Beauty and the Beast Cast on Their Characters | Interview
By: Lynn Barker
In the live-action version of Disney’s classic “tale as old as time” Beauty and the Beast, Harry’s Potter’s Emma Watson plays the lead role of Belle, a studious, smart and rebellious young woman in a village full of those who stick to the status quo, most aptly represented by Gaston, the town’s pompous hero/hunk played with doofus charm by Luke Evans (The Hobbit, Dracula Untold). Playing the Beast, a lonely prince under a curse is Dan Stevens. He, of the gorgeous blue eyes, had a major role in TV’s “Downton Abbey” and is now on TV’s “Legion”.
What do these actors think of playing iconic, much beloved roles and fleshing out animated characters for this lush live-action movie? What makes their characters tick? Read on for Emma’s opinion and more!
Q: Emma, you’ve become a role model to so many young girls and women all over the world. Growing up, Belle was someone that you looked up to. When you started to make her your own, what were the things you thought about to modernize Belle?
- Emma: It’s really remarkable to play someone that I’m almost sure had an influence on the woman I’ve become. I think the first time I saw Paige O’Hara singing Belle (Reprise) it’s kind of the “I want” song of all “I want” songs. I just immediately resonated with her. There was something about that spirit and 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 was a part of making me who I am today.
- So every time we would address a new scene, I always had that original DNA of that woman in mind and I had my fists up. I was ready to fight because she was just so crucial for me. It was just taking what was already there and just expanding it. In our film, Belle’s actually an activist within her own community. She’s teaching other young girls in the village to read. Moments like that where you could see her expanding just beyond her own little world and trying to kind of grow it, I loved that. That was amazing to get to do.
Q: Dan did you approach playing the Beast differently than you would any other character?
- Dan: 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. I’ve definitely taken 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 a beast, was a dancer, that 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 Anthony (Van Laast, choreographer) just in terms of his general deportment both for the prince and the beast.
Q: How was dancing with Emma?
- Dan: There was a lot of work dancing on stilts and getting to know Emma, first and foremost, on the dance floor, was, I think, a great way to get to know your co-star. I’m going to try to do it with every movie I do now whether there’s a waltz in the movie or not. The trust that Emma had to place in me that I wouldn’t break her toes, and it really became, that’s the crucial part of the title really, the “and the” bit. That’s the essence of a waltz, being two people in this whirlwind and learning the choreography really, this storytelling through dance, not just getting up and dancing but actually telling a really crucial part of the story and that big turning point. So, yes, there was a physicality (to the role).
Q: Emma, does the Beast have a name? What did you call him?
- Emma: Well, I called him Dan for most of the movie or I just called him Beastie. Hi Beastie.
Q: Villains never think of themselves as villains but as heroes and I’m sure that is true of Gaston. Luke, what did you find in the story that made him more than a villain to you?
- Luke: I 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 of the village, he is the hero. He is a bit of a stud. 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 power to make everybody support him and sing about him. In a way I thought, “Let’s make (the audience) like him a little bit first” so that when the cracks start to appear, which they do very subtly, even from the door slam, there’s something inside of him that he’s like “I’m not used to this. This isn’t how it goes. 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 full process and slowly the jealousy takes over and who he becomes, especially Gaston as opposed to other Disney villains, he has no book of spells, 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’s larger than life. There was a lot to pull on and obviously, he was war hero of sorts from the past we decided. That’s why his murals are all over the pub that he drinks in. There is this slight 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 someone who was the lovable buffoon of the village to become the absolute beast almost, the monster.
Q: Emma, can you talk about Belle’s rebellious, independent nature?
- Emma: I think that 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 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. And she’s not in any way 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, but really I think it’s something that she weathers on her own at the end of the day. I’m very grateful that this character exists.
Q: There are feelings of not belonging in this film. Belle has them and so does the Beast. Emma you’ve been in college where you are new. What is your advice for dealing with those feelings of being an outsider and feeling like you don’t quite belong?
- Emma: 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, if I didn’t fit in, 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. So, 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.
Q: Great advice!
Beauty and the Beast is in theaters now!
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