It’s not everyday you get to sit down to chat with one of the most powerful people in Hollywood – especially when that person is a woman! Kathleen Kennedy is movie industry royalty, who just so happens to be the President of Lucasfilm AND the producer of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. She’s the one the hired J.J. Abrams to reawaken the Force. And, she chose very well I might add (you can read our no spoilers Force Awakens review here). It was an honor to get to talk with her – and she was SO easy to talk to. Gracious, smart, funny, warm – it’s easy to see why she’s so good at her job! We got starting talking right away about the girl power in the new movie!
Q: For this movie, did that decision to have a female lead come early in the writing?
Yeah, it was right from the beginning. It’s something that J.J. and I started talking about day one. It was really important to us. We both have daughters, so, very important.
Q: So, as a female powerhouse and with a great female lead in the movie, what takeaway do you think you could give us for girls?
Without ruining the movie I’m gonna tell you that your daughters are gonna be so excited. This character of Rey is, I think, one of the most wonderful heroines to come along in movie history. I mean, she is great. So I think they’re gonna be very happy. They’re gonna have their own Luke Skywalker now. Let’s put it that way.
I was actually in film school when I saw Star Wars for the first time. So as you can imagine, it was just jaw-dropping, mind-blowing. Everybody in film school was talking about it. You realize that there was so much possible beyond anything you could imagine once, once we all saw that movie. So it was sort of perfectly timed. I suppose you were either seven or eight or you’re in film school. Those would be touchstones.
To me. Well, I think that what has always been very obvious to me is that George (Lucas) created this from a very strong personal point of view. When he made this movie New Hope in 1977, obviously he was a young man coming out of film school and he had something to say.
He didn’t step into New Hope and decide that he was gonna make some huge blockbuster movie that we would be sitting here 40 years later talking about. So I think that that’s what I’ve always recognized with any of the filmmakers I work with is the, really good ones, they wanna find something of themselves as a reason to tell the story. So they’re looking for something that they wanna infuse into the characters and the storytelling and the emotion of the piece. J.J. did the same thing with this movie.
And as a producer, I love recognizing that in somebody and then helping to find the resources to nurture that and guide that. When somebody can’t find that, then I get a little concerned. Because if somebody’s just gonna go through the motions of making a movie without having that personal connection, then usually they’re not gonna be able to excavate what’s emotionally powerful in Star Wars, or in any movie for that matter.
Q: Tell us a little bit about George Lucas and his involvement in Star Wars: The Force Awakens?
Oh yeah. The interesting thing is early in the process I said to him, “You know, so there’s a lot to absorb here, George. How do we go about doing that? Are things written down? Is, is there…?” He said, “No! It’s in my head!” And so realizing that so much of it was in his head meant that there had to be a lot of discussion and that’s what we all started doing right from the beginning.
We created this kind of “brain trust” of certain people within Lucasfilm who had been there for a long, long time with George and had worked with him day in and day out in the storytelling process or say inside of I.L.M. with creative visuals and production design and artwork and what not. So we started pulling all of those people together and then added into that some new people and tried to get as much out of his head as we possibly could for as long as we could before he retired.
I think there’s very few directors that have the bandwidth that somebody like J.J. has. I think Steven’s an example. George is an example. There’s certain filmmakers where just who they are as a person – the exuberance, the childlike quality, the sense of humor- that just the understanding of what it is to just be delighted by entertaining stories and movies. And I think J.J.’s very definitely one of those filmmakers.
He just accesses every beat of the storytelling process in a way that you feel that he’s always connected to the audience, whether they’re seven or 700. He just has that unique ability. He made it such a fun experience. He’s meticulous about story. He’s meticulous about the technical aspect of making the movie. But he makes it a totally inclusive, really fun experience on the set. And I remember all the years I worked with Steven, he used to always say that that kind of energy in the creative process gets translated to the screen. And I think that that’s very much what J.J. does as well. Kathleen also confirmed the Disney CEO, Bob Iger, was very involved in the whole process (where usually he is not). In fact, he was there for the Star Wars press junket as one of the bloggers in our group ran into him in the hall!
So how involved did he [Iger] get in the day to day of shooting?
Oh yeah. Everything. Absolutely everything. You always look at the clock when you’re working in London (which is where we shot the film) because you have a period of time where you’re sort of at ease ’cause you just focus on getting the movie made. And then you realize L.A. is about to wake up and your whole day is gonna start over again.
So at about 2:30 in the afternoon if my phone rang early, it was often Bob. He’d looked at dailies. He just wanted to check in. He was excited about something. He was absolutely involved. He’s been involved in every aspect of marketing. He’s had an absolute blast doing this with us. I think he’s really, really enjoyed it ’cause I think how often do CEOs of a company really get to touch what’s going on, you know? They see bits and pieces but they sit at 30,000 feet most of the time and I think this has been a really wonderful experience for him. And for us, by the way. He’s had lots of contributions that have been great. It’s unbelievable what her schedule must be like – the pressure, the stress, the decisions, the travel, the management – oh my goodness. She gave us a little glimpse into what her day-to-day is like working on HUGE films like this while also being at the helm of a massive company like Lucasfilm. But she seems to do it all quite well!
Last, but not least – we talked about upcoming projects! Obviously, I’m SO excited about the new Star Wars movies coming up soon! But, I’m REALLY excited for her new project with Steven Spielberg from a book that is near and dear to my heart – The BFG.
“Well, you know, the B.F.G. is something that I had spent years off and on developing. Yeah. Many, many years. And I must say many, many conversations with Steven who I kept saying, “This is really right for you.” And then, of course, within I would say a month after I decided to take over Lucasfilm he called me up and he goes, “You know, I read the script again and I really wanna make the movie.” And I was, like, ready to go through the phone and strangle him.
Not only having Steven involved in this, but the fact that technology that has caught up with making the film is really quite spectacular. What he’s doing with this is gonna be pretty mind-blowing. And very emotional. And sadly we had Melissa Mathison pass away recently. She wrote the script and she did E.T. So I think people are gonna be incredibly pleased with how this movie turns out.
It was so great to talk with her and I can’t wait to see what happens as all the Star Wars saga continues under her tenure at Lucasfilm.
For more about STAR WARS: The Force Awakens, be sure to check out all our #StarWarsEvent Coverage:
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens (no spoilers) Movie Review (with a parent perspective)
- Star Wars Press Event Photos
- Harrison Ford [Han Solo] Interview
- Daisy Ridley [Rey] Interview
- John Boyega [Finn] Interview
- Lupita Nyong’o [Maz Kanata] and Oscar Isaac [Poe] Interview
- Kathleen Kennedy [Producer & Lucasfilm President] Interview
- J.J. Abrams [Co-writer & Director] Interview