After its debut in 1989, Disney animated feature THE LITTLE MERMAID would go on to become a global phenomenon, winning Golden Globes and Oscars, in addition to winning the hearts of a generation of fans. Some 34 years later, we get Rob Marshall‘s live-action adaptation of this tale of a mermaid who seeks to carve her own path, finding love with a human prince is about to enchant a new generation once again.
We were delighted to join a global press conference with the Director, Composer and Producer of Disney’s THE LITTLE MERMAID. In-attendance were:
Halle Bailey (Ariel)
Jonah Hauer-King (Prince Eric)
Daveed Diggs (Sebastian)
Jacob Tremblay (Flounder)
Melissa McCarthy (Ursula)
Javier Bardem (King Triton)
Noma Dumezweni (Queen Selina)
Alan Menken (Composer)
John DeLuca (Producer)
Rob Marshall (Director/Producer)
Two-time Oscar nominee Melissa McCarthy plays Sea Witch Ursula. She talks about the excitement of people finally seeing this labour of love, which began production five years ago. She and her castmates attended last night’s Hollywood Premiere, which was a grand street-shutting affair.
McCarthy: “It’s really exciting. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve done it, you’re like ‘Do they really shut it down? Is the whole street blue?’. This is why I love movies, making them and everything got kind of exciting. It’s been such a long labour of love. It’s taken a while to make this beautiful thing. It’s like sending the kids off on a bus.”.
“This is the first time my kids have wanted to come to a premiere. I was nervous, but also excited they were there. They loved the Movie so much. It was fun seeing them be excited about seeing people and meeting them. They were like, ‘Oh my God, Halle is sitting behind us!’”.
Halle Bailey who stars in the plum role of Ariel, talks about her sister Chloe, who happens to be other half of their duo Chloe x Halle, finally seeing her breakthrough performance on-screen last night.
Bailey: “My sister is my best friend, she’s my rock and so yesterday was her first time seeing the Film! She cried. She was squeezing my hand so tight the whole time. I’m just so happy she loved it. And I can pat myself on the back that my big sister loved it.”.
Bailey also recalls the moment she learned she got the call from Director Rob Marshall.
Bailey: “My first reaction was sobbing. I think we had just celebrated my sister’s birthday, before renting an Airbnb and I got this call from Rob. I don’t answer unknown numbers. And my baby brother said. ‘Answer your phone!’ and I was like okay. It was Rob and he said, “Hello, I’m looking for Ariel!’. I was just crying the whole day.”.
Jonah Hauer-King is a real revelation as Prince Eric in this live-action adaptation and he talks about the warm reception the Film has gotten already.
Hauer-King: “It’s horrendous having to sing on-screen with a Grammy-nominated Artist in a film. That’s not fun for anyone. It was an amazing night and I think the reaction from the audience to the music was incredible. It felt like such a warm reaction, so much great energy in the room. It was quite special.”.
Hamilton star Daveed Diggs plays lovable crab Sebastian and though his castmates had seen the Film prior, it was his first time seeing it. He compares the experience working on The Little Mermaid to that of his theatre roots.
Diggs: “It was my first time seeing it and this song came on that I hadn’t heard before, and the audible ‘SING!’ in the audience. I was unaware you could do that!”
“It’s big, but the way we worked on it wasn’t big. We worked on it like it was a small thing. It felt like Community Theatre, pushing boxes around. We got in this groove and this is how you make Art. We understand something everyone could wrap their arms around and knew it inside and out. When you watch it on this massive screen, we never saw any of that. It’s really cool to see something you only thought existed in your imagination. I thought we were just building a world inside of our heads.”.
Academy Award-winner Javier Bardem stars as King Triton, Ariel’s father and describes taking-in the Film for the first time and also working with on-screen daughter, Bailey.
Bardem: “I’m sorry about my voice. That’s why I don’t have a song in the Movie! I loved the energy, it was amazing. People were honestly truly, deeply moved by it. Everybody was cheering and supporting the hard work a lot of people have done with this Movie.”.
“Right in the moment I met her (Bailey), I fell for her. She has this thing where you can’t help but love her unconditionally. That was the first day. The rest of the Movie we just had fun and enjoyed the process. It was easy for us to connect. I was mesmerized by the quality of her performance – as an Actress and how much courage she had going to places she had to go.”.
Canada’s Jacob Tremblay continues to make us proud and he voices Flounder, one of Ariel’s three confidantes on her journey. He talks about the experience voicing his role in-person. And despite being born long after the timeless 1989 predecessor of this new version, it still was a part of his growing-up.
Tremblay: “We were all together for quite some time in-studio in England and got to know each other so well. That helped with the voicework. I preferred it more than being in a booth or on Zoom like during Covid. It was a privilege to be together and to do our scenes together.”.
“I think just because it came out quite some time before I was born, I don’t remember not knowing the characters. It was still a big part of my childhood. I watched it quite a few times before going-in to film. I had to embody Flounter’s anxiety, but at the same time make sure I made it my own. It was great with everyone there, being able to riff off each other.”.
Awkwafina is a real scene-stealer as Scuttle, the seagull who joins forces with Sebastian and Flounder. Like Tremblay, she describes the unique experience of collaborating in-person here. She also talks about the importance of diversity on-screen – which feels seamless here – and also how she relates to her character.
Awkwafina: “This is the first time I’ve ever read a scene with other Actors. Usually we’re in a booth, while other Actors or the Director reads with you. It all just happened there and there were other people there too. That one day was where most of our performances came from.”.
“It really reflects the world we live in and everyone deserves to see themselves on-screen. This Movie also just celebrates really amazing performances. I did enjoy Scuttle and enjoyed watching it. I am Scuttle after like two Margaritas on a Tuesday. I’m very neurotic. I am Scuttle for sure.”.
Bailey tells us about the kinship between her and her character Ariel.
Bailey: “I tell people all the time that Ariel has helped me find myself and this young woman version of me. This was five years of my life, 18 to 23, those were intense transformative years developing as a young woman. The Film’s themes of what she had to go through – her passion, drive and speaking up for herself. What might be scary, she went for it. I try to adopt and give to Halle now.”.
Hauer-King talks about how while The Little Mermaid is fantastical, it actually is quite grounded in reality. He also reveals how this Film approaches the love story between Ariel and Prince Eric from a new lens.
Hauer-King: “It was a great privilege and a huge honour. The whole Film feels grounded in reality. Watching it last night made me realize for all of us even though we were living in a fantasy space, it feels really connected to the real world. Being a Disney Prince is weird, isn’t it?”.
“Disney romances are always filled with instinctive attraction to one another. What was fun about this was that it came from our off-screen selves. Looking at Ariel and Eric as two people who were kindred spirits, restless and behind four walls of their respective castles looking outward and not in. Their relationship feels earned, teaching each other things, excited and fascinated by each other’s worlds and didn’t know it till the end. That’s what makes it last and special – the friendship tied to it.”.
Laurence OlivierAward-winning Thespian Noma Dumezweni stars as Prince Eric’s mother Queen Selina in the Film. She attributes the Film’s perfection to Director Rob Marshall.
Dumezweni: “It’s the spectacle and herding cats of it. It’s about making extraordinary people feel comfortable with what they’re doing. Rob and Jon (DeLuca, Producer) are theatre babies. Having a rehearsal on-set is such a rare thing in the TV and Film world. This is what we’re aiming for and we can be free when we’re doing it.”.
McCarthy also talks about the supportive space that Marshall created for her and her castmates.
McCarthy: “I remember the crazy 60-foot clamshell and trying not to cry every time I sang a melody. Rob sets-up this world like it is and this is why I fell in love with plays. It feels so small and you know it’s this enormous thing. If we all do our best, maybe we can make a show and it becomes so personal and everyone’s doing their best. And he’s swaddled in cashmere, quietly cheering everyone on from Actors to gorgeous camera moves and the Sound Department’s killing it. I have an appreciation of all the moving parts it takes to make a movie work. Having a cheerleader like that – we’re just so fortunate. The world wouldn’t be so mad if it had such a soft, gentle cheerleader.”.
Legendary Composer Alan Menken gets to see his compositions for The Little Mermaid take on a second life here in this new adaptation. He sings high praise for Bailey.
Menken: “She’s adorable, so talented and you can’t take your eyes off her. The emotion is on her face and in her voice, she’s Halle Bailey, a delicious person and amazing Ariel. You see it in levels.”.
Rob Marshall recalls Bailey being the first person he had seen for the role of Ariel and she set the benchmark with her audition off the bat.
Marshall: “The first Actor we saw for role was Halle. The first thing she did was sing for us and sang that song. She shut her eyes and sang that song. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. She’s so deeply connected to what she’s singing about, so emotional and beautiful. How is it that we’ve been doing it for five minutes and already have found Ariel? We saw hundreds of Actors, every ethnicity, but she claimed the role for her.”.
Walt Disney Studios Canada release THE LITTLE MERMAID May 26, 2023.