Disney’s 1991 movie musical Beauty and the Beast was the first animated feature to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. Now, twenty-six year later, the French fairytale, La Belle et las Bete, has been turned into a live action version. It once again proves beauty comes from within.
It’s ‘a tale as old as time’. A dashing but self-centered prince (Dan Stevens, Downton Abbey, Legion) coldheartedly turns away an old beggar woman from his castle. She was just looking for shelter during a storm. However, she is actually an enchantress in disguise, and she turns the prince into a beast for his cruel behavior. She also puts a spell on his servants turning them into household objects. They including Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), a candelabra, and Mrs Potts (Emma Thompson), a teapot.
Belle (Emma Watson, Harry Potter franchise) is a feisty and independent soul. She lives in the small town of Villeneuve. She is constantly rejecting the advances of a boorish and conceited villager named Gaston (Luke Evans, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug).
When Belle’s father disappears, she discovers he is being held in an old castle in the woods occupied by the beast. She trades his freedom for her own. Could she be the one who can break the enchantress’ spell? What do you think?
The movie opens on March 17th 2017. It is directed by Bill Condon (Dreamgirls). There are the original songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, and new songs written by Menken and Tim Rice.
Emma Watson, Dan Stevens and Luke Evans were at the press conference to talk about their new musical venture.
Emma, I know that growing up Belle was a character you looked up to. When you began to make her your own, what were 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. I was so young I didn’t even know what I was tapping into, but there was something about that spirit and 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.
Dan, were you worried that the Beast could come off as two-dimensional?
Dan Stevens: Bill and I spent a lot of time talking about how we could add some nuances to my character to make him more dimensional than the Beast from the animated film. It was quite interesting trying to find those little human beats that would make him less animalistic and more human trapped inside this creature.
I was very keen on trying to calibrate the Beast according to the Belle that Emma wanted to be and to play. We ultimately ended up realizing that this tale is not so much about beauty and ugliness but about the beauty and the beast that live in all of us, and learning to live with that balance.
Luke, villains never think of themselves as the villain. They always see themselves as the hero. What did you clue into in his 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. 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 not a bad singing voice (he laughs). [And] he’s got a great pal (LaFou, played by Josh Gad) who makes everybody support him and sing about him.
I just thought, ‘Let’s make the audience like him a little bit first.’ And although he keeps believing that Belle will change her mind (and fall in love with him), that’s where the cracks appear in my thought process and slowly the jealousy takes over.
Gaston, as opposed to other Disney villains, 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. He does it all from just being himself, which is quite terrifying in a way.
Emma, what was it like working with costume designer Jacqueline Durran and wearing that famous yellow dress when Belle dances with the Beast?
Emma: One of the wonderful things about working with Jacqueline is that she is so incredibly collaborative. I was just blown away by how much input she wanted from me… she really wanted to understand how I perceived the character inside and out. It was such a special experience for me as an actress, and such a great way to build and understand a character through that process.
(Wearing the dress) was definitely an interesting challenge. The dress itself is so iconic because it is part of that romantic scene in the story. The dress went through a lot of iterations. In the end, we decided the most important thing was that the dress dance beautifully. We wanted it to feel like it could float, like it could fly.
Dan, what was it like working with the inanimate household objects?
Dan: I would walk on the set to film a scene where I am speaking to Lumiere. But I would be looking at an LED light on a stick and hearing Ewan’s voice. It was like an extra level of weird that we had to deal with.
I read you spoke with Emma Thompson about the relationship between the Beast and Mrs Potts. Can you talk about that?
Dan: Mrs. Potts is the closest thing the Beast has to a mother figure, really. She’s a bit like his strict aunt. She keeps him in check, and it was nice to chat and establish that between ourselves.
Luke, was it fun to be in a musical?
Luke: I come from the world of musical theatre so I feel very passionate about telling a story with music and lyrics. What these geniuses did back in 1991 was tell a story which was very, very old and make it appeal to everyone. It has left a lasting impression on many generations of filmgoers.
Beauty and the Beast Videobytes
Dan was asked about the challenges of bringing the physicality of the Beast to life. Click here to see his reply
Emma was asked by a high school reporter if she had any tips to give to someone about to go to college. Click here to watch her reply
Before the press conference began, Alan Menken sang a medley of songs from the movie. He then invited Luke Evans and Josh Gad to join him to sing ‘Gaston’. Click below to watch their performance.
Judy Sloane, Film Review’s LA Editor was at the Beauty and the Beast press event. Click play to see what she got up too…