Audra McDonald and Gugu Mbatha-Raw Interview

Wrapping up my interview coverage from the Beauty and The Beast #BeOurGuestEvent for the week my Audra McDonald and Gugu Mbatha-Raw Interview. Garderobe, played by Audra and Plumette, played by Gugu, add the perfect voices and personality to the cast.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Audra McDonald Photo credit Coralie Seright

Both with stage experience, but neither were part of the Beauty and the Beast Broadway show, talk in depth about what this movie means to them, working with Emma Watson and the beauty of diversity in this instant classic film.


Audra McDonald and Gugu Mbatha-Raw Interview

Can you share why you wanted to be a part of this film?

Photo credit Coralie Seright

Gugu:  Well, for me I was obsessed with the original Disney film. It came out when I was eight years old. I had the cassette tape, made my mom play in the car on the way to ballet and tap and modern, every day. I knew all the words to all the songs. It is still my favorite Disney movie, so I had a very personal connection to it. When my agent called and said they wanted me to play a part in this, I squealed down the phone, so loudly.

I think it was probably the biggest reaction to getting a job that I’ve every had. [LAUGHS]  ’cause that little eight-year-old inside of me was just so excited. It connects you back to growing up with Disney movies. And then this cast is just phenomenal.

Audra:  When I got he call, I’d known that the movie was being made. I was excited about it, and my agent called, and he said, ‘so, Beauty and the Beast,’ he’s like, ‘yeah, they’re turning into this live action movie, isn’t that great?’  he’s like, ‘yeah, so they want you to be in it.’  I was like, ‘excuse me? That doesn’t make sense. I was like, ‘wh–, what? Why?’  But, if Disney calls, I said, I would sell churros at the park for them! You know what I mean? So of course, it’s just Disney, you want to be a part of it, so yes, it’s just an automatic yes.

Photo credit Coralie Seright

I heard you auditioned for Beauty and the Beast on Broadway but weren’t cast.

Audra:  On the night before we started filming in London, we all went out to dinner, and they had a dinner for the cast and everybody. Aren’t those adorable? And I said after I’d had a glass of wine and flown over from New York, so I was jet lagged. I was like, ‘so, Alan. I auditioned for the musical on Broadway for the ensemble, and I didn’t get cast.’  And he goes, ‘I know, I know, I know. Is this okay?’  I was like, ‘yes.’  [LAUGHS]  Thank you, this, this fixes it, thank you.

All is forgiven.

Audra:  Yeah, very forgiven, so–.

Every time that you sang it lit up the scene. I have a daughter who’s coming into singing so I would like to know what you did as a child, what was your path?

Audra:  Well, this is mommy bloggers right? So, it was a lot of it had to do with my parents and my mom. I was a hyperactive child having, struggling, actually and my parents were struggling with trying to figure out how to, how to help me. And I was overdramatic, having a hard time in school and whatnot. And they went to the local dinner theater one night and saw a little junior troop that performed before the main musical, and it was a group of kids.

I loved to sing at home and all that stuff, and I had all this extra energy and drama inside of me. And they said, ‘maybe this is gonna help her.’  And so, I auditioned for that when I was nine years old, and that set me on my path. I have my parents to thank for looking for something that would be right for me to express who I was and find a way to channel that energy. And so that’s what started me on my path.

Can we talk about diversity in the film and what your characters are bringing to the twenty-first century and your roles as multicultural cast?

Gugu:  Yeah, I mean I guess we’re all just bringing ourselves, and you know, thrilled that Bill Condon, the director had the vision to make it such a diverse cast. It wasn’t something we discussed which is kind of cool in this day and age, it just sort of is. I’m sort of thrilled about it.

Audra:  Yeah, we got told that yesterday, we were doing press yesterday, someone was like, ‘so you guys are, you’re the first and second interracial kisses in a Disney film,’ or something like that, or close to one of the first.

Gugu:  In live action.

Audra:  In live, yeah. And, Gugu and I are like, ‘we are?’  ‘Oh, okay, cool.’  Hopefully, we’ll get to a day where no one has to think about it. That’s what we’re aiming for so I mean I’m just, I’m pleased that Disney recognizes that you’ve got to represent the entire world out there. And that’s what they’re doing. So, yeah.

What’s it like having children that are going to grow up watching this as their Beauty and the Beast?

Audra:  I have a sixteen-year-old and a four-month-old. So–.

Gugu:  And by the way, she’s been breastfeeding in between interviews like super mom.

Audra:  You’ve all been there right. Can’t talk about the baby too much. But, when I got cast, and I told my daughter, I also have two stepson’s so there’s, that’s four in our house. When I told my sixteen-year-old that I was doing it, she was like, ‘oh that’s cool.’  And I was like, ‘Emma Watson.’  And she’s like, ‘oh my god.’  The kids were most excited about that.

Belle (Emma Watson) learns that the Beast’s castle is enchanted in Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, directed by Bill Condon.

And that thrills me to no end because Emma’s such an incredible role model. I was saying in the press conference, my daughter for her fifteenth birthday, asked for people to make donations to charities in her name. And that’s what she asked for because of Emma Watson. You know what I mean? But, that’s what these kids are learning. So, to be a part of this film that’s gonna be a part of a classic. Part of the Disney cannon and also be in a film with someone like Emma Watson who has influenced my kids so much. That is very important to me and one of the reasons I said, ‘yes.’ 

Photo credit Coralie Seright

How as it different preparing for your role for the animated parts versus the regular parts?

Gugu:  Well, for me it was just so liberating. I mean, I’ve never been offered a role like this before obviously. I had to come from doing some quite intense dramatic roles, and the idea of playing a feather duster, I sort of thought was so whimsical and fun. But it’s a lot of vocal work  in the recording studio and finding the, not just the singing but finding the voice of the character, working on the French accent with the dialect coach and also just really going back to that childhood thing of like, ‘let’s pretend.’  You know, it’s, you’re not limited by your face and your body.

Audra:  You have so much more freedom I think. As I say, it’s just play. There’s this huge team who are creating these CGI characters. I just found it incredibly liberating.

Bill Condon, such an incredible leader, and an amazing director. And you feel very safe with him, so when you’re doing, especially the vocal work for the characters, it’s just you, the recording engineers and Bill. So Bill’s in there with you and he’s saying, ‘okay, now try one like this.’  So, he’s in there playing with you in a way. And it’s truly just make believe, and so it’s for the wardrobe it was like, ‘okay, she’s kind of trying to get to the staircase at this point so, grunt a little bit.’ 

‘Grunt like this, okay now she’s just, snores this way, snore this way, snore and sing a high note.’  I mean we had the time and the freedom just to explore, and then they take that, they go and work with the CGI folks, and then the CGI folks bring back something. And then you can then put on top of that; it’s a real collaborative effort. It takes a massive village for this one.

Lumiere, the candelabra, is smitten with Plumette, the feather duster, in Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

Can you guys talk about your costumes or make-up?

Gugu:  Jacqueline Durran, the costume designer, she’s done all of Joe Wright’s movies,  Atonement, Anna Karenina,  an incredible costume designer. On my first costume fitting, she said, ‘okay, would you like to meet your object?’  They had the feather duster on a stand, and I was taken aback because Plumette is quite different to the feather duster Fifi, who’s more sort of mopped like, in the original. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they made her into this sort of flying dove like peacock-like, very dainty creation. So, in the costume fitting, you know, we played around with the bird theme, um, and you know I had a big tail feather on one of my costumes, a huge bustle which also worked with the period. And feathers, I had feathers in my hear, you know, we played around with this sort of Marilyn Monroe style wig so it was kind of fun for me to blonde which is just so outrageous.  We had feathers in my hair, so it was just channeling a mixture of that playful sort of flirty Marilyn thing with you know, feathers.

Audra:  And we both got to be blonde. But with the wardrobe,  the the first time I sat in the chair and the dress being so large that I couldn’t walk in any regular door to get to set, I had walk sideways. And scrunch because once they started putting the wig on, they put the first part and I was like, ‘wow, that’s big, that’s tall, ’ and she said, ‘hold on.’  She then added birds and stuff. I was like ‘oh my goodness what is going on?’  But, it makes perfect sense because once she’s transformed it to the wardrobe, the top of the wardrobe if you notice is her wig. And the, you couldn’t even see them, but this is the detail that Disney pays attention too. The shoes that I wore were the feet of the wardrobe, so if you see my shoes, they curled up into the exact sort of way that the legs of the wardrobe and all of that.

The mantel clock Cogsworth, the teapot Mrs. Potts, Lumiere the candelabra and the feather duster Plumette live in an enchanted castle in Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

What are you hoping audiences take away from seeing this film?

Gugu:  I hope that people will get swept up in the romance and the music is just so iconic. I love the message that beauty is found within. It’s an oldie but a goodie. I think for this film, the idea to look a little deeper, see the human within each and every person, even if the exterior is not, is something that intimidates you or you’re not familiar with. There’s always a human underneath it all. And I think to try to connect to somebody’s soul, is really important.

Audra:  Also there’s always the love conquers all, love wins and it’s not about just giving the love but loving yourself too. I think that’s what’s so important. And realizing that what you have inside of you is most important and not the outside doesn’t necessarily matter. And I’m sure that’s what people are gonna take away from this.

What was it like to see everything come together?

Gugu:  It was breathtaking. I saw it for the first time just two nights ago at the Hollywood premiere and to see it with an audience applauding after musical numbers. It was just brought back all those memories of those songs. There are a couple of new songs in this version, Days in the Sun, and also the Beast has his solo.

Audra:  I saw it at the London premiere. I was so shocked at how moved I was. And I felt that I was watching it as an innocent sort of general audience member. Not someone who had been a part of the film. I hate watching myself on screen but felt completely removed from it and didn’t see myself up there; I was just in the world. I was weeping at the end and was like, ‘I was there, I was in the scene. Why am I crying so much?’  But you get absolutely swept up.

I was so enamored with your love story as well, and you had such a connection, I was just wondering if you ever did any of the tapings together?

Gugu:  No, unfortunately not, although we did first meet in a dance rehearsal and I think you know, Dan was saying the same thing about learning to waltz with, with Emma. It’s a great way of getting to know your co-star. We were learning the ballroom dance for the end scene, and that was fun. You’re both learning something together and stumbling, and Ewan is such a generous actor and got such a great sense of humor. So it was great working with him.

Beauty and the Beast (3/17/17)
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I was invited by Disney to the Beauty and the Beast #BeOurGuestEvent to share my experience with my readers. All opinions are my own.
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