March 10, 2017

Emma Watson: "I was a real watchdog concerning keeping Belle's true spirit"

Emma gave a short interview to Baz Bamigboye. (Also, the soundtrack of the movie is available for free on Spotify. Emma sings on 5 songs)

Emma Watson said the young woman she plays in the sumptuous new Beauty And The Beast film may be a feminist, but she's not a man hater just because she doesn't want to get married.

Watson said that she wanted to make sure that Belle ('one of my absolutely favourite Disney characters') — a French village girl who reads, writes, rides and even invents a washing-machine — was imbued with a sense of 'adventure, wanderlust and heroism'.

'She's book smart, emotional, sweet and romantic. It's not like she's cut off from that part of herself because she has a brain. I think Belle's one of those characters who really turns the feminist, man-hating thing on its head,' Emma declared.

'It's not that she doesn't want to get married because she hates men. She doesn't want to get married because she wants to explore the world; and she wants to go on adventures; and wants her independence.

'So she wants to be with someone who will enable and empower her, as opposed to diminish her. She wants it on her own terms.'

Reading the script, Emma was keen to ensure it was 'true to the spirit' of Belle. 'I was a real watchdog for that,' she explained when we met at Shepperton film studios.

So, early on, she made a deal with Bill Condon, the Academy Award-winning director of Beauty And The Beast. She agreed to record songs from the film soundtrack, so he could check out her singing — if he promised to get her a new draft of the script.

'I had three hours in a recording studio,' she recalled. 'It was really raw, but Bill was pleased. And Disney was pleased.' Even so, making the audition tape was a nerve-racking experience.

'I hadn't sung since I was about 12. This was something I'd always wanted to do, but I thought: 'Is my voice still there? I just hadn't used it, but it was a very pleasant surprise to find it was still there. I just kind of had to unearth it!'

She found, too, that she loved the singing lessons; and has continued them because, 'I've found it actually really helps my acting, and my speaking voice. It's great for my breathing. It's a discipline that I really, really like.'

Actually, the film, which opens in cinemas worldwide next Friday, embodies exactly the kind of equality values that Emma's HeForShe UN Women campaign espouses.

But the picture isn't a lecture. Far from it. It's lush, lavish fun. Like the 1991 animated film, Belle isn't the one who needs rescuing. She does the rescuing.

The live action picture is stuffed with A-list talent — on both sides of the camera. The cast includes Dan Stevens, who is very good as the Beast; Luke Evans, who absolutely nails the redneck stupidity of Gaston; and Emma Thompson as Mrs Potts the teapot.

The two Emmas also worked together on some of the Harry Potter films, and Watson told me Thompson 'has been such a mentor for me'.

The diverse cast (that word, 'diverse', is a Disney mantra) also features Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, Haydn Gwynne, Clive Rowe and Alexis Loizon — who provides some love interest for one of the key supporting stars.

Between the cast and crew — including costume designer Jacqueline Durran, composer Alan Menken, lyricist Tim Rice, production designer Sarah Greenwood, make-up and hair designer Jenny Shircore and choreographer Anthony Van Laast — there are at least a dozen Oscar winners; as well as multiple recipients of Oliver, Tony, Bafta and Grammy awards.

Condon, who also made Dreamgirls, told me it's the best crew he's ever worked with, 'bar none'.

Before dismantling Greenwood's exquisitely decorated ballroom set (a real work of art), Tendo Nagenda — Disney's executive vice-president of production — asked the cast and crew to stop for a moment, 'take a look and soak it all in'; he wanted people to appreciate 'the hundreds who created the sets'.

As I left a screening of the film, the man from the New Yorker paused as he put on his coat and scarf and marvelled that the millions that must have been spent on Beauty And The Beast were all evident, up on the big screen: an opulent new take on a tale as old as time.