobin

Talks of possibly working on the filming of Alice Through The Looking Glass started in 2013 and took about 3 years to complete. The quality control of the final 3-D images were just completed about one month ago because it takes a long time. Filming began in 2014 in Shepperton Studios in London.

On what a tough life he lives…

I’m a bit tired because we’ve done a lot of press, went to England and Madrid and New York last week. And this week was LA. And then we fly to Japan. It’s a tough life. But it’s not too bad. It’s fun. No, it’s good. It’s so nice for me to sort of show the film to people because I lived with it for a very long time by myself in a small room in Burbank. So it’s very nice to get to show it to people and sort of ’cause it’s a funny thing when you live with it for so long, it’s a part of you. And a nice part of it is to kind of let it go – and I (me, not James) instantly start singing along to our favorite Frozen song – and just show people the thing you’ve been doing all this time.

How is this movie different from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland?

Obviously Tim’s thing is so beautiful and so beautifully constructed. That was a really good foundation to start from. But I thought if I came on that I could kind of bring some of that British comedy back a bit, which is hopefully what you guys saw when you watched the movie. So it’s a bit different. I mean it needed to be different. I think sequels need to be different. It’s nice to pay tribute and make sure you respect the origins of the story and the characters. But people want to see generally something which is a progression or something new or if it has a different sight, feel or tone.

And so you’ll notice that in the design it’s a bit different too. The palettes are a bit brighter. In the movie, the story itself is very much about the human relations and the family. And so we have a lot more photo real design. Like the world is more Victorian in some ways. And that’s partly because when I was a kid growing up the books are illustrated by a guy called John Tenniel, who’s like an unbelievably beautiful engraving. And that to me was where the world where Alice lived.

And so when I was talking with Dan Hennah, our production designer, about the world I used to say to him look at Tenniel’s drawings. And all the characters in the foreground and look at what’s behind them. And that is the world I want to create for this. And obviously bearing in mind Tim’s origins. But then keeping that, but also pursuing this idea of making it feel like the world of Victorian imagination.

An interview with Director James Bobin of Alice Through The Looking Glass. Get the insights on the movie, Sacha Baron Cohen and more!
Photo courtesy of Disney

What was it like to work with Sacha Baron Cohen? Was he your first choice for the character of Time?

When you work with someone as brilliant as Sacha you always try to think of ways of getting him back involved in things you’re doing. He and I worked years ago on Borat and Ali G and Bruno. I knew that if you’re going to create a new character for this world, particularly whereby you have iconic characters like the Mad Hatter and Alice and the Red Queen, we needed to create a character a powerful character, which is Time.

Time of course is Lewis Carroll’s idea, I only borrowed it from him. Lewis Carroll talks about time as a person in the book Alice in Wonderland. Hatter says, when he first meets Alice at the tea party, he’s kinda stuck and he says to her I’ve been stuck here since last month when Time and I quarreled. And I thought that is a brilliant idea for a character. In Wonderland Lewis Carroll thinks time is not just an idea but a man, a person. And so that would be a very useful character to have in this film. And it felt very right for the movie to have a new character and that it would be Lewis Carroll’s idea. So then I thought that we have a really lovely kind of bad guy in the Red Queen, and you don’t want to do that again or else it gets confusing.

On shaping the precision of Time…

What he was gonna be is more of a kind of obstacle, like a powerful obstacle to Alice’s situation. Plus I thought that if you’re gonna do a time travel movie it’d be nice and very British to have to ask permission. You have to go to somebody then, please, may I borrow your chronosphere? That’s a very English way of doing time travel. So I felt that would be a very nice way of starting the character. And when you have a powerful character, what’s quite fun is if you undermine them immediately by making it pretty obvious that he’s a fool. Sacha’s very good at playing the sort of over-confident idiot. And that was a very good character choice for him.

I knew Sacha with me would have a fun time creating the new character of Time. Like who he was, how he spoke, how he held himself. Sacha’s a very physical comedian. And so with Time, again, it’s like how he holds himself, his walk, how he sits, and so it being a thing whereby we’d already had a lot of English accents. And Sacha could do pretty much anything. And we thought that, you know, time as a concept is a kind of Swiss idea, like clock-makers, etc. and in Switzerland there are two language – French and German. And we thought German was quite precise in its language. And that was a very good thing for Time too. And then we thought, well, you can’t just do a basic, German, you know, you have to do something fun with it. And so we thought like who has an interesting voice who is German? And we came up with our documentarian friend who Time is basically based upon.

What was the most challenging aspect for you?

The story is challenging because it’s not the story of the book, which I knew it would never be ’cause I loved the book very dearly. But even as a kid I realized that it’s quite unusual because Lewis Carroll wasn’t that concerned with narrative. He liked imagery, ideas. And the book kind of falls in on itself deliberately. Things happen and then other things happen. And they seem very consequential. It’s only cause and effect. And so I knew that for a film it would make an interesting avant-garde movie. But I’m not sure I could do that in this situation. So I knew the story would be a new story. I knew Linda had an idea about the time travel movie based on the characters from before. But at the same time I wanted to pay tribute to the book. The book’s incredibly important.

And Lewis Carroll is very important to me. So I wanted to take elements of the book like the backwards room and obviously the looking glass and the characters and the spirit of Lewis Carroll, the idea of something which is fairly complex but not so complex that my eight year old daughter wouldn’t understand it. It’s important you understand the story. But also I remember as a kid, I liked working stuff out in a movie. I didn’t want to be given it all straight away. I wanted to feel like I was ahead of the characters in the movie. And so this is kind of a puzzle plot in a way. That was a challenge, to try to make a story, which is complex and interesting but not overly so in a way which would be distracting for children.

An interview with Director James Bobin of Alice Through The Looking Glass. Get the insights on the movie, Sacha Baron Cohen and more!
Photo courtesy of Disney

Great Quotes and Lines

I came on with the movie and there was already a script. So Linda had already had the brilliant idea about time travel. And the story was pretty much in tact. And it was then really just trying to push the script in certain directions of like trying to bring out the themes of the movie. And often the way themes work the best is if you have lines that are gonna work and stick in your brain a bit.

So you kind of want to stay on point. And really the idea was that Time is a very important character in this movie. And so he has great moments of wisdom in the movie when he says to Alice, “you cannot change the past, but I dare say, you might learn something from it. And that’s a very profound thing for him to say. And it’s a very nice thing for everyone to learn generally ’cause it’s true. You know, you can’t change the past. But if you, if humanity, I mean I studied history at university. So I’ve seen this a lot. And if people make the same mistakes over and over again. We all do. You know, and humanity does on the big scale. It would be an amazing thing if people would just take from that, this film that is the truism. And that’s great. So it’s really trying to say things in a way which is memorable without people getting hit over the head with it too much.

You cannot change the past, but I dare say, you might learn something from it. - via Time/Sacha Baron Cohen Click To Tweet

Time, it’s a very important thing that Alice learns that time gives as much as he takes. That for me the book the looking glass is really a book about Alice growing up and about the passage of time. Alice becomes a queen. But it’s really a kind of a metaphor for Alice Liddell who by that time had grown into a woman. So for Lewis Carroll it was the idea of the passage of time. And to him it made him kind of sad. The book is sad. The poem, the book ends with a really beautiful poem, which is a poem about the time he wrote the book for her when she was a little girl. It’s him remembering the golden afternoon in the water. It was like really beautiful. And if you look at it it’s what’s called an acrostic poem, which means that the first letter of each line adds up to the name Alice Pleasance Liddell down the side. So it’s a very clear dedication to the girl, which is lovely.

Words of wisdom to share

In my personal life I feel to the passage of time can sometimes be a sad thing. And the way I overcome that is if you kind of really appreciate the time that you’re in at the time and the people you’re with then you can’t have regrets because you did your best to appreciate it at the time. And that for me is like the brilliant message for your life. And I know for this film and the fact that Alice kind of learns that in this film is really important to me ’cause it’s a personal thing for me too. She does learn to appreciate time and the fact that her father has passed. And that was the past. And she’ll deal with that. But her mother is still here. And if you can appreciate the time you have then that’s a great, that’s the thing to go away with.

An interview with Director James Bobin of Alice Through The Looking Glass. Get the insights on the movie, Sacha Baron Cohen and more!
Photo courtesy of Disney

In which ways did you pay tribute to Lewis Carroll?

At the beginning of the movie the pocket watch had Carroll. When she goes into the backwards room for the first time with the chess match in progress, the chess match is in the original Through The Looking glass book. That the very beginning of the book, prior to the title page is a layout of the chess game in progress. So the chess game in progress in the book is the same chess game in progress in the backwards room. So there’s those kind of things that are very important to me. And I liked the fact the mantle piece clock in the room is the same mantle piece clock that John Tenniel drew in 1871. Those little touches mean a lot.

On filming in abroad…

Filming was done in the Gloucester Docks which included the use of four historic ships.  Gloucester Docks is disused industrial space from the 19th Century. And we basically shot there ’cause it felt to me like what East India Dock would’ve looked like in 1871 when at the time London was the busiest port in the world. It had to be super busy. The Wonder (the boat) was brought in again for the movie. The boat is enormous and the dock hadn’t been used in quite some time so the dock had to be dredged to get it in. Gloucester is quite inland. Most people are surprised that Gloucester has docks. But it had a canal built in the Victorian times. And they had kind of silted up. So we had to dredge parts. We had to get that boat into where we were shooting. So it was a big deal.

Filming also occurred in a beautiful palladium Georgian mansions. England has a huge number of beautiful country houses. Often they were built in the similar time periods. The house that was in the original film, the Ascot Mansion, was in Cornwall, which is quite a long way from where we’re filming the rest of the stuff. I had to find a house nearer London ’cause we’re shooting a lot of London stuff this time. The main house is called Sylan House, which is kind of very near London. It’s in sort of Surrey. And so that house is the house, but the actual exterior of the house is not that. The exterior of the house is in Oxfordshire. But the interior of the house, the dining room, the ballroom, that beautiful long corridor where she talks to her mum, that’s in Sylan House, which is really beautiful. And then the green, ’cause we needed a house with a greenhouse, a dining room, and all that stuff was the Sylan House which is enormous and did all that stuff for it.

An interview with Director James Bobin of Alice Through The Looking Glass. Get the insights on the movie, Sacha Baron Cohen and more!
Photo courtesy of Disney

Costuming for The Red Queen…

Helena’s costume was really incredible. But when she and Colleen talked about the costume, Colleen always adds things in for fun, like something that only she and the character are gonna know about. And so apparently Helena, as the Red Queen, wears bloomers with hearts sewn into them that only she (and we’re never gonna see those obviously), knows are there. And that is so brilliant for a character that as an actor that, you are completely the character once your underwear is also in character for that character. And I never knew that until Helena told me that the other day. So I loved the idea so much.

Miss Piggy would be amazing as the Red Queen. She’d have a gigantic pig head. It would be so great. - James Bobin Click To Tweet

What did you enjoy learning about through my interview with Director James Bobin? While we are on the subject of interviews, I recommend you read my interviews with Mia Wasikowska, who plays Alice Kingsleigh and Producer Suzanne Todd.

ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS is now playing in theatres everywhere.

Follow the conversation online with #ThroughTheLookingGlassEvent, #ThroughTheLookingGlass and #DisneyAlice!

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Check out my movie review and Red Carpet Premiere experience!

Mama E

Multitasking mama to 3 living in Miami. Blogging about parenting, lifestyle, cooking and traveling. Covering everything from diapers to dorm rooms. Ask me anything, I've done it all.

Comments (7)

  • This must have been so amazing for you and to have this interview with james bobin. I know for myself,
    I am a huge fan of his and looking forward to watching this movie..

  • I am interested in seeing this movie and Sacha Baron Cohen in the role of Time. Should be so entertaining.

  • This had to be a great experience for you. He sounds like he is great at what he does. I will have to listen for the British comedy that he put into this move. It sounds like a great time. I can’t wait to see this with my family. Thank you for sharing. God Bless

  • Sounds like you had a wonderful time. So much fun!

  • Oh I love how his mind works!! I love that he brought time to life and paid homage to Lewis Carrol!!

  • This looks like such an interesting and fun movie!

  • What a great opportunity to interview him!!! The movie is going to be amazing!! I so can’t wait to see it.


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