With the imminent release of Beauty and the Beast on Blu-ray HeyUGuys were lucky enough to get some time with Paige O’Hara, the accomplished Broadway actress who gave voice to one of Disney’s most cherished heroines, Belle.

Speaking to Paige was rather surreal, but wonderful at the same time. She is now the second Disney Princess that I have interviewed after speaking with Anika Noni Rose earlier this year about The Princess and the Frog.

Beauty and the Beast is released on Blu-ray and DVD 1st November.


Do you mind telling us a bit about how you started getting into the project with Beauty and The Beast?

Well, I was working in New York as a Broadway actress and, Les Miserables had a huge success ‘cos Alain Boublil and  Herbert Kretzmer were known in New York as Broadway writers and, I read about [Beauty at The Beast] in the Times and I asked my agent to get me an audition.  I auditioned with 500 other actresses and 5 auditions into it I got the job.

What was your first reaction when they told you were the one, that you were Belle?

Ah! I was so excited, I actually had a really positive feeling about it which is kind of weird ‘cos I was never really confident about auditions but I just had a really strong feeling that it was my part and I, I don’t know maybe ‘cos of the responses they gave me while I was auditioning but it was an amazing feeling. I didn’t know it would be life changing in terms of this amount of time it’s taken but it’s like a lifelong role, as I get older and she’ll always be young and be there you know.

How do you feel when you watch it back now?  Have you seen the new Blu-ray Version?

Yes I did and I hadn’t watched the whole movie in some time and I literally had goose bumps.  You know, I was totally moved by it and the technology of it, that just takes it to another level.  The film is already great without the Blu-ray but with now you get to see visually things which you’ve never seen before. You look at it and you know this is a classic that will be just as popular 50 years from now.

When you were making it did you have any idea that it was going to become such a phenomenon?!

In the beginning we didn’t, but when we took it to the Film Festival in an unfinished version and we knew it was really good and I knew that the score was sensational.  At the Film Festival in New York with the tough critics there,  they stood up for 10 minutes and they brought us off stage I said, hmmm ‘cos I know how tough they are.  I think, ‘okay we have got something really really special here and I’ve seen the final product’ – I knew it is going to be a classic.

It was the first animated Disney film to be nominated for an Oscar…

That’s right and it remains that because they changed the category so now there’s a best animated film, so now it will always the only animated feature to be nominated in the best film category which is kind of wonderful.

How does it sort of affect your day to day life, when you tell people you were Belle from Beauty and The Beast?

Well, it’s amazing I mean it’s taken my career and everything else to another level.  With the fanmail that I still get, it’s enabled me to do a lot of work you know with children’s charities that I would never be able to do, I wouldn’t have had the name of Belle and Disney behind me to be able to do it, so on that level it’s been really phenomenal and I’m still you know recording all the time, but financially it’s been you know a godsend in these tough times that we have right now but I’m constantly recording Belle and so it’s like a second full-time job.

And you cameoed in Enchanted as well didn’t you?

Yes that was fun.

How did you get involved with that?  Did they approach you and ask you to do it?

Actually the director Kevin Lima  said ‘I’ve got to put, just for fun, a couple of Disney alumni in this movie.’ So he called us up and asked us if we would do it and so it was really fun.

And there was no hesitation, you just said yes straight away?

Well of course!

Are there any memorable things, what sort of things stuck in your memory most about when making Beauty and The Beast?

Well, the whole process of it was so incredible because everyone had this incredible chemistry and this similar vision of what it should be.  Sometimes we would fight on, not us, but mainly the directors and the animators would fight over how to retain that vision but it was just one of those times where everyone in the creative level were at their 100% gain. Howard Ashman, who is a kind of leader of the whole group,~ was actually involved in not only in the writing of the lyrics but he was active with the directors, with the animators you know, with me personally and with the actors and I think it is because we didn’t know it but he knew he was dying and he knew this was his last film and his energy and his focus on it made everyone else give their 100% and I just think that Howard was the major reason and the major factor of success of the whole film as well as I think a lot of people don’t write it enough , the combination of Alan Menken and Ashman were really like Rogers and Hammerstein of that small era and would have done so many more had he lived.

It was also the first Disney animation to use CGI on it.  Were you pleased to see that or was it worrying for you that it could change the way that Disney did their stuff!

I was really excited about it because I loved the way that Belle was written and I knew that it was time there was a Disney heroine that was strong-willed and was a bookworm, an intellect and was searching for adventure and not searching to just find a man and that she was ahead of her time.  I think, you know, she was the first brown-eyed princess, I’m brown-eyed, I love the fact that they copied some of my features but I just knew it was going to be great and ‘cos throughout the two years we would see certain snippets of it and I knew kind of what it was going to look like, I didn’t know the whole package, what it would look like.  But of course, the opening scene, I’m sitting next to my sisters and they burst out laughing, ‘Oh my God she looks just like you, with her hair in her eyes just like you!’  It was a hoot.

I asked some people on Twitter if they had any questions for you and someone asked the question of how do you manage to keep your voice and accent consistent throughout such a long project?

Well, you know, interestingly enough, I am one of the few that they wanted my own voice only softer,  I talk louder now on stage but pretty much the same tonality. I raise my voice and Howard says: ”Wait a minute, no no no no, we want your voice just soften it up on the mike, do not raise your voice we want it to have a womanly quality” and you know as long as I stay healthy and keep singing and keep in shape you know I am totally into my working out and singing and in the show now in the long run in Las Vegas right now where I am singing all the time.

What’s the name of that show?

You are going to laugh, Menopause to Musical (laughs)…a little bit different from Beauty and The Beast! It’s wonderful, it is crazy and you know Paige gets older and Belle stays young but I think that Belle would love it because it is about empowering women and it is very very very funny and I play a role that is opposite to Belle, she’s a total ego-maniacal crazy woman that changes throughout the play. The girls around her teach her that beauty is only skin deep that she doesn’t have to be looking like she’s 20 years any more to be beautiful.

Were you given loads of direction as Belle with your voice or were you able to express yourself in your own way and bring some of your own personality to the character as well?

They encouraged me to use my own personality a lot, actually at some point they said, you know the scene where I got mad at the Beast when he is pawing away at his paw and I yell at him, I did think you could be really mad at him and when he yells at me I totally let loose on that “I loved it Paige, keep that one!”  So they just encouraged me to go as far as I wanted and if it went too far I would pull back and, they don’t do this anymore, when I actually got to record with Robby Benson.  He is such a great actor that it just made me better you know, when you work opposite someone like that. That was really very special because unfortunately they don’t have the money or the budgets or the time to do that any more.

Well, moving on to that then.  Have you seen Princes and The Frog, the new…

Loved it, loved it.

And it is great to see hand drawn back, John Lasseter has made an impact there but can we expect to see you in anything else, cameo maybe or?

Not right now, right now I’m pretty much doing my shows and promoting this, I am painting for Disney now, I got signed on with Disney Fine Art a year ago. So I am painting a series of Belle and Beast paintings.  I’ve got several ready now.  You can see them on disneyfineart.com or actually disneymovierewards.com.

So, with the new art based films that are coming out, are you pleased they’ve brought hand drawn animation back?

Oh, I think it’s wonderful. I just wish they had the time – all these animators who have lost their work, their jobs and I miss the hand drawn animation, I miss the things that are special about it when you’re working on a film like I was and you can watch the animator and it will take them a week to draw 20 seconds of film, it is just mind boggling.  There is something about it that’s so realistic that miss a little with the computer generation but I understand that the computer generation is the way of the future and the way that financially films can keep coming out and, you know, on the positive side it enables more writers to have their films produced because they can do it with less money.

Yeah, and faster I guess as well.

Oh much faster that’s why you know but that is also why Beauty and The Beast will always stand out as being really spectacular because it is one of the last ones that is hand drawn and had very little computer generation in it.

I had forgotten how funny Gaston is in it…

Oh, isn’t he a riot?

He is brilliant, he is so unlikeable but likeable all at the same time.

I know and I have known Richard White for years.  He’s got a great sense of humour – you want to smack him.

Do you still meet up with him or see the cast or the crew from the film?

Yes I do actually, not everybody, but I definitely keep in touch with Richard and Robby Benson I’ll be seeing in New York I’m hoping and definitely in Los Angeles.  I think Angela [Lansbury] will probably be in LA with the directors so it will be fun so in the next week or so I’ll be catching up with a lot of them.

The Diamond Edition of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast will be out on Blu-ray on the 1st of November.