Premieres on Friday, March 17, Disney’s Beauty and The Beast, one of the most anticipated films of the year. I know it’s an old tale but there is a lot of freshness in this new adaptation of the animated fairy tale about the monstrous-looking prince and the young lady who fall in love. Belle, a resident of a small French village, has her father captured by the Beast and decides to exchange her liberty for her father’s freedom. In the castle, she meets magical objects and discovers that the Beast is, in fact, a prince who needs love to return to become human again. Considered one of the most beloved animations and taking into consideration that was the first animation to be nominated for the Oscar in the category of Best Movie, it would be almost impossible to make a film so perfect or even better, but director Bill Condon nailed it. It’s modern and edgy that it was my reaction when I first saw the movie.
The adaptation remains quite faithful to the 1991 masterpiece; however, writers Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos revealed certain details of the characters and scenarios to give more depth to the story. Gaston, played by Luke Evans, is much more dark and unpleasant. LeFou, played by Josh Gad, is not so perverse, and if you have not followed the controversy surrounding the movie, there are slight and subtle indications that he is gay. And Belle and the Beast, played beautifully by Emma Watson and Dan Stevens respectively, do not show so much the affection that is created between the kidnapped and the kidnapper as in the animation, thanks to a new emotional plot in the story in which the two lose their mothers when they were still a child.
Well, all this to say that it was a pleasure to be at the press conference that happened on the last 5th here in Beverly Hills. Actors Dan Stevens, Emma Watson, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, director Bill Condon and composer Alan Menken attended the press conference. Before the questions from the journalists, we watched an exclusive presentation of the soundtrack with composer Alan Menken on the piano, live, where we could listen to songs like Be Our Guest, Beauty & The Beast, among others. The coolest part was when Alan invited the actors Luke and Josh to perform the song Gaston. It was beautiful and emotional, a magical and unique moment.
Let’s check it out what they had to say about the movie during the press conference:
The animated movie is, for so many people, their favorite film of all time. When you approached adapting it for a live action, sort of what was the process for you?
Bill Condon – Get over the terror first, and then you 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 that has to fall in love with the Beast. All the behavior in an animated film is sort of a little more exaggerated, so it has to come into reality, and once you start to investigate that, you realize there are questions you may have never asked before that you want to know about, such as how did Belle and Maurice wind up in this village where they’re outsiders, and that leads to new songs and suddenly you’re creating something new.
Alan Menken – When Bill came aboard, we had meetings about what we would add, and one of the things we talked about, the music box moment and Maurice, getting into the backstory of how Maurice and Belle came to the town, and the backstory for the Beast, and how he became such a cold and callous young man. We also tried to root ourselves much more in the time and place, 18th Century France, and that really helped immensely.
Emma, you’ve become a role model to so many young girls and I know that when you were growing up, Belle was someone you sort of looked up to. When you began to make the character your own, what was the sort of the things that you thought about in modernizing Belle?
Emma Watson – It’s really remarkable to play someone that I’m almost sure had an influence on the woman that I have become. The first time I saw Paige O’Hara sing Belle, I just immediately connected with her. 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. 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 that Bill or Steve or Evan had put together, 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 awkward and doesn’t fit in, and 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 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 it was amazing to do.
Emma, what does Belle symbolize to you?
Emma- 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. You can travel to places in the world that you would never be able to, under other circumstances. I was just really proud to play a character that has a certain earnestness about her, honestly. 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, with the support of her father. It’s something that she weathers on her own, really, at the end of the day, and so I’m very grateful that this character exists and that I get to bring her to life. It’s fantastic.
Dan, in bringing the Beast to life, one of the probably the biggest challenges would be creation of him, because he’s such a huge player, the physicality has to be so intense and large and specific. Did you approach playing him any differently than any other character you’ve played?
Dan Stevens – It was a very physical engagement. Just 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. With the backstory, we decided that the prince before he was the Beast was a dancer. He loved to dance, and so I trained myself like a dancer and learned, three quite different dances for this movie and worked very closely with the choreographer, just in terms of his general deportment, both for the prince and the Beast, and there was a lot of dancing on stilts. Getting to know Emma on the dance floor was probably a great way to get to know your costar, and I’m going to try and do with every movie I do now, whether there’s a waltz in the movie or not. The dancing is actually telling a very crucial part of the story, so it was lots of physicality.
When you have the title Beauty and the Beast, there is someone trying to keep those two apart and that is Gaston. Luke, what did you sort of clue into in Gaston’s past or in building the character that made him more than a villain to you?
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. He’s got the hair. He’s got the looks. He’s always impeccably dressed. And his singing voice isn’t that bad. He’s got a great pal who makes everybody support him and sing about him. I wanted the audience to, in a way, like him a little bit first, so that’s when the cracks start to appear, which they do very subtly, even from the door slam, there’s something inside of him saying, “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. Slowly, the jealousy takes over. Gaston, as opposed to other Disney villains, has no book of spells and 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. He was a war hero, of sorts. That’s why his murals are all over the pub that he drinks in. There is this animalistic soldier 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 this almost monster.
Josh, you’ve done Broadway so you come into this being adept at singing and doing comedy. In this film, you get to ride a horse. How was the horseback riding for you?
Josh Gad: 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. They told me it trained for this movie but I believe they found it in the wilds of England. Luke and I our first entrance into the village, and when Condon called “action,” all our horses need to do is walk side by side. Luke’s horse does it. Mine is a cold-blooded killer, and he proceeded to moonwalk, walk backwards. Then, he ran through multiple extras in the village—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 and 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, unless it’s on wheels. In the sequel to Beauty and the Beast I drive a DeLorean.
Bill, there’s been a lot of talk about the sexuality of LeFou this week. How do you feel about that?
Bill – I talked before about how we translate this into a live action; that means filling out the characters. It’s also a translation to 2017. What is this movie about? What has this story always been about? For 300 years it’s about looking closer, going deeper, accepting people for who they really are, and in a very Disney way, we are including everybody. This movie is for everybody, and on the screen, you’ll see everybody, and that was important to me, (and) I think to all of us.