Secret Society of Second-Born Royals is now streaming on Disney+ and the genre bending film is one that offers up not just a heroic origin story, but a coming of age tale all wrapped up in action and heart. It follows the story of Sam (Peyton Elizabeth Lee) a teenage royal rebel second in line to the throne of the kingdom of Illyria, but just as her disinterest in royal life hits an all-time high, she discovers she has super-human abilities and is invited to join a secret society comprised of similar extraordinary second-born royals like herself who are charged with keeping the world safe.
Part action flick, part princess movie, part superhero film and more, Secret Society of Second-Born Royals is a film that inhabits kind of a unique space and with that comes unique challenges. How do you create a fictional kingdom that looks and feels both real and contemporary? How do you make Sam and her fellow second born’s powers seem believable and how do you do it all while creating a film that welcomes fans of all genres in? ComcBook.com recently had a chance to chat with the film’s director Anna Mastro about all of those challenges as well as her inspiration for some of the film’s superhero flair — and we even found out what super human ability she’d like to have (and the one she may just have already.)
Read on for our chat with Mastro!
ComicBook.com: What attracted you to this project?
Anna Maestro: I got the script from a friend who was working at Disney and what I loved about it was it was a really cool coming of age story for like a 15-year-old girl. And then it also had these, you know, at the core of it that was what the story was about, but then it also was wrapped up in these themes of like friendship and empowerment and it was an action movie and it was a chance to do powers and world-building and so many things I hadn’t done before and so it was really like the perfect storm for all of these cool things for me.
One of the things that really struck me is that this is a movie that is a lot of different genres all in one. You definitely have that coming of age element, but you also have got the superhero origin story, but there’s also a lot of straight action. It’s like all the best genres get put together in this one movie. That can’t be easy to do and, on top of that, these are the kinds of movies that launch franchises. What was the biggest challenge in making this film, considering all the elements and the fact that it does have the potential to launch a franchise?
One challenging thing was, you know, really wanting to get it right. Having not a lot of budget, a lot less than you would imagine, but I think also just when you’re setting up an origin story of sorts with franchise potential, figuring out what their powers look like and trying to keep them really grounded and feeling very real. And some of their powers you can’t even see, like the power you know, to make someone do what you want them to do. Like that is a very hard power to telegraph. And I think we sort of spend a lot of time, you know, figuring out how to show these things and how to work them correctly and how to make them pay off and how to have the audience understand what was happening. And that ended up being a lot trickier than I thought it was going to be.
I can imagine, especially with the power that you don’t necessarily, it’s not like you know, super strength, that you can see. It’s also like we figure it out almost in the reflection of the actual action itself.
That’s so much more challenging than I thought, honestly, but other than that I mean, I think just like world building and sort of making sure it felt like a real action movie versus like a princess movie or you know, and had elements of both for everyone, balancing that was tough, too, but I think the power thing actually got really much more complicated than I thought it would be.
Speaking of the world building aspect of it, I was really blown away that the film manages to create this entire world, this nation Illyria, that your mind knows isn’t real, but it still looks and feels extremely real. How did you pull that off?
I mean, that was the real goal. The goal was to go in for something that, you know, in the past Disney has done this, they’ve sort of invented these worlds and they feel very different, but I wanted this world to feel very much like it could be in our world today. And when I went in and kind of presented to them what Illyria was going to look like, I was like ‘I want it to have old stone European elements and very high-tech kind of skyline. Living walls like walls made out of plants in the palace so it felt like very modern, but also kept something that’s old.’ And then just a society that was like, ultra-diverse because I think that would really represent the world I grew up in or the world I want to see on screen so I think down to like the people there was a very sort of concentrated effort among all departments to kind of pull off something that could very much exist in our world today.
There are multiple times just in within Illyria that I would see things that I honestly felt like would be something I would recognize in just driving past it on my commute, it just really felt very rooted in the real world. It was incredible because you’re right, a lot of movies, especially within the Disney realm, they do kind of have their own thing that you know it’s not the real world. But this definitely, definitely had that sense of reality, it was very tactile even just watching it. That was super cool.
It was very much our focus. I knew we couldn’t really afford to build a lot of these locations, so my whole goal was to find places that sort of fit together like a puzzle. I think the palace in the last sequence of the movie is probably made up of 15 different locations. And now it was like a real, you know, challenge and inter-departmental sort of puzzle to like be like ‘okay this part of the chase is at this location and this part is here and you know when we sort of drape everything in the colors of Illyria and the style. And it will all sort of blend together.’ And that was like the real goal so I love that you say that.
As I mentioned, there are a lot of superhero elements to the film. Did you have any specific inspiration in approaching those things, because I mean again people see superhero things, you know, big screen small screen. Did you have any specific like thoughts going into it about how you wanted to portray some of the more tangible powers?
I really loved as an inspiration for me and for the powers was X-Men: First Class. That was kind of a thing. Kingsman, I was sort of how the action would work with the powers. I showed clips of like, Gladiator and Snatch and I was like I really want the action to feel sophisticated, so part of that is making the powers feel realistic and grounded and I think that was, you know, and then, and then really we did research on like how would the bug look and how was the easiest way to actually pull this off, because that was kind of challenging and there was like a lot of R&D that went into it, like for some of Roxanne’s disappearing powers we were like ‘oh it would be really cool if she comes in and out like an old TV.’ And how does that look and what does that sound like and so we just kind of went down this path of like little inspirations here and there. We spent a lot of time at this butterfly conservatory sort of getting what they look like and how translucent they are and how can we bring that into the film for Matteo. It was really cool.
Speaking of the superhero aspects of the film, and as anybody who is aware of entertainment at all in the current world knows entertainment is basically a candy store for superhero film for television these days. How do you get audiences to look at Secret Society of Second-Born Royals with it being both superhero and princess and also action and all this other really cool stuff? How do you get them to approach that movie and make space for it since it is so similar but also so different?
My hope is, is that one element that you just mentioned will draw in somebody, and then they’ll enjoy the whole movie and stay. Like, if there’s an eight-year-old-girl who loves princess movies, Sam will draw her in and then she’ll stay and love the whole thing and tell her friends about it, and her brother and her brother’s friends you know like that is really my hope or that, you know, I think there’s never been a movie about second borns before. Like, there’s a lot of second borns that feel like left out. They’re not the oldest they’re not the youngest, you know, like maybe that will draw somebody in and then they’ll stay. There might be somebody who like loves action and villains or Skylar Astin and they come in for that and then they really enjoy the movie and then they stay and it’s word of mouth. I mean that is kind of the hope of it, because you’re right there is a lot going on in it, but I think with any original IP like any original story kind of coming out it’s like you have to find an audience. It’s not something that’s been done before. It’s not like the next movie or the next Superman so again, it’s original and I hope somebody comes in for one thing that speaks to a kind of like, really dig it.
You also worked on Runaways. Since you have worked in another superhero-ish project and now you’ve made this movie that’s all these wonderful genres, if you could have a superpower, what would it be and why?
So, I’m pretty sure I actually have super hearing. I can hear things with a headset on and far away and, you know, people whispering across the sound stage. But if I could have a superpower, I think it would be time travel Honestly, I think it would be very interesting to be able to go back and forth in time and, you know, see what we’ve learned and inform the future in the past I think that would be incredibly helpful these days.
I definitely want to time travel and Runaways was an important experience for me because it was the second time I worked with Matt Mullins who is the stunt coordinator who I ended up bringing with me to do this film and that has been an incredible partnership and it really affected how the action in the movie, looked and felt and was designed, but also was my first foray into the world of Marvel which I hope to work in again and again. What a fantastic group of people.
Secret Society of Second-Born Royals stars Peyton Elizabeth Lee, Niles Fitch, Isabella Blake Thomas, Olivia Deeble, Noah Lomax, Faly Rakotohavana, Ashley Liao, Greg Bryk, Elodie Yung, and Skylar Astin. The film is directed by Anna Mastro from a script written by Alex Litvak and Andrew Green. It is now streaming on Disney+.