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‘Into The Woods’ cast share Meryl Streep tales

NEW YORK — Emily Blunt laughed out loud when asked to compare working with the great Meryl Streep in “Into the Woods” (opening on Christmas Day) to co-starring with her in “The Devil Wears Prada.”

“It really wasn’t all that different — she tortured me in that one too!” quipped Blunt, recalling her portrayal of the long-suffering assistant to the imperious high-fashion magazine editor in the earlier movie. But quickly turning serious, Blunt echoed a theme heard from all of the actors who worked with the three-time Oscar winner on “Into the Woods,” based on the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine Broadway musical: “It was, of course, a nice, familiar reunion, and truly wonderful. I love working with her. She’s so inspiring. You just try to sponge up what she’s doing. Being around her just makes you better.”

James Corden, who plays the baker husband to Blunt’s character, had equally high praise for Streep: “You just cannot not learn from her. She takes her work unbelievably seriously, but she doesn’t take herself seriously one bit. That’s the greatest lesson I took away from the experience. She shows you how to be a leader, how to use your power on a movie set.”

The film’s director, Rob Marshall, spoke about Streep’s work ethic. “I was astonished by how brave she is, and how much she loves the work,” he said. “On the very first day of rehearsal, she showed up and worked completely off-book [without the printed script]. She gave a full-out performance as if the cameras were rolling on a real take. She was exploring everything. She was not afraid to try anything. She set the bar so high for everybody else. She’s a dream for a director. There’s nothing she can’t do.”

Anna Kendrick, who plays Cinderella in the film, got a kick out of watching Streep play the ugly side of her witch character in the film. “It was fun to see how much fun she was having as the ugly witch. Of course, she reveled and was soaring in her glamorous witch persona too, but I think she really got off on the ugly witch part. She was like almost fiendish,” said Kendrick. “Watching her living in that costume with the hunch on her back. It was like seeing a little kid getting their favorite costume for Halloween.”

Beyond chatting about Streep, the actors shared a number of behind-the-scenes stories from making the movie. As the baker and his wife, Corden and Blunt worked with the obstinate “Milky White,” the cow they had to constantly lead around — or try to.

“We all got nearly trampled by the cow a number of times,” said Blunt. “The cow’s name was Tug, which was an unfortunate name, because that’s what we were forced to do all the time! This cow was in love with another female cow named Diamond that was also on set. It was a nightmare. Diamond had to be in Tug’s eye-line off camera at all times, or else Tug would just start heading back for her trailer.”

The toughest couple of days for Chris Pine, playing Cinderella’s Prince, were “when I had to stand motionless — like for two solid days! — while Anna [Kendrick, as Cinderella] kept running up and down those palace stairs.”

His co-star had little sympathy for him. “Oh, just suck it!” Kendrick jokingly barked. “You didn’t have to run all day in that god-awful corset, wearing a gown and heels — up and down those stairs! That was not fun!”

As he recalled the intricate preparation of turning the stage musical of “Into the Woods” into a big screen fantasy, director Marshall shared what he called “a real breakthrough of why it was important to make this film at this point in time.”

The filmmaker happened to catch President Obama speaking to the families of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, “and he said to them, ‘You are not alone. No one is alone,’ which is a song from ‘Into the Woods’ and is a central theme of the musical. It was a trigger for me. I just felt this is a musical for now. It’s for the children and families of today as much as it was when it was originally produced on the stage.

“Perhaps it’s even more appropriate today,” he added, “because we are facing a much more fragile world from when I was growing up. So how about a fairy tale for them, for now. It’s incredibly entertaining and fun and funny, but it also turns out to be more real than we might think.”