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Eva Green pushes herself to new heights with Dumbo

Eva Green, who plays aerialist Colette Marchant in Tim Burton's live-action Dumbo, overcomes a phobia to take flight

When Eva Green was cast to portray high-flying circus star and accomplished aerialist Colette Marchant in director Tim Burton's live-action fantasy film Dumbo, there was a small problem.

"I was absolutely terrified of heights," said the 38-year-old French actress.

"It was a real phobia, and I told Tim at the beginning, 'I don't know if I will be able to do my stunts.'

"But I trained with Katharine Arnold, who is the most amazing aerialist, and (choreographer) Fran Jaynes, and they really helped me to gain confidence and find the physicality of the character.

"It is unbelievable to swing up really high and spin and do some weird choreography. It was a real challenge, and I am quite proud of myself on that one."

In Dumbo, which is currently showing here, Colette is cast by her entrepreneur-boyfriend V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) in a new act alongside the titular flying elephant for his state-of-the-art amusement park Dreamland.

But teaming up with Dumbo and the family who cares for him reveals more to Colette about show business - and herself - than she ever imagined.

Before Green could take flight, however, she committed to an intense training regimen.

She said: "I had to train for four or five months to build a bit of muscle, because you have to be strong as an aerialist. Your arms have to be quite strong, and you need strong abs as well.

"It is like dancing in the air. You try to find the right posture and the right gestures."

She added: "I had the most amazing teachers - real circus people. That really helped me to get into the circus mood. Now I am an aerialist for real."

Why do you think the original Dumbo movie, the Disney animated classic from 1941, is still so beloved?

I grew up with it, and I loved the story. The story between the baby elephant and the mother really marked me as a child.

It is such a powerful, universal story, which both children and adults can connect with.

What was the most exciting thing about working on this film?

It is a Tim Burton movie. It is full of magic and poetry, and is rich, moving, funny and spectacular.

Is your aerial performance as difficult as it looks?

The challenge is to make it effortless, to look like it is so wonderful to be up there.

You really feel like the queen of the world in some way. You feel like a bird. There is something freeing when you are up there. It is quite amazing.

Out of all the training you did, what was your favourite aspect?

My favourite bit was doing the work in the air. Anything in the air becomes magical and graceful.

I have to say on this job, all the training was rewarding. It was such a physical role, and it was jubilating, actually.

I was never really a circus person but now I am addicted. I am going to continue training as an aerialist in London. It is such a good workout as well.

How did you feel about working with real circus performers?

Every day I trained in the big tent and I could see contortionists warming up, clowns, the guy who throws knives... so I felt I was part of the circus.

They work so hard, I am in total awe of them. I felt like I was going back to the golden era of Hollywood - there were hundreds of extras, clowns everywhere, dancers, horses. It was unbelievable.

What was it like working with Danny DeVito, who plays ringmaster and circus owner Max Medici?

He is such a joy. I had to pinch myself all the time. He is so free.

He is always having fun. He is such an inspiration. I wish he could be on set every day, because there is so much positive energy exuding from him.

How about Michael Keaton?

He is bonkers in a lovely way. He is so charismatic and irreverent.

Again, I had to pinch myself - I was like, 'Oh my God, he is Beetlejuice. Wow!' These are iconic actors. It was hard for me to stay in character.

What message does this movie send to people about embracing others' differences?

Dumbo is a very Tim Burton movie - it encourages you to embrace your uniqueness and individuality.

You do not need to be perfect to be loved. And it also tells kids to believe in themselves. If you believe in yourself, you can overcome any obstacle. It is very Disney.

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