If you’re wondering what it’s like to be cast as the lead in a Disney fairy tale, it’s just about as magical as it sounds — at least according to Harris Dickinson, the actor who plays Prince Phillip in the upcoming Maleficent sequel, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. For him, getting to work with such a star-studded cast, including Elle Fanning, Angelina Jolie, and Michelle Pfeiffer, among others, was nothing short of a dream come true. And when Dickinson initially found out he’d been cast as the kind-hearted, yet undeniably naïve prince, he couldn’t quite believe it.
“I think I probably laughed a little bit when I got the role,” Dickinson told MTV News. “It is quite amusing, you know? If I’d have said to my 10-year-old self that I would be a Disney prince, I think he probably would’ve laughed.” Still, it took a while for the reality to set in, and Dickinson couldn’t quite grasp that he was a Disney prince until he’d already wrapped filming. Even the movie’s premiere was a surreal experience for the 23-year-old star. “It was mad,” he recalled.
It wasn’t just the fact that he was a Disney prince that was surreal; it was also that he was cast alongside some of the world’s biggest movie stars. And while some might assume working with Michelle Pfeiffer and Angelina Jolie would be intimidating (especially when dressed as Maleficent), Dickinson’s experience was quite the opposite. “I feel like a competition winner,” he said. “I’m not sure these are things that surprise me because I try not to have preconceptions of people, but Angelina and Michelle, they’re so welcoming … and I think coming into it and sort of starting out in this game, it’s nice to feel like you are welcome, and it’s nice to feel like you belong there.”
Despite the kindness he was shown by Jolie and Pfeiffer, Dickinson still felt nervous — and understandably so. Not only is there an inevitable pressure that comes with being Disney royalty, but he was new to the cast as well. “I think that sort of weird impostor syndrome is some of the time going to be present with anything you make,” he said. And since the cast, for the most part, had already worked together on the first film, which was released in 2014, Dickinson found joining the sequel to be a bit daunting. “They’ve already been filming, they’ve already done their thing together, so you’ve got to come in and sort of prove yourself,” he said.
Dickinson also had the added responsibility of taking on a role that was previously played by someone else (Brenton Thwaites) in the first movie. Fortunately, he didn’t find taking on a role that had been recast to be particularly difficult. “I approached the script fresh and I tried to look at it from a new perspective,” he said. “I think that there was a lot of creative license because of the time frame that had passed. And in the first film, there wasn’t necessarily an explanation of Phillip’s world or Phillip’s own sort of struggles, so this was a chance to expand on that.”
Overall, Dickinson really enjoyed the freedom he had with his character, explaining that there was more to Prince Phillip than people might assume of a Disney prince. “The core of the character was there in the script and I just tried to find other things about him that were interesting, and there was a lot of depth to him,” he said. “… You don’t necessarily think that with a Disney prince that you’re going to get to have a little bit of a character study there … and you do with this, so it’s cool.”
But instead of just finding something interesting about the Disney prince to run with, Dickinson found that they actually had some traits in common, which he then applied to his performance. For example, both Dickinson and Prince Phillip strive to be generally good people — perhaps to a fault. And while the prince struggled to find his voice at times, the actor was dealing with a similar challenge of finding his place as a young actor. “I definitely found common ground in the sense that he’s a young man trying to figure out how to find his voice,” he explained. “Maybe one of his weaknesses is that he hasn’t spotted certain things or has a naivety to him, but he definitely tries to be a good person … he just struggles to get things changed initially and perhaps find his voice but that’s natural for a young man, like myself. It’s something that you have to figure out, and time gives confidence.”
Speaking of confidence, Dickinson certainly found his. Not only through accepting roles like Prince Phillip, but by dipping his feet into many different genres with a variety of characters. Looking ahead, the actor has several exciting projects in the works, including Kingsman prequel The King’s Man and The Souvenir: Part II, among others. And while neither of those roles are similar in any way to that of a handsome prince, Dickinson’s clearly interested in challenging himself with all sorts of roles. Next on his list? “Either a superhero villain or a Disney villain,” he said assuredly. “I want to play a villain.”
Maleficient: Mistress of Evil hits theaters on Friday, October 18.