Producer Suzanne Todd Interview: Alice Through the Looking Glass

I love what I do. I have a fun and exciting life. But if I didn’t do what I do, and could pick another dream job, I think I would be to be a producer. And after meeting the producer of Alice Through The Looking Glass Suzanne Todd, I would want to be just like her.

James Bobin, Anne Hathaway, Sacha Baron Cohen, producer Suzanne Todd, Mia Wasikowska pose together at The US Premiere of Disney's "Alice Through the Looking Glass" at the El Capitan Theater in Los Angeles, CA on Monday, May 23, 2016. .(Photo: Alex J. Berliner/ABImages)
James Bobin, Anne Hathaway, Sacha Baron Cohen, producer Suzanne Todd, Mia Wasikowska pose together at The US Premiere of Disney’s “Alice Through the Looking Glass” at the El Capitan Theater in Los Angeles, CA on Monday, May 23, 2016. .(Photo: Alex J. Berliner/ABImages)

Suzanne is a single mom of three kids, working her butt off in Hollywood, and having friends like Maria Shriver of the who’s who, as well as her BFF she brought to the premiere party that isn’t in the industry. They met through their kids at school, so her not “normal” life is as normal as it could be. Suzanne just proves that you can keep it together, and shares how she does it all in this exclusive interview.

Producer Suzanne Todd Interview: Alice Through the Looking Glass

I couldn’t be more excited to introduce my readers to such an amazing woman. Let me share with you how incredible she is by how our time with her began. Suzanne walked into the room like a ray of sunlight. She has this incredible positive energy and a beaming smile. She was obviously excited to talk with us, and the story she was about to share about a box with a pair of special shoes set the tone for the rest of the interview.

Suzanne shoes 1

Okay, so the collection for Regular Choice for Alice sold out immediately in 10 minutes. There were like lines on Regent Street in London five hours long. There are I think 12 different styles. This one that I got, so I’ve only worn these twice. I brought them in the box so you could see how beautiful it looks, like the storybook, right? 

Suzanne is carefully opening the box to reveal the shoes.

They only get better and better because even the little tissue paper has amazing Alice characters on it, inside amazing Alice fabric pattern. Little Alice underneath and each of them have a different design on the bottom.

Incredible detail, so beautiful.

Right? A scene from the movie. And that same pattern of the little, two little girls. 

 Are you wearing them tonight?

I am not wearing them tonight. I’ll tell you why. You guys are all really good at this tweeting and blogging, which I am not so much. You know, I spent 30 years making movies, and I’m sort of new to all of this. And I posted maybe last week something about my really good friend, Maria Shriver. She turns 60 this year, and of course instead of asking for a birthday present, because she is a Shriver and, you know, they have a lifetime of service. She said please just help me with my charity thing that’s coming up instead of buying me a birthday present. So I said I would help her with her fundraiser, which was this past weekend that was called  It was raising money for Alzheimer’s, you know. She lost a parent to Alzheimer’s. I had posted, but I’ve never done this before, because again I’m not like you guys way out there in the thing, and I posted for people to support the fundraiser, which I just thought oh, maybe someone will. And all of my friends did, which was so nice. And there was one person that actually donated, like who I’ve never met, which I thought was so amazing, and she wrote that it was like in honor of her grandma, which was so touching, but I think she’s here.

Keri Lynn of was sitting next to me and raises her hand and says, “That’s me.”

It’s you. So I am giving you this. Yes, I am. These are for you. I don’t know what size you are, but I want you to have them. I hope you’re close to like a 9. 

Keri in shock says, Yeah, I am a 9. 

I’m giving you my special shoes, I have to apologize, but someone wrote my name on the box when they were delivering them. Thank you. I was really, really touched that you donated in honor of your grandma. We did the event on Saturday. We raised tons of money for Alzheimer’s research, and I learned so much about it actually. It was a great event. So thank you so much.

See, I told you, she’s amazing. But wait, that was just the start.

So there’s a lot of great themes in this movie with family and Time and Alice being such a great heroine. What are you most passionate about this film?

Well, obviously, from the beginning, and it’s been 10 years for me now making these two Alice movies, this idea, my friend, the writer, Linda Woolverton, had come to me with 10 years ago with that idea of making a movie where the girl could be the heroine, was so exciting to me. And so it was very, very difficult to craft the sequel. We had never intended to make a sequel. We didn’t rush to make a sequel like just to cash in on the financial success of the first one. We wanted to be really thoughtful about it. So I think that was always at the core of it, trying to be true to Alice’s story, trying to be true to the Lewis Carroll Alice and then that addition, and I’m sure James talked about this as well, of really focusing on time, because obviously like I have a mother. I have three kids. You guys here are 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. And when I look at technology like we’re talking about this, the lovely positive power of the internet, there’s a thing about technology is that it was supposed to be created to give all of us more leisure time.Like remember, the fax machine or a blackberry, and now you’re gonna leave work early and have extra time to spend with your kids, but really what is does in some ways is it’s turned all of us into 24 hour workers, ’cause there’s no time of the day when you can’t be doing something productive that has to do with your technology. So, it’s a balance that we all have to try and find for when we’re gonna turn it off of put it away and really sit down on the blanket and have a picnic with our kids, ’cause 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, but I’m hoping people will watch the movie and really come out of it and have that conversation or  just be in that space a little bit more because the movie inspired them to, so that, that would make me really happy.

So as a single mom, how are you making all this work? You set aside, I know, it’s crazy, especially right now with this release, but do you set aside certain times where that’s it, and you say, I’m not answering my phone after 8 o’clock, or this is Mommy and Me time, or…

Well, yeah, for sure. Two of mine are teenagers now, so as you know, that’s a big shift because I can’t have my phone out if I tell them they can’t have theirs out. So, for sure, dinner time, there’s times when we have to just put it away. I have found over the years, so I’ve been divorced like 6 or 7 years now. I have my kids 100 percent, so 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. And I think it came to that. I didn’t realize that in the beginning, how important it was to carve out time for each of them, because they’re all, you know, different and unique in their one way. But yeah, my schedule is always crazy. I mean, I use Google calendar. Probably everybody does. Everybody has a color and I always joke and say it’s like a war operation of like moving people around or, you know how it is. You make your plan, and on the day somebody gets sick, or they forget their homework. She forgot her volleyball shoes and it all kind of goes, you know, that’s the same for everybody. It’s just a little bit of craziness.

Suzanne 1

How did working on The Looking Glass compare to working on the first Alice film?

Well in a way, I think maybe harder because the response to the first film was so kind of unexpected and overwhelming. So then there’s all this pressure that you don’t, 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 ever to 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. So 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 like flourishing, amazing careers, and have won an Oscar since then and how they’ve done so many amazing things and Johnny’s always booked. He’s always working. On the first movie, the really interesting thing about the casting process, because it was Tim Burton. Normally when you’re casting a movie, you go through the script, and you make lists of the characters, and then there are about 20 actors on a list, and you go one my one, and you offer it to them. You go to Brad Pitt and say, Brad Pitt, do you want to do it? And he says so, and so then you go to George Clooney and say do you want to do it? And you kind of work your way through the process. On the first Alice, Tim 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 had moved on to somebody else, but everybody wanted to do it ’cause they just wanted to obviously like 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, and we have Anthony’s days here. We have Sasha for these days when he’s finishing the other movie. And it’s all like a very complicated jigsaw puzzle. 

You have said that you never anticipated on making a sequel to Alice. What was the trigger to this say, let’s do it?

So we all took a moment to kind of breath and relax after finishing the difficult movie the first time. And then Linda and I just went back into the literature and read the books and re-read the books again and re-read the poems. And we actually read a couple of other books just on feminism and raising girls and the specific art of the emotional life of girls. And then it kind of started to gel for Linda; she had an idea. And once it came together with this idea, she wanted to go back and see the characters when they were younger and what that trajectory was for Alice and look at these different themes we talked about before, then it became clear that it was something we really wanted to do.

Suzanne 2

Do you have a special message for single moms who are in pursuit of their career that they love, like yours?

A message for moms, I guess really, 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. And that’s very different for me than I was probably ten 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. 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 like 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 a big meditator. I have been for 20 years, and I taught it to my kids now. And when people always 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 yes to everything and people pleaser than I was probably when my kids were younger. And I think it’s a good thing.

You produce a variety of different movies. Alice Through The Looking Glass versus your new one coming up Bad Moms. How, how do you approach something like that coming from Alice being so different?

When you see it, you’ll see that there are no similarities in like the R-rated movie and the Disney, like female empowerment, but what is the similarity, you’ll see what all of you guys feel and why. You guys are some popular in the stuff that you write about because people can relate to actual experiences. I hope people will see in Alice. In Alice, we’re looking at a girl in her 20’s, and so that’s been a long time ago for me, but I remember that idea of trying to kind of balance career and balance a relationship or a romantic relationship. You’re kind of redefining what’s going on with your parents and all of that that we struggle with in our 20’s. And in Bad Moms, obviously, those girls are a little bit older, but again it’s a relatable look at what it’s really like, how hard it is. And the thing that is so satisfying to me whenever I talk about Bad Moms is I feel like we’re all so hard on ourselves, myself included, like we’re all so hard on ourselves on a daily basis as moms, because we feel like we could have done more. We could have done better or that girl packed a better lunch, or her kids speak Mandarin or…all those things. So in our script, there’s Christina Applegate, who’s the mean one in school who tortures Mila Kunis. When I talk about the movie, even with those six actresses, every single person had a Gwendolyn in her life, whether it was at her schools or her sister-in-law or her mother-in-law. There’s somebody that’s like putting energy every day into making you feel bad. And that idea that hopefully you’ll come out of the movie and feel like I don’t really need to feel bad. Because what she says doesn’t really mean anything to me any more than like they guy standing next to me at Starbucks. I can just feel good about what I’m trying to do and enjoy my life with my kids rather than just trying to be this unobtainable, perfect mom. So, I don’t know; I guess maybe relatability is the theme or what attracts me to those projects that are very dissimilar.

Earlier on, you mentioned feminism. In Alice, there was a section where he said the sea captain is not a job for a girl. Have you ever had to deal with that in this industry?

Do you mean yet today, because for sure it happened yesterday? Like every day?

It’s just part of working in Hollywood. Unfortunately, it’s just, you look at these dismal numbers of female directors and female producers. 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, it’s certainly taken small steps forward, but it’s not like it’s hugely different. It is very difficult. I’d like to lie and say oh, no, that’s not true at all, but that’s true. It’s harder as a woman.

Can you talk a little bit how you mentor young women? 

I always have a mentee from; I went to film school at USC, so I always had a mentee every year from there, a girl, and then I always have a mentee every year from the producer’s guild, which is another group that I’m affiliated with. And then I was on the board of a girl’s school here called the Archer School for Girls for six years. And 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. And I love spending time around, obviously like young people, because they have so much more energy than I do. Like I’m old and tired, and you spend time around like your mentee and a young person, and you get so much inspiration from them. I do really appreciate that mentor thing. I can just tell them mistakes that I made, more so than wisdom that I can pass along. Sometimes you can learn from other people’s mistakes.

That’s what that theme is in the movie, too. You can learn from the past.

Yes, well, you really have no choice, right, because you can’t go back. Looking backward is, you know, in some ways, just a waste of time. 

Do you have any memorable stories to share with Johnny Depp and with Sasha Baron Cohen? Those two together must have caused some laughing on the set.

Johnny Depp and Sacha Baron Cohen Photo: Alex J. Berliner/ABImages
Johnny Depp and Sacha Baron Cohen Photo: Alex J. Berliner/ABImages

For sure, well, Sasha talked about how when he’s developing his character, which the costume is really, really important for him. And when we got into it with Colleen, our genius talented Colleen Atwood, Sasha played so many interesting characters before that there were certain things he wanted to stay away from. Like he didn’t want to do anything he had done before, so then it was kind of this process of elimination, but the one thing he really, really wanted to do was wear tights. And Colleen, which I thought was so funny, and I didn’t totally understand it, but 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. And I was like,, he has like two spider legs were literally like his thigh is the same size as his angle, which if you look closely in the movie, you’ll see, but I love that Sasha 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, you know, we call it a man bun. And then at one point, we had discovered this really funny Instagram feed that’s called Man Buns of Disneyland. So it’s only pictures of dudes with man buns at Disneyland. And we were joking leading up to the movie that we kept saying we wanted to get some like Sasha pictures put together like he was at Disneyland so that Time could be in Man Buns of Disneyland because we love that feed. So many entertaining feeds. 

With Johnny, obviously, we weren’t like inventing a new character. 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. It’s like he’s such a talented actor and it was just so sweet. I was like seeing an old friend that I hadn’t seen for so long, and in a different way when Helena was doing the Red Queen and yelling and all that over again. It was funny the first time my kids met Sasha because of course they had never seen Borat or Ali G or any of that, it was very funny because my daughter said oh, yeah, I know you. You’re King Julian from Madagascar. (laughing) Sasha was like, well, I really love that’s what you think I’m famous for, or something like that. And then she has a very funny impression of King Julian what of course she wanted to do for Sasha, which he did and he was very kind about it. It involved spitting, though. There’s like a spitting part of what King Julian does, but, ah, yeah, that’s fun with your kids on set, for sure.

Alice has so many fantastic scenes, but do you have one that you like the most or is more special to you? 

Well, you know, there’s sort of a running joke from the two movies, because I sometimes work with my younger sister who happens to have red hair, so in the first movie, there was always kind of inside joke to the writer, 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, but I mean, I love all the scenes. There is something about that sister story line, you know, because I have two sisters, that’s very special for me. And also when you look at the young White Queen, the idea 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, she just did the wrong thing and at the moment, you feel like you’re on the spot, and she said the wrong thing. And then when 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 tiny little bit of reconciliation, although we’ll see how long that lasts if we make another movie. 

Helena Bonham Carter is the Red Queen and Anne Hathaway is the White Queen in Disney's ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, an all new adventure featuring the unforgettable characers from Lewis Carroll's beloved stories.
Helena Bonham Carter is the Red Queen, and Anne Hathaway is the White Queen in Disney’s ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, an all-new adventure featuring the unforgettable characters from Lewis Carroll’s beloved stories.


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* I attended the #ThoughTheLookingGlassEvent hosted by Disney to share my experience with my readers. All opinions are my own.
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