How lucky was I to attend a junket for one of the most anticipated films of the year!!! This one for Beauty and The Beast was a treat!!! Between the performances of the cast with composer Alan Menken, we got the scoop on one of the hottest releases of 2017!!!
In attendance were Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Plummette), Josh Gad (Lefou), Luke Evans (Gaston), Emma Watson (Belle), Dan Stevens (Beast), Bill Condon (Director), Audra McDonald (Garderobe), and Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken. Here’s few excerpts from that conversation:
Director Bill Condon and Composer Alan Menken discussed how they decided to make this approach to Beauty and The Beast fresh, as well as, Menken’s humble beginnings working with Disney
BILL CONDON: …You realize 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: When Bill came aboard we had meetings about what would we add. One of the things we talked about was the music box moment with Maurice. Getting into the backstory of how Maurice and Belle came to the town, the backstory for the Beast and how he became such a cold, callous young man, and trying to root ourselves much more in the time and place, 18th Century France, and that really helped immensely.
ALAN MENKEN: When I first came to Disney, I got to say, I thought of Little Mermaid first and foremost as Howard Ashman and my follow-up to Little Shop of Horrors. We were still working in musical theater, you know, these off-off Broadway guys coming and bringing our skills to Disney. We don’t calculate beyond telling the story, serving the characters and trying to give each of these projects its own unique musical stamp. Beyond that, it’s just storytelling. You know, there’s no more collaborative form than musicals. You know, and they call it musicals and I’m the composer, but the truth is it’s a director, it’s a choreographer, it’s a lyricist, it’s a book writer, it’s a composer, it’s an orchestrator, it’s an arranger, it’s lighting, it’s everything put together, so I think benefited a lot also from the Disney association obviously.
Tony Winner Audra McDonald commented on how important is was for her to be a part of this project
AUDRA MCDONALD: Knowing not only did it have this incredible creative team, but that Emma Watson was going to be Belle. 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. Knowing that Emma was going to make sure that Belle was somebody who was independent, strong, educated, someone who was sticking up for girls and women, and someone 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 Watson spoke of how great it was to make Belle an independent women and how impactful it was for her seeing Beauty and The Beast for the first time…
EMMA WATSON: I mean, it’s really remarkable to play someone who I’m almost sure had an influence on the woman I have become. I think the first time I saw Paige O’Hara sing Belle (Reprise), I just immediately resonated with her. There was something about that spirit, something about that energy that I just knew Belle was my champion. I wanted to make sure that I was championing that same spirit, those same values, that same young woman who made me a part of who I am today.
Dan Stevens encountered several challenges taking on The Beast…like stilts and learning to dance…
DAN STEVENS: Well, it was a very physical engagement, just to support that muscle suit on stilts was a challenge that I’d never really encountered before. We decided that the Prince’s backstory was before he was the Beast was a dancer, so I trained myself like a dancer and learned three quite different dances for this movie. I mean the trust that Emma had to place in me that I wouldn’t break her toes really became part of the essence of a waltz being two people in this whirlwind.
Luke Evans spoke to the fact that Gaston never sees himself as a villain, but more like the hero in the story…a delusional here
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. I think with Gaston, to a lot of people in that village, he is the hero. He’s a bit of a stud. He’s got the hair, 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. I wanted the audience to like him a bit first, so that when the cracks start to appear, there’s something inside of him that he’s like, I’m not used to this. He keeps believing Belle will change her mind and that’s where the cracks appear in my thought process and then slowly the jealousy takes over, Gaston, as opposed to other Disney villains, has no book of spells, no magic powers, he’s a human being. There is a slight so 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.
Of course, leave it to Broadway vet Josh Gad to leave us doubled over in stitches with a “horse tale”…
JOSH GAD: So it’s interesting. I learned a couple of great lessons on this movie, one of which is that Jews don’t belong on horses. [LAUGHTER] Specifically overweight Jews. My horse was an anti-Semite, and he interestingly enough they would call action, and 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.
LUKE EVANS: We share a trailer.
JOSH GAD: Mm, hm, they share a trailer. Mine is a cold-blooded killer. And he proceeded to moonwalk, he walked backwards. [LAUGHTER] 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.” [LAUGHTER] And 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.
You can see how everyone was very generous and invested in sharing their thought process on the re-imaging of these iconic characters and the fairytale. It was our pleasure to have been able to be fly on the wall…
Can you guess how I feel about Beauty and The Beast yet? If not, be my guest to check out my true feeling this Friday when the film opens on March 17th