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Next month, Disney will invite moviegoers to be their guest for their sweeping live-action version of Beauty and the Beast. From the looks of its initial trailers (the latest of which was set to Ariana Grande and John Legend’s rendition of the classic title track), Bill Condon’s re-do will be faithful to its source material — which was the first animated film to ever receive a nomination for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. And in a new interview, its star, Emma Watson, is now revealing what it was like to work for — and at — her role as yellow-dressed princess Belle.
In the upcoming spring issue of Disney twenty-three, the magazine of D23: The Official Disney Fan Club, Watson discusses how she had to contend with numerous other actresses for the part — which naturally involved proving that she had the pipes required for the film’s big musical numbers:
“I had to fight for the role. I had to audition. I had to prove I could sing. I really had to go for it. You can’t have doubts when you’re singing in front of a set of 200 people in one of the biggest musicals of all time.”
That’s more than a bit surprising, given that Watson is an A-list young actress (with almost 24 million Twitter followers) who’s world famous for co-headlining the Harry Potter franchise. The eight films in the J.K. Rowling series, in cumulative theatrical receipts — so, not even taking home video into account — grossed more than $8.5 billion worldwide. As such, Watson’s drawing power would seem undeniable. Still, it’s likely that she was required to audition because the role would require a lot of singing, and the studio apparently didn’t want to have to fake it by dubbing in a different vocal performer for the film’s signature tunes. Watson had to prove she could handle it.
Watson says that, growing up, her favorite Disney princess was Pocahontas, although she confesses that “I loved them all, really… I spent a lot of my childhood impersonating Timon and Pumbaa [from The Lion King].” When it came time to assume the role of Belle, however, the former Harry Potter star had to find a way to both stay true to the animated film’s conception of the character, as well as to make her somewhat unique:
“A lot of what I was doing was making sure it kept true to the original and, where I could, making Belle as real as possible.” “In the animated movie, it’s [Belle’s father] Maurice who’s the kind of crazy, wacky inventor. In the movie, it’s really Belle. She comes up with an idea for a washing machine so that she can read while her creation washes the clothes.”
She was aided in that endeavor by her co-star, Dan Stevens, who plays the prince-turned-monster intent on escaping his hairy curse:
“It was such a luxury to have Dan there at all. Usually when I’m working with CGI, I’m working with a tennis ball or I’m speaking to an orange dot — or, if I’m really lucky, I’m talking to an LED light. So having a living, breathing human there that I could respond to and I could play off of was wonderful — and, I think, really important for this story.”
The result should be an epic retelling of a decades-old favorite, and one with a timeless message about tolerance. As Watson states, “It’s about, How do we see beyond the external and the superficial? How do we see the best in people? The power of transformation. The power of love. I mean, it’s just a winner, isn’t it? It works on so many levels.”
To read more from Watson, check out the latest issue of Disney twenty-three, which should be arriving in the mailboxes of D23 Gold and Gold Family membership owners come mid-February. Co-starring Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Ian McKellen, and Emma Thompson, Beauty and the Beast debuts in theaters on March 17.
Watch the trailer: