Interview: Why Cedric Nicolas-Troyan Chose To Make 'The Huntsman: Winter's War' His Directorial Debut

With The Huntsman: Winter's War, director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan makes his feature directorial debut with the fantasy sequel. Nicolas-Troyan worked on Snow White and The Huntsman, as a visual effects supervisor and second-unit director. After the experience of collaborating with director Rupert Sanders, the 47-year-old visual effects artist decided to finally direct a movie of his own.

The sequel stars Chris HemsworthJessica ChastainEmily Blunt, and Charlize Theron. This time around, the story centers around Hemsworth's Eric the Huntsman, who must retrieve the lost mirror for Snow White, in order to prevent — you guessed it — winter's war.

Below, read our Cedric Nicolas-Troyan interview, in which he discusses his debut feature, a surprise narrator in the film, a key VFX shot, and, of course, Gore Verbinski's 2005 drama, The Weather Man.

You said you weren't sure, in your 30s, whether you could direct, but after Snow White and The Huntsman, you felt ready. What changed for you? 

You know, it was being on the set, working side-to-side with Rupert, and definitely doing second-unit work, with the intricate fight scenes, things where there's a lot of pressure and timing. You can say, conceptually, "Oh, I can do it." You'll see it in your mind, but then you have to make it happen on the set. Making a movie is like running a marathon: for 75 days, on a set or outside on a location, you gotta be able to be, mentally and physically, prepared. It can be a bit taxing, as far as stress goes and whatnot. You know, conceptually, you can do it, but can you go through it day in and day out and still be fresh? Doing the first movie, coming out of that, I thought, "Now I know I can do this."

How did the experience of directing your first film live up to or subvert your expectations?

Well, the thing is, because I've been in this business for 20 years, I knew what I was signing up for when I got this movie. I was pretty realistic, of what it was and what was going to happen, so I wasn't really surprised by anything there. I think the big question was: How is the relationship with the actors going to work? Are they going to get along? Are we going to get along? Are we going to have a great time, an OK time, or a bad time? Those were definitely big questions.

Also, I was thinking, "Well, I have that going on, but what about the real-estate in my mind?" People don't realize that you have a certain amount of room in your mind. Most of the time, there is room left for little things. One of the biggest surprises of doing this movie was that every piece of real-estate in my head was opened by the movie. That was new to me, and I probably didn't see it coming. That was surprising.

When the actors and I started working together, all of the sudden the pressure started to disappear, because I realized that we were all getting along, respecting each other, and having a good time. I realized the week before we started shooting, when we rehearsed a little bit and did some stuff together, that we were going to get along great. Sometimes you think, "Oh, maybe it'll just be like this for a few weeks, and then it's going to go south." After the first days on set, we knew we were going to stay like that all the way until the end, and that's exactly what happened.

Emily Blunt

One cast member that was surprising to hear was Liam Neeson. How did he end up providing narration for the film? 

Actually, it's funny, because we were already done with the film and had cut the film, and then there was this debate about the voiceover. At the studio, they work with actors before, so they have relationships. Universal said, "Oh, what about Liam? Liam would do this." They just called each other up. The next thing you know Liam Neeson is coming in to do the voiceover. That was that. It was that simple.

When Queen Ravenna returns, the mirror transforming into her is a very impressive and long CG-heavy shot. Can you discuss the experience of putting together that shot?

Thank you. That shot demanded a lot more work than we thought it would take. We knew that Ravenna was going to come out of the mirror, we knew it was going to be like the Mirror Man from the first movie, but we wanted to try something else. For the people that had seen the first movie, they'd see the gold coming out and the gold spreading on the floor, just like the first movie, and they'll go, "Oh yeah, I know what that's going to be. That's going to be Mirror Man." Then, from that point on, we had to start to think about something else, trying to stay with the same look but with a little more pizazz. To do that, we had to pre-viz the scene.

Without pre-visualizing the scene, it was quite impossible to figure out the geographic and how to properly shoot that scene. We had to completely pre-visualize that scene in order to shoot it. Because the nature of the shot — it's floating in the air, the camera is moving around, and the size — it was too much of a crapshoot to guess it. Doing this pre-visualization, it took us quite a bit to get it right, because everything is moving.

The next two movies I'm about to ask about probably couldn't be more different, but you were the second lead 2D visual effects artist on a movie I'm a big fan of, The Weather Man.

I love The Weather Man. So, The Weather Man, I had worked with Gore Verbinski on three or four other movies. The first movie I worked on for him was The Ring. I did quite a bit of work on The Mexican, but I was not credited on it. My first big work with Gore was The Ring. Then I worked a little bit on the first Pirates of the Caribbean. With The Weather Man, there was less effects and less stuff to do, but I have to say, it's one of my favorite movies of his. I really, really love that movie.

I remember watching dailies, seeing Nicholas Hoult when he was so young at the time and thinking, "Oh man, that kid is going to become something, that kid is going to become somebody." I met Nicholas a few months ago, and we were talking about it. Now, everybody knows who Nicholas is. I remember that movie fondly. As far as the visual effects go, they weren't particularly challenging, but I had a great time working with Gore.

As for the other movie, The Highlander remake, what's the current status on that project?

As far as I know... I've been working on this movie for quite a while. I'm still involved in it, very much so. In fact, I just talked about it yesterday with Lionsgate. You know, there are going to be some surprises there, for sure. I'm going to say that it's very close to the original story, but there will be surprises. The characters you love in the first movie are back. There are definitely some changes, for sure.

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The Huntsman: Winter's War is now in theaters.