11 Things We Learned About ‘Beauty and the Beast’
“Be Our Guest!” We dare you not to have every one of the wonderful songs from Beauty and the Beast running through your head after watching this delightful film.
Disney’s successful track record turning their animated classics into live-action adaptations continues with this version of the beloved Beauty and the Beast, which is deftly handled in the hands of director Bill Condon. The story remains the same. Belle (Emma Watson) wants more from her “provincial” life in a small French village, where she lives with her inventive father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), while the village hunk, Gaston (Luke Evans), vows to woo and marry her, with the help of his sidekick, LeFou (Josh Gad). Fat chance, buddy.
Things go awry when Maurice veers off the path in the nearby forest and stumbles upon an enchanted castle, ruled by the Beast (Dan Stevens), who was once a callous prince, cursed by an enchantress to live as beast until he can prove himself selfless. When the Beast captures Maurice, Belle seeks out to find him and ends up taking his place in the castle. She discovers its mysteries and soon learns to appreciate her host – even love him. And we all know how that turns out.
At the recent press day, stars Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Josh Gad, Luke Evans, Audra McDonald (as Madame Garderobe) and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (as Plumette) joined director Bill Condon and the incomparable composer Alan Menken for a lively discussion.
Here are 11 things we learned about making Beauty and the Beast.
On adapting this classic into a live-action movie:
Bill Condon: Get over the terror first. But then, just start with that basic idea. You’re going to take it into a new medium which is live action. They’re going to be actors. Emma’s going to be playing a character on real locations who has to fall in love with the beast. So all the behavior which is, you know, let’s face it, an animated film is sort of, you know, a little more exaggerated, has to come into reality, and once you start to investigate that, then you realize, wow, there are questions maybe you never asked before that you want to know about. How did Belle and Maurice wind up in this village where they’re outsiders, you know, and that leads to then new songs and suddenly you’re creating something new.
Alan Menken: For me – sorry, you didn’t ask me the question but when Bill came aboard we had meetings about what would we add, and one of the things we talked about, the music box moment and Maurice and getting into the backstory of how Maurice and Belle came to the town and backstory for the Beast, how he became such a cold and callous young man, and also trying to root ourselves much more in the time and place, 18th Century France, and that really helped immensely.
On what 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. If they told me that I’d be selling churros in the park, I’d be like, yeah, I’m there. 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. 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. 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.
On modernizing Belle:
Emma Watson: 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,” you know, it’s kind of the I want song of all I want songs. 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. 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.
Every time we would address a new scene, I just always had the original DNA of that woman in mind, and I had my fists up. I was ready to fight because she was so crucial for me. It was just taking what was already there and just expanding it. I love that in our version Belle is not only kind of awed and doesn’t fit in. 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.
On how to play the Beast:
Dan Stevens: It was a very physical engagement, to support that muscle suit on stilts was a challenge that I’d never really encountered before. I’ve definitely been taking a more physical approach to my roles in the last few years and just training myself in different ways. I think with the backstory we decided that the prince before he was the Beast was a dancer, that he loved to dance, and so I trained myself like a dancer and learned, you know, three quite different dances for this movie, in terms of his general deportment, both for the prince and the Beast, there was a lot of work dancing in stilts.
Getting to know Emma, first and foremost, on the dance floor… it’s a great way to get to know your co-star, and I’m going to try and do with every movie I do now, whether there’s a waltz in the movie or not. I mean the trust that Emma had to place in me that I wouldn’t break her toes, and also it really became part of that crucial part of the title really, the “and the” bit. That’s sort of the essence of a waltz being two people in this whirlwind, you know, and learning about choreography really, the storytelling through dance, not just getting up and dancing but actually, you know, really – really telling a very crucial part of the story in that big turning point. So yes, lots of physicality.
On Gaston’s villainy:
Luke Evans: 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, 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 support him and sing about him. 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.” Although he keeps believing that Belle will change her mind, that’s where the cracks appear in my thought process and then slowly 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. 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.
On Josh riding a horse for the first time:
Josh Gad: Can I get Audra’s question? It’s interesting. I learned a couple of great lessons on this movie, one of which is that Jews don’t belong on horses. Specifically overweight Jews. My horse was an anti-Semite. The horse that they told me was trained for this movie, but I believe they found in the wilds of England. Luke and I are walking into the village on our horses, and on action all our horses need to do is walk side by side, it’s so simple. Luke’s horse does it. The two of them worked on The Hobbit together, Three Musketeers, have this incredible background.
Evans: We share a trailer.
Gad: Mm, hm, they share a trailer. Mine is a cold-blooded killer, and he proceeded to moonwalk, he walked backwards. Then, he ran through multiple extras in the village, ran around – I didn’t even know it was possible – but ran through these like pillars around, up and back again. I heard “cut” and I heard laughing, and the laughter was coming from the horse’s trainer, and he came up to me and he goes, “I’m so sorry. I’ve never seen this happen before.” It was so sad. It made me feel so awful about myself. Ironically, my horse’s name was Buddy. That is a true story. He’s nobody’s buddy. I’m begging Disney to press charges against him, and I’ve told my agents to never send me another script with a horse in it again.
On LeFou being gay:
Condon: You know, I talked before about how we translate this into a live act – that means filling out the characters. It’s also a translation to 2017, you know? And what is this movie about? What has this story always been about? For 300 years it’s about looking closer, going deeper, you know, accepting people for who they really are, and in a very Disney way we are including everybody. I think this movie is for everybody, and on the screen you’ll see everybody, and that was important to me, I think to all of us.
On bringing household objects to life:
Gugu Mbatha-Raw: Yeah, I mean, it was an interesting challenge, and you know, I was so obsessed with the original Disney film. It came out when I was 8 years-old, so I was kind of really excited to be a part of this. For me it was working on the French accent. Both myself and Ewan [McGregor as Lumiere] had the same dialect coach, and then just playing in the studio with Bill encouraging us to, you know, embrace that sort of inner child and that real sort of let’s pretend kind of freedom. And for me, having done a few serious roles that year, to be able to embrace the feather duster Plumette and to also be able to really not be limited by you own face and your own body that you can really, as I say, just play, was so joyful. And then again when we all got to be on set for that transformation sequence, and all these legendary actors are there, and you know, to be swirling around that Disney ballroom, it was just really, really magical.
On singing these iconic songs:
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. Prior to that, like The Great Mouse Detective didn’t have much applause when I saw it. And The Black Cauldron certainly did not. So what [Howard] 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.” That was such a thrill. 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.” 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 – and of course Audra, you know, singing is like for a private concert, like that is like the stuff that dreams are made of.
McDonald: I think also the 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.
On the new songs:
Condon: Well, you know, let’s take one example, instead of talking about all of them. The song “Evermore,” the song for the Beast, you know? So they often say in musicals that people sing when it’s no longer enough to speak, you know, that their emotions are running so high. I think it’s one of the dramatic high points in all of literature, you know, the fact that the Beast at this moment, that he lets Belle go, becomes worthy of love, you know? And discovers what love is, but at the same time sacrifices his future, you know? And so we talked about the fact that we needed a song, and of course there had been a song in the stage adaptation.
Menken: In the Broadway show there was a song called “If I Can’t Love Her.” But you know, each iteration of Beauty and the Beast is a different medium in a way. There’s an animated musical, there’s a stage musical, and there’s this – and they all have sort of different shapes. And the stage musical is definitely a two act structure, so we wrote this song for the Beast, because at that act break is the moment where the Beast out of anger has driven Belle away and it was important – we needed at that moment for the Beast to sort of howl for redemption or just say I’ve given up. But in the structure of a live action film, which is more of a three act structure, Bill felt, and I agree with him, that the more satisfying moment is the moment when the Beast lets Belle go because she’s no longer his prisoner, and he loves her, and the spell will not be broken now, but at least he knows what love is.
You have the initial tent pole moments from the animated movie and those are going to stay, and then what we do is, as you put them in place, you know, you look at it as like a architecture. Where do we need the emotional support? Sometimes the songs will respond to a moment. Sometimes you’ll go, I feel like we need a song in this spot, and we will massage the story so a song could fit there. I mean, I could spend five hours talking about this right now, but essentially a lot of thought and a lot – again, use the word collaboration – a lot of collaboration goes into what song is going to come, where’s it going to go, what does it need to accomplish and how will it interact with the song that preceded it and the song that came after it? What will be the overall effect of it? What character is underrepresented in songs? There’s so many factors.
On feelings of being an outsider and feeling like you don’t quite belong:
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.
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