Sixteen-year-old Anna Popplewell is, in many ways, the perfect choice to play Susan, the older Pevensie sister in Disney's upcoming film adaptation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Like the Susan of C. S. Lewis's beloved Chronicles of Narnia, Anna actually is an older sister, she's studious, she's pragmatic and logical—and thus an unlikely candidate to fall for such a far-fetched fairy tale. But like Susan, once she meets Aslan face-to-face, all of that pragmatism and skepticism falls aside, and she embraces the magic.
But for Anna, there was one little problem: Mice. In the story, when the great lion Aslan is killed, he is bound by ropes to a huge slab called the Stone Table. Before his resurrection, tiny mice come to his rescue, gnawing away at the ropes to set him free. When it came time to shoot that scene for the movie, Anna freaked out: She's terrified of mice.
In this interview, which Anna granted to us via telephone from her London home, we learn how she ultimately dealt with the little critters, what she thinks of the Narnia books, how she perceives Susan's character, what she makes of Aslan, and other thoughts on the movie, which arrives in theaters December 9. This will be the first of many exclusive stories about the film at Christianity Today Movies, so keep watching for more coverage in the months ahead.
The movie isn't done yet, but are you happy with the way things are turning out?
Anna Popplewell: Yeah. I saw a couple of scenes when we were shooting, some roughly cut scenes, and then recently I just finished doing post-production. And it all looks really good. It's obviously really nice to see the animation too [added later via computer graphics]. But I'm really looking forward to seeing the whole thing together come Christmas.
Is the role of Susan a part you really wanted?
Anna: Oh, yeah, I really wanted to get it. I had read the books when I was about 7 years old, and really loved them. I just thought they were great stories, really fun page-turning adventures. And then I read the movie script and really loved the script as well.
I also really like Susan and what the script did with Susan. Not that it's very different from C. S. Lewis's Susan, but the way in which C. S. Lewis wrote the books means that the characters are open to a certain amount of interpretation, because he writes with this wonderful style and tone that encourages you to use your imagination and create characters for yourself slightly. And I really liked that Susan was brought to life a bit more in the script than she was originally in the book.
How would you describe Susan's character?
Anna: I think at the beginning of the story, Susan is definitely very practical, very logical. I think she's forced into a kind of maternal role by being away from home as a result of the evacuation [due to the WWII bombing of London]. And I think she almost feels that she has to grow up before she's actually ready to, and maybe that's what fuels that sense of logic and her pragmatism. But I think that as the story progresses and she experiences Narnia and goes on that journey, she warms up and she's able to allow herself to be a child again. I think she really learns something from Narnia.
Are you in any way like Susan?
Anna: Yeah, I think I am, strangely enough. I'm quite a logical person so I definitely identified with her on that front. And I always imagined Susan to be the type who studies pretty hard and works hard at school—and I've always tried to focus on my studies. And she's a big sister, and I've got two younger siblings. So, we have that in common as well.
So do you sometimes play the mom around your house?
Anna: Well, I certainly boss my siblings around! (laughs)
With a bow and arrow?
Anna: No, that's the difference I guess. I used to, of course, but it got confiscated. I'm just kidding! (laughs)
In the books, Aslan is clear that females should not go into battle. But you and Lucy are in the battles in the movie. Can you talk about that a bit?
Anna: That was a slight alteration we made because we felt that Susan and Lucy should [go into battle]. To be honest, the part that Susan and Lucy play in the battle, although it's very important, is right at the end of the movie in terms of the "battles" where women fight. It's not Susan and Lucy fighting all the way through the battle. But we thought that was important to include them in the battle. So, yeah, that is a difference from the book.
Did you actually have to learn how to shoot a bow and arrow for the movie?
Anna: I did. I took my archery lessons. It was really fun to learn something new.
Did you get pretty good at it?
Anna: Well I don't know about that. But I was okay.
What does Aslan mean to you? And what does he mean to Susan?
Anna: When I read the books, Aslan was just this wonderful, magical lion, the epitome of goodness. And I think even after the movie, that's what remains. He's really just full of love. As for Susan, when she meets Aslan, that's when she really believes in Narnia and kind of gets a grip that things are going to be okay. I think Aslan really serves as a symbol of hope for Susan.
For Christians, Aslan represents Jesus in many ways. Do you ever think of it that way?
Anna: For me, I read the books as simply stories. I think what they represent about human relationships can be interpreted in any way, in the same way that any book is a piece of literature and is open to other interpretations. The film is an adaptation of that piece of literature and will still be open to interpretation. I think in the same way that people may read the book in different ways, people will interpret the film in different ways. For those who look for the Christian symbolism in it, it will be there. And for those who don't wish to be confronted with it, they won't be confronted with it. But for me it's really a story about human relationships.
What did you enjoy most about making this movie?
Anna: The people. We had such a wonderful cast and crew. I was so lucky to get to work with such great people. It made the whole production so much fun—six months of fantastic fun, basically.
Any funny stories from the set?
Anna: I have many! (laughs) Fairly early on, Andrew [director Andrew Adamson] asked me whether there was anything that I was particularly scared of. I said yes, I'm scared of mice. And I mean jump-on-a-chair-and-scream scared of mice! He laughed and said, "You know you have to do a scene with mice at the Stone Table where the mice chew Aslan's ropes." I laughed and said I thought he was joking, because we have so many animated creatures in this movie, I didn't think there was any way we'd be using real mice. You know, beavers, foxes, everything is animated. So I didn't see the occasion for real mice.
But as we got closer to doing the Stone Table scenes, Andrew made it clear that he wasn't joking and that there were going to be real mice. So I was kind of silently freaking out about it. There were going to be a hundred or so mice on the set, so Andrew thought it would be a good idea if he showed me one to see if I could deal with it. So he called me onto the set one day and he said, "Anna, I want you to meet Mr. Jingles." And he held this mouse up and I screamed and cried. I was nearly sick. I just couldn't do it. So anything you see in the film with mice and Susan, it's not me, it's my double. I just couldn't do it.
What was the hardest part about making this movie, other than having the director hold up a mouse in front of your face?
Anna: My parents couldn't be there with me the whole time; they both work, and I've got a younger brother and sister. So my mom flew a lot from England to New Zealand. I really missed my family; that was hard. And I missed being away from school and all my friends. But it was a really wonderful experience and I was busy all the time, so there wasn't much time to be upset or anything.
On the set, the hardest thing was probably the Stone Table scene because it was really emotional. Although I've lost grandparents, I haven't witnessed anyone dying before. Watching Aslan die, that was a hard scene, and it took so long to film. I mean we were crying for two days solid.
You were crying real tears?
Anna: Oh yeah, real tears.
What about the other actors who played the other children? Did you become good friends?
Anna: We got really close. We actually became a sort of mini-family because none of our families could be there. We all had a read-through together before we were cast, and I think we just really got on kind of instantly. It was really fun.
Will you come back to play Susan in future Narnia movies?
Anna: I don't really know. The future of the film series is in the studio's hands. I think it depends on this movie.
What's next for you?
Anna: I'm enjoying my summer off. And I'm going back to school. But in terms of acting, I'm keeping an eye open, and if a project jumps out at me that's really great, I'll see how things go.
What will you do when you finish high school?
Anna: I'd really like to go to university, because I think it's a really important academic and social experience. But I'm going to take things as they come and see what happens.
Your father is a lawyer and your mom is a doctor. Have you thought about going into either of those professions?
Anna: I've thought about both. I've thought about pretty much everything under the sun, I'd have to say! I'm one of those people who really wants to do everything. And if I had enough time, I really would.
This summer I've done work experience in medicine, in law, and I'm currently doing work experience in advertising. I really wish I could do absolutely everything. But I suppose I'll have to make some kind of decision at some stage.
Well if you continue acting, you could just play those roles!
Anna: Yeah, maybe that's the way around it!
Previously, Anna Popplewell played the role of Maerge, Vermeer's oldest daughter in the critically acclaimed Girl With a Pearl Earring. She made her acting debut in the 1998 television adaptation of du Maurier's novel, Frenchman's Creek. She lives in London with her family, and, with her younger brother and sister, attends the Allsorts drama school on Saturday mornings.
Photos Copyright © Walt Disney Pictures
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