To mark the release of Beauty and the Beast – which hits cinemas across the UK on March 17th, we had the pleasure of sitting down to discuss the project with two of its stars, Audra McDonald (Madame Garderobe) and Stanley Tucci (Maestro Cadenza), as they discuss the joys in shooting this live-action reimagining of such a classic animation.
Stanley describes his role, which is a brand new creation, while the pair discuss the pertinence of Disney movies, carrying the weight of the original film’s legacy, and the relationships their own kids have with movies they star in.
Stanley Tucci: It’s always good not to see yourself, that’s a great thing. I love not seeing myself. But I always struggle, even with a voice.
Audra McDonald: Yes, I felt like that. I do agree that you can detach yourself, I thought I looked a little heavy on screen, but then I am wardrobe. But there were still moments I thought, maybe I should’ve done it differently.
Is it harder to express yourself on screen with just your voice?
ST: In some ways it’s easier because it’s more playful you don’t have to worry. It’s fun, it’s more like being a kid.
AM: It really is, and especially with someone like Bill Condon. You do everything separately, I wasn’t in a studio with Stanley, except for the shots when we were actually human. Did you, when shooting Stanley, have to go back in six months later as they had more of an idea about the character.
ST: I think I did, I can’t remember if I did. It’s common to do that, certainly when the thing is coming together and they need changes. But sometimes I’ve done it and it’s been two years, it just goes on, and you keep going in every three months or something to do new stuff and changing things. It depends on the animator.
Stanley, your character is completely new for this version of the film? How much input did you have in creating this role?
ST: Well none really. When we started to do the hair and make-up and stuff like that, we played around for a day or two on that, and that was fun. I mean, they had an idea and then we played around a bit, but as far as the animation goes, Bill showed me artwork and stuff like that beforehand, and said he wanted an Italian accent, so I did an Italian accent. There are certain sounds that are clearly not Italian, but if they were in a true Italian accent, you wouldn’t be able to understand a lot of it.
Why do you think they put this new character in in the first place?
ST: I don’t know, but I was thrilled that they did. The movie didn’t work originally [laughs].
What is your favourite fairytale of all time?
AM: Well this is a very good one. But one that always freaked me out was Hansel and Gretel, it’s horrible, they’re lost, this woman wants to eat them, everything about it was just horrific for me and I played the witch in my elementary school production, and then after I died I then asked my teacher if I could come back out afterwards and sing The Rose and they let me. I came back out in my witches outfit and sung The Rose.
ST: How are the two connected?
AM: Not at all [laughs], it’s ridiculous.
ST: Yeah all those Grimm fairytales are very disturbing.
So what do you think they can tell us about contemporary problems? What do they symbolise?
ST: That we haven’t changed at all. Our fantasies and fears are still the same and they’ll always be the same.
Beauty and the Beast is a really old tale, why do you think people are still so fascinated by it?
ST: Because we don’t change. Maybe now more than ever.
AM: We’re so obsessed with looks and everybody has got their own cameras, and selfies and whatnot, you can filter the way you look and how you present yourself to the world, to live completely in a virtual world, and more so than ever this movie points to how superficial all that is, and what really matters is what’s within.
ST: Or how big a castle you have.
Disney keep releasing very pertinent films that serve a purpose, you look at Zootopia which one of their most politically driven films in years.
ST: The themes, like we said, are universal, they’re very human themes, they express the human condition very well and in a very simple way, and they are without question pertinent. On top of that, it’s a visual spectacle, isn’t it? And it’s entertainment at the same time. It ticks all the boxes I guess.
Are there any other Disney movies you’d really love to play in?
AM: Escape from Witch Mountain – does anybody remember that one? No? Well what I loved about it was these little kids growing up thinking they’re one thing and realising actually they have powers and they’re from this other place and they start to remember their old life. One of the things they had were these telekinetic powers where they could move things just by looking at that and not realising they could do it. As a kid, for hours, I would try, and think I could move things as well.
ST: And then you sang The Rose. Again.
What are your memories of the 1991 animation, and going in to this project with the weight of that legacy?
ST: Well you always just want to do a good job, no matter what you’re doing. I remember seeing the movie with my step-children when they were young, but I think the pressure, I didn’t feel it, but sure that Bill and everybody did.
AM: Yeah we didn’t have as much pressure as the four leads did, for us we could jump in and be a part of it and not be the subtlest characters in the world.
ST: Yeah we get to go in and have fun.
There must be something quite fulfilling about being a part of a project like this? Because when I was growing up, anyone who was in a movie that meant a lot to me in my formative years, I still associate them with those films. Even Joe Pesci will always be the villain from Home Alone for me. It must be nice to know there’s this new generation that will have a similar relationship now with you?
ST: It’s nice to have movies that your kids, or just other kids grow up with. I’ve done a number of them over the years and it’s cool, especially when you have this 30 year old guy come up to you and say, ‘I really loved you in Beethoven’. And you go… Fuck, I am so old.
AM: I did a remake of Annie with Kathy Bates and I remember a couple years after that was out, being followed around in a grocery store by a four year old girl who kept looking at me. Then finally her mother said to me, ‘You’re Miss Grace aren’t you? I’m sorry we’ve been following you around, but my daughter wants to know why Miss Grace is in our grocery store’. That means a lot. We’ve both had kids… With our partners.
ST: Not yet.
AM: The day is young [laughs]. But for my daughter being in this film means everything to my 16-year-old because I’m in a film with Emma Watson. Just that proximity.
Why does Emma make a good Belle?
ST: She’s so great, she’s charming, she can sing. She’s wonderful, she really got it too, she got the strength of the character, the humour of the character and the sweetness of the character. She did a great job.
AM: Also what Emma represents, not only having been Hermione to an entire generation, but who Emma Watson has established herself to be is someone who is very vocal about women’s rights and educating and empowering women, it means a lot to my daughter’s generation. My daughter, and a lot of kids like her, for birthday presents, were asking for donations to refugees, so what an incredible role model she has become, she has taken her celebrity quite seriously and done wonderful things with it as well.
Just to go back a moment, can your kids enjoy movies your in? I interviewed Jason Isaacs recently and he said his kids can struggle to enjoy the Harry Potter films simply because he’s in it.
ST: No they can, it gets a little harder when they get older. My kids watched The Devil Wears Prada recently and they just love it. I mean, they like to make fun of me.
AM: I’ve done Broadway shows, and most of them are very heavy, so my daughter is just like, ‘can you not die or kill children in your role?’ so this is a nice departure for her, to see her mum actually live through the entire show. A happy ending – I’ve played Billie Holiday, so for her this is really nice.
ST: You end up with a nice Italian.
Beauty and the Beast is released on March 17th, you can read our review of the film here.