The daughter of a sorceress, Ravenna slowly found her way to the dark side. Abducted by a vicious master when she was a girl, the only power Ravenna wielded was her astonishing beauty. Though her mother bestowed upon her an enchantment to protect her from the ravages of time, Ravenna is forced to maintain it by consuming the life force of young maidens. After she bewitched and killed Snow White’s father, King Magnus, Ravenna stalled her death and threw off the balance of life with an evil that spread like cancer across the kingdom. But her cruelty did not end there. To become truly immortal, Ravenna must consume the heart of Snow White…the moment her stepdaughter becomes the fairest in the land.
Reflects director Rupert Sanders on the power of this creature in our minds, as well as her role in this interpretation of the iconic story: “The Queen symbolizes death, and she is trying to stop her own from arriving. She is seeking immortality, so everything in the kingdom is thrown off balance. Oppositely, Snow White is the beating heart of life, and the Huntsman’s job is to take that life. If the Queen fails, life and death may fall back in sync and the kingdom will return to how it once was.”
Academy Award® winner Charlize Theron was brought aboard to play the fabled monarch. Discussing his decision to cast Theron, Sanders commends: “Charlize has given such staggering performances in her career, but she is also such an incredibly beautiful woman. She encompasses, more than any other actor out there, both power and beauty personified. She is Margaret Thatcher-meets-Kate Moss.”
Expounding upon the film’s symbolism and Theron’s decisions in bringing those tropes to life, Sanders adds: “When you are dealing with archetypes, you can play them big. People want to relish when the Queen says, ‘Mirror, mirror, on the wall.’ We want to see them coming from someone of this stature and beauty.”
Producer Joe Roth walks us through the team’s casting process: “Choosing Charlize was the idea right from the start. I’d worked with her in the past. We went over to the commercial shoot she was on and waited for her to take a break. When she came over, in four-inch stiletto heels and dressed in a very commercial way, I thought, ‘Rupert is going to be blown away!’”
The producer was just as pleased when she arrived on set to begin filming and was game for the most intense of situations to get into character, including an uncomfortable swim in a tub of black oil. “Charlize gives a performance as ferocious as the one she was asking for,” adds Roth. “It’s an interesting amalgam: She’s always in control, she’s magnificent to watch and she’s fearsome.”
Theron was attracted to the part because of the complex humanity of a betrayed and wounded creature—one that easily could have been drawn as a screeching stereotype. She explains a bit of the Queen’s backstory: “Ravenna’s mother instilled into her at a very young age that she can only be her true best self if she remains young and stays beautiful. She realizes that her magical powers are her survival. And that’s the road she travels.”
Though Ravenna has, according to Theron, “brutal instincts” and “an obsession with needing Snow White’s beating heart to give her immortality,” the reigning monarch hasn’t completely lost all traces of her humanity. Like Sanders, the actress appreciated the difficult lessons inherent in this timeless story. Theron shares: “Ravenna realizes that she wants something that, if she made different choices in her life, she could have had. But because of how she decided to live and the bed that she made for herself—one that she’s lying in right now—she can’t. It’s not even an option for her.”
When Snow White’s mother died and her father married Ravenna, the young princess found her innocence and compassion to be qualities the new Queen loathed. Locked away in a tower for seven years, Snow White grew up watching her father’s murderer rule the kingdom with an iron fist. But the young beauty, who had begun training as an archer, falconer and horsewoman, has escaped and now trains with an uneasy ally. The time has come for her to defend her people from the one who’s been crippling them. She makes an oath that she will become their weapon and challenges her fellow outcasts to ride with her against Ravenna.
Sanders knew that they had to walk a fine line with the character of Snow White. In adapting the centuries-old fairy tale, originally about a little girl who is more victim than fighter, it was important to the filmmakers that Snow White and her journey remain identifiable for contemporary audiences across the world. The hurdles and problems that she faces are issues with which girls and women grapple in modern day: loneliness and maturation, plus issues of trust, love and the power (as well as the ultimate fading) of beauty.