A new generation will be discovering a tale as old as time with the new live-action Beauty and the Beast this week.
In anticipation of the film’s release cast members including Emma Watson, Josh Gad, Luke Evans, Dan Stevens, and Audra McDonald took part in the Los Angeles press day to chat about what makes the film stand apart from the original animated Disney feature.
Speaking about what the film means to them, breathing new life into beloved characters and the perfect choice of Emma being the right person to be this generation’s Belle–we got super excited for what’s sure to be the best live-action Disney adaptation to date.
The films in general really speak to children in such a wonderful way, and Audra, as a parent, what do you like about what this Beauty and the Beast says to kids?
AUDRA MCDONALD: Many things, but one thing that was really important to me – I mean, I said yes the minute that Disney called because you say yes when Disney calls. But knowing not only did it have this incredible creative team but that Emma Watson was going to be Belle, and knowing how much Emma has affected girls of my daughter’s age, and my daughter is someone who now asks for people to donate money to charities for her birthday gifts instead of presents. And that’s because of you, Emma. And so knowing full well – [APPLAUSE] – it is. So knowing full well that Emma was going to make sure that Belle was somebody who was independent, who was strong, who was educated, who was sticking up for girls and women, and who does all the rescuing in the film. That’s why I knew it was going to be important for me to be a part of and for my kids to see.
Emma, Audra brings up an excellent point. You know, you’ve become a role model to so many young girls and women all over the world and I know that growing up Belle was someone you sort of looked up to. When you began to sort of make her your own, what were sort of the things that you thought about in modernizing Belle?
EMMA WATSON: You know, it’s just a start. I mean, it’s really remarkable to play someone that I’m almost sure had an influence on the woman that I have become. I think the first time I saw Paige O’Hara sing Belle (Reprise), you know, it’s kind of the I want song of all I want songs. And I just immediately resonated with her. I mean, I was so young I didn’t even know what I was tapping into but there was something about that spirit, there was something about that energy that I just knew she was my champion. And I think when I knew I was taking on this role, I wanted to make sure that I was championing that same spirit, those same values, that same young woman that made me a part of who I am today. And so, you know, every time we would address a new scene that Bill or Steve or Evan had put together, you know, I just kind of went, I just always had the original DNA of that woman in mind, you know, and I had my fists up, you know, I was ready to fight because she was so crucial for me. And you know, it was just taking what was already there and just expanding it. And I love that in our version Belle is not only kind of awed and doesn’t fit in, and you know, you see her reading, and you see her not really a part of the community. In our film she’s actually an activist within her own community. She’s teaching other young girls who are part of the village to read, and you know, moments like that where you could see her expanding beyond just her own little world and trying to kind of grow it, I loved that, and yeah, that was amazing to get to do.
Luke, someone once said that, you know, villains never think of themselves as the villains in the story, they always think of themselves as the hero, and I’m sure that’s especially true with Gaston. I’m curious, though, I mean what did you sort of clue into in his past or in building the character that made him more than a villain to you?
LUKE EVANS: Well, I just think a villain shouldn’t start out as the bad guy. A villain should end up being the bad guy, and I think with Gaston, outwardly, you know, to a lot of people in that village, he is the hero. He’s a bit of a stud, you know. He’s got the hair, he’s got the looks, he’s always impeccably dressed, not a bad singing voice He’s got a great pal who makes everybody, you know, support him and sing about him. And I wanted the audience to – in a way, I just thought, let’s make them like him a little bit first, so that when the cracks start to appear, which they do very subtly, even from the door slam, you know, there’s something inside of him that he’s like, I’m not used to this, this isn’t how it goes, you know, this is not what she’s supposed to be doing. And although he keeps believing that Belle will change her mind, that’s where the cracks appear in my thought process and then slowly, you know, the jealousy takes over, and who he becomes, especially Gaston as opposed to other Disney villains, he has no book of spells, he has no magic powers. He’s a human being, and he uses his status within that village to rouse a crowd and he does it all from just being himself, which is quite terrifying in a way. So I played on that, I played on the humanity of the character as much as he is larger than life. There was a lot to pull on, and obviously he was a war hero of sorts, we decided, didn’t we, Bill, from the past. That’s why his murals are all over the pub that he drinks in. And there is a slight soldier, this animalistic soldier, in him when he finally fights the Beast on the rooftops. You see this man out for blood, and it’s a scary moment to see the arc of somebody who was the loveable buffoon of the village to become the Beast almost, the monster.
As Hermione, you were somebody who’s really smart and studious and now as Belle you’re somebody who reads books in a small town and is looked down upon. How do you feel about how we put a value on knowledge in society?
EMMA WATSON: I think that Belle is this ultimate kind of symbol of the fact that books can be rebellious, they can be incredibly empowering, liberating. They are a means to travel to – you can travel to places in the world that you would never be able to, you know, under other circumstances. And you know, again, I was just really proud to play a character that, you know, she has a certain earnestness about her, honestly. And she’s not in any way kind of ashamed of that, and it’s not easy being an outsider and it’s not easy to pick battles, it’s not easy to try to move and work against a system, to work against the grain, to move against the status quo. But she does so with kind of this amazing fearlessness. And you know, with the support of her father, but really I think it’s something that she weathers on her own, really, at the end of the day. And yeah, I’m very grateful that this character exists and that I get to bring her to life. It’s fantastic.
We all have these songs permanently in our brains, but when you look at them they’re very challenging. The turns of phrases are amazing, they’re in character, there’s a lot to these songs. Talk about the realization of having to work on these songs.
JOSH GAD: I remember first getting the call, and I immediately flashed back to being a kid. I was 10 years old, it was 1991, and I saw the movie in a small theater in south Florida, and I remember that the response was something I had never seen before, which was audiences applauding after these animated characters were singing these songs. It was very unusual. So what Ashman and Menken brought to the Disney library was hearkening back to a time of the Sherman Brothers, of you know, the early days of Disney, and that was for us, that was so a part of our childhood. Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid and Aladdin. I cannot tell how important that was. So I got nauseous. I was like how am I going to bring a song like Gaston to life? And I went into my office and I started singing it, and I literally started choking up, because you cut to like yourself as a kid, you think back to yourself as a kid, you’re like, oh my god, I’m doing this, like I’m doing this for real, and I’m going to be the version that a lot of kids are going to see. And that was such a thrill. And my kids walked into the office and were so tickled that Daddy was singing this song that they know so well, and I thought to myself, this is going to work, this is going to work, we’re going to work at it but we’re going to make it our own. And it was that first day that we did the table read that I remember watching Luke perform the choreography for Gaston – took me a little longer to get it – and Emma performing Beauty and the Beast, and Emma Thompson performing the song, and all of these pieces coming together before our eyes, and I don’t think there was a single one of us who didn’t have goosebumps and wasn’t immediately like that is the stuff that dreams are made of.
AUDRA MCDONALD: I think also an animated film was perfect, so I don’t think Disney or anybody here or anybody involved with this live action film, was like we got to fix Beauty and the Beast. So I think in that way the pressure was off. I think it was just let’s reimagine it now, let’s tell this particular version. So in that way the pressure was off. None of us were trying to – I certainly wasn’t trying to be Jo Anne Worley. You weren’t trying to be Paige O’Hara or Robby Benson or any of the characters. It was like now it’s our turn to tell the story, this incredible story that’s been told for 300 years. But in that sense I think the pressure’s off a little bit.
So this movie has the theme of not feeling like you quite belong. Belle feels that and the Beast feels that too. Specifically for Emma, (for) a person who is on the verge of going to college, what is your advice for dealing with those feelings of being an outsider and feeling like you don’t quite belong?
EMMA WATSON: Gosh. I think what’s difficult about the microcosm occasionally of school or sometimes colleges and universities is that you feel that the people that are in your immediate surroundings are the only people in the world. I remember feeling at school that, you know, if I didn’t fit, you know, there was nothing else. And that’s a really difficult feeling. But I guess what I would say for anyone that feels like an outsider in their environment, there is a big, wide world out there with so many different people with diverse opinions and perspectives and interests, and go out there and find your tribe, go find your kindred spirits, and they do exist, they don’t necessarily come easily. Pursue the things that you love and that you’re really passionate about. They’ll be there. But don’t give up. They are there.
Beauty and the Beast opens this Friday!