An Interview With Suzanne Todd-Mom, Mentor, Producer #ThroughTheLookingGlass Event
When you’re sitting chatting Suzanne Todd, many words come to mind-mom, friend, mentor, the person you could see yourself riding rides at Disneyland® with (her favorite place to go) but the reality is that while yes, she is all off these things, she’s also one of the most sought after and respected producers in Hollywood and half of Team Todd, the other half being her sister Jennifer.
Warm, generous, giving, you immediately are struck by her gregarious spirit, and she has that unique ability to make you feel more like you’re with that one friend that you’ve had all of you life that you always turn to, instead of the mega producer behind such hits as Austin Powers, Boiler Room, Memento, Must Love Dogs, Across The Universe, Now and Then Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie as well as the upcoming Bad Moms.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been lucky enough to talk to Suzanne, producer of the Disney’s enchanting Alice Through The Looking Glass not once but twice, the first being at the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration at Walt Disney World, and then a few days ago when we sat down to talk about her follow up to Disney’s Alice In Wonderland, the new movie with all the whimsy and magic of the first but yet a powerful message of the importance of family and time, something she carries over into her everyday life.
Why A Sequel, why now?
“We had never intended to make a sequel. We didn’t rush to make a sequel like to just cash in on the financial success of the first one. We wanted to be really thoughtful about it. We all took a moment to breathe and relax after finishing the first movie. Then we went back and read the books again and re-read the poems. We read a couple of other books on feminism and raising girls and the emotional life of girls and it all started to gel for writer Linda Woolverton. I think that was always at the core of it was trying to be true to Alice’s story, trying to be true to the Lewis Carroll Alice and then that in addition, and I’m sure James (Bobin), the director of Alice Through The Looking Glass) talked about this as well, on really focusing on time, because obviously I am a mother, I have three kids. You guys here are working triple duty as all moms do. I feel like the older I get, the more precious I find my time is to me.”
On Being A Mom
“You guys are all here, all working triple duty as all moms do, and I just feel like the older I get, the more precious I find my time is to me. So that for us was really important. So really, those two things, the idea of being able to put a movie out there that is a kind of we girls can do anything movie for my little girl who is 11 now, and also just recognizing time is so precious to all of us. When I look at technology, it was supposed to be created to give all of us more leisure time but really what is does in some ways is it’s turned all of us into 24 hour workers because there’s no time of the day when you can’t be doing something productive that has to do with your technology.”
“It’s a balance that we all have to try and find for when we’re going to have to turn it off of put it away and really sit down on the blanket and have a picnic with our kids, because it doesn’t happen enough, but then when it does, I think everybody has that moment where they think “Oh, this is what I should be doing on a Sunday afternoon.” I’m hoping people will watch the movie and really come out of it and have those conversation or just be in that space a little bit more because the movie inspired them too. That would make me really happy. I’ve been divorced for seven years and I have my kids 100% of the time. I found over the years that it’s important to have time for the three of them together with me, family time, but also to have individual time with them. But my schedule is always crazy. I use Google calendar and everybody has a color. I always joke and say it’s like a war operation of moving people around. I have to say, when we were shooting in London, it was so far away that I just picked them up and they came with me for the whole time. We were so spoiled. It was almost like that they were my prisoners, you know- we’d wake up in the morning and we would all go to the studio together. I’d take the crew call in the morning and they each had a classroom where they would go and do their schoolwork with a tutor, then we’d have lunch together. By the time we wrapped we’d have dinner and watch dailies and go home. They were in my clutches! They weren’t going off with their friends of going to their softball games, so that was super fun for me.”
On Bringing Alice Through The Looking Glass To Life
“Well, I think maybe making this film was harder than the first because the response to the first film was so kind of unexpected and overwhelming. There’s all this pressure that you want to do something always with movies that will be commercially viable, because that’s why you get to make more movies, but you also want to do something that says something that’s important to you. Like I said, just for me with the three kids, the older I get, the less I want to ever do a movie that doesn’t feed my soul. You don’t want to do those movies that you’re just kind of doing because you need to, if you don’t have to. We built big sets on the second one, and getting the cast together was much harder on the second one because they’ve all continued to have flourishing, amazing careers and have won an Oscar since then and how they’ve done so many amazing things and Johnny’s always booked. On the first movie, the really interesting thing about the casting process is that normally when you’re casting a movie, you go through the script and you make lists of the characters, and then there’s about 20 actors on a list, and you go one by one and you offer it to them. On the first Alice, Tim (Burton) literally just picked the people he wanted, and called them. And every single person said yes.
There was one character where he picked somebody and she said yes, and then she had dates issues and so then we did have to move on to somebody else, but everybody wanted to do it because they just wanted to obviously work with Tim and they loved the script. So the second time, obviously, we knew who most of the actors were going to be, but scheduling was very difficult. It probably took us almost another year to really get started, to get all the actors when they could work at the same time. And even then you talk about the scheduling with the three kids, imagine with the actors because it wasn’t like we have all the actors for the three months we need them. We have Johnny for these days here, etc. It’s all like a very complicated jigsaw puzzle.”
The Genius of Sacha Baron Cohen and Johnny Depp
“When we first started working with Sacha, I thought one of the funniest things was how Sacha talked about how when he’s developing his character that the costume is really, really important for him. Sacha played so many interesting characters before that there was certain things he wanted to stay away from, like he didn’t want to do anything he had done before, so then it was more of this process of elimination, but the one thing he really, really wanted to do was wear tights which I thought was so funny, and I didn’t totally understand it, until I went to the first costume fitting and I saw him in the tights and it was like, of course, because his legs are ridiculous. He has two spider legs, literally his thigh is the same size as his angle, which if you look closely in the movie, you’ll see, but I love that Sacha understood the ridiculousness, the skinniness of his legs, and that’s why he wanted those little pantaloons with the tights. Then you know under that big hat, he has what we call a man bun. Then there was Johnny, obviously we weren’t inventing a new character, but it was so, so amazing. It wasn’t something I was thinking about the first day that Johnny was working and he came and gone through the makeup and the wig and the contacts and everything and we were doing a scene and I just remember the first time he opened his mouth and spoke, I got tears in my eyes, because it was like seeing the Hatter again. It had been so many years in between, and Johnny, as you guys saw in the movie, is so gifted and just bringing vulnerability to the Hatter, even behind all of the craziness. He’s such a talented actor and it was just so sweet, it was like seeing an old friend that I hadn’t seen for so long.”
On Favorite Scenes
“There’s sort of a running joke from the two movies, because I work sometimes with my younger sister who happens to have red hair, so in the first movie, there was always kind of joke to the writer of this sort of Red Queen, White Queen sort of joke, not that the White Queen is the good one and Red Queen is the bad one. Although you may have thought that in the first movie, certainly in the second movie, you get to see it. There is something about that sister story line because I have two sisters, so that’s very special for me and when you look at the young White Queen you understand finally that she’s not a bad person. I think all of us, my kids for sure, have behaved that way. I behaved that way when I was a kid. When you just make a mistake you feel like you’re on the spot and say the wrong thing like she did and then you see in the movie the trajectory of everything that happened because of that. I love that scene at the end where they have a little tiny bit of reconciliation, although we’ll see how long that lasts, if we make another movie.”
On What It’s Like To Be A Successful Woman In Hollywood
“One of the reoccurring themes is Alice is told over and over again “It’s no job for a girl.” Did Suzanne ever encounter that in the profession she is in? Do you mean yet today, because for sure it happened yesterday. Like every day? Its just part of working in Hollywood.
You look at these dismal numbers of female directors and female producers and I’ve been doing it literally 30 years now, and it hasn’t really changed very much. I wish that it had changed more. I mean, its certainly taken small steps forward, but it’s not like it’s hugely different. It is very difficult. The sad fact is that it’s harder as a woman.”
On Giving Back to Other Women
“I always have someone I mentor from USC every year and I always have someone I mentor every year from the producer’s guild, which is another group that I’m affiliated with. I was on the board of a girl’s school here called the Archer School for girls for six years. So I work with those girls also. They just actually had a film festival, and I got to go and speak on a panel for them. I love spending time around young people because they have so much more energy than I do, and you get so much inspiration from them. I do really appreciate the mentor thing. I always tell them mistakes that I made more so than wisdom that I can pass along, but sometimes you can learn for other people’s mistakes.”
A Message To Other Working Moms
“I’m learning every day just like the rest of you. I think however many years it is down the road for me now, I know it sounds like an Instagram saying, but I definitely sweat the small stuff less and I feel like in my old life, I definitely sweated it more. And maybe that’s just because I don’t have time for it, or the energy for it, but situations, people, things that bring drama and conflict and aren’t productive moving forward things, I really stay away from or avoid or I will cross the street to get away from.That’s very different for me than I was probably 10 years ago or 15 years ago. I’m very, very focused on what I think will be a positive outcome, and it’s something I actually talk about a lot with my kids, and stuff that comes up for them, because I always think the best advice I can ever give myself is the advice I tell my kids, because I’m much better at telling my kids what to do usually than I am at telling myself. So if I pause and think about what I would tell them, then I usually do a better job, but that idea of trying to avoid the stuff that actually isn’t helping you get where you need to go, including sometimes your own thought process about it, like having negative thoughts inside or telling yourself that something is harder than it really is, because it’s not really helping you. So you can just kind of let that go, like my kids and I say we just kind of like floated away, because I’m also a big meditator. I have been for 20 years and I taught it to my kids now. When people ask me how I get so much done in a busy day, I think that’s a big part of it, which makes no sense to people, because they’re like what do you mean? You take 20 minutes off twice a day to meditate, but for me it really helps me focus and stay on track and gives me a lot of good things that help me get other things done. I would say focusing on what you really need and just being brutal about it and also a little bit of learning to say no. I’m definitely a little bit less of a people pleaser than I was probably when my kids were younger. And, I think it’s a good thing.”
Grab the family and spend a few hours in Wonderland and share the magic that is Disney’s Alice Through The Looking Glass because at the end of the day, time is the best gift we can give our children. No one understands that more than Suzanne Todd.
Coming up next we’re heading to the world of Zootopia for a visit with directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore & producer Clark Spencer as we go behind the scenes of the digital release of Zootopia.
To Read About What It Was Like To Be On The Red Carpet for the Premiere of Disney’s Alice Through The Looking Glass click here
Meet Alice herself in our interview with Mia Wasikowska
Read more about the messages found in Disney’s Alice Through The Looking Glass
Alice Through The Looking Glass Is Now Playing
Keep Up With All Of The Latest from Alice Through The Looking Glass
“In a Wonderland they lie, Dreaming as the days go by, Dreaming as the summers die: Ever drifting down the stream- Lingering in the golden gleam- Life, what is it but a dream?” ― Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass
Disclosure: I have been invited by Disney to cover this media event. All material and expenses for this event have been provided courtesy of Walt Disney Studios but all opinions my own.