Kicking off my week of Beauty and the Beast post couldn’t begin in a more exciting way than with the two title characters themselves, Emma Watson and Dan Stevens. My review of the film will be up later this week, but here’s a look through their experiences of what it was like to bring these two iconic characters back for a whole new generation to adore.
Emma is beautiful. Sweet, kind yet has such a strong woman presence. She easily makes Belle one everyone will continue to love. And Dan, well, since he’s pretty much computer generated image (CGI), his face isn’t as noticeable as Emma’s, but he is equally as fantastic to watch.
Emma Watson and Dan Stevens
As Emma and Dan enter the room, we give them a well-deserved round of applause. They were pleasantly surprised.
Emma: That’s the nicest welcome we’ve had
Dan: That’s beautiful. Hi, everyone.
Can you share a little bit about the interview process?
Emma: Ooh, that’s a good question.
Dan: You went first, so I’ll let you go first.
Emma: I think Disney was about wanting to explore whether or not I could sing. That was the major question mark. So I was asked to put together an audition tape. I went away, and I did. Then kind did that classic thing of waiting on tentative hooks to get the call, and to hear, whether or not it was up to standard. Thankfully it was, so I got offered the role which was just very, very exciting.
Dan: And yes, for me, I put a song on tape for Bill Condon, and I say the Beast song from the Broadway musical which we end up not using in the movie. The Beast doesn’t sing in the animated film. So yes, I mean, the same thing. Fortunately, he liked it.
What was it like seeing yourselves in full costume the first time?
Emma: It was kind of amazing. I think because of Belle, it’s a fairytale; I play a sort of an archetype. The kind of the way that I got into character and I started to feel like I understood her well, was her costume. So it was like working on putting together the boots that she wore, and she had kind of these slightly scruffy socks. She had the bloomers underneath her skirt which meant that she could swing her leg over a horse. And creating the kind of tool belt that she has on for when she’s inventing things, and it will carry her books and all these little details. She has a ring on this finger which is one that I wear which is one from my mom. I felt like I was starting to get to know her. So her costume was really important for me.
Dan: You look stunning.
Dan: I didn’t have a costume. Well, I did have a costume. The made costumes for the Beast. They were giant coats that he wore and this massive, shredded cloak, but I never actually got to put it on. I spent the whole time, as the Beast, anyway, in a forty pound muscle suit on stilts covered in gray lycra. So I looked pretty odd, but nothing like the Beast that you see in the, in the movie.
Both Hermione and Belle are unyielding characters. In which ways were you able to shape the character of Belle to help continue the empowerment of future generations that will be seeing this film, both young and impressionable?
Emma: There was a little bit of talk at the beginning, of a wedding perhaps at the end, and that had not been in the original. I was sort of like, ‘Sorry, can I just point out this isn’t in the original. We need to stay faithful to the original’, and I felt strongly about that. I felt very strongly that she needed to have a vocation to fill her time with, and this is very important to me.
So we co-opted what was originally kind of crazy ole Maurice’s identity, and I was like, well, that’s not the direction that Kevin’s taking the role in. Could I co-opt that for Belle, and we had her design this washing machine that allows her to have more time to read and to teach. That was super important to me. I think also, actually, people ask me a lot, you know, what’s it like being a Disney princess? And I go, well, actually, Belle isn’t a princess.
She’s one of the few Disney (characters) that’s in of young women who actually isn’t a princess. She’s an ordinary girl from an ordinary village and I that’s very important about her, and she has no aspirations to be a princess. She has no aspirations to marry a prince. And so there was a line in the movie, originally about Audra, the chest of drawers. She says to me, “Oh you know, we’ll make you a gown fit for a princess,” and I asked Bill, ‘could I say actually, I’m not a princess?’
And he was like, “yeah, sure.” And so just like little things like that where I just felt like I was protecting and defending Belle’s sort of original DNA and just making sure that we stay truthful and, and faithful to this very independent young woman.
And I thank you for that as a mother. The dance scenes were amazing. How long did it take you to prepare for that?
Dan: Wow, it was about three months. We did the Beast Waltz, and I have three dances in the film, you know, two, unless you’re counting your walk through the village, I guess, which is kind of a…
Emma: Kind of a song and dance.
Dan: Sort of choreographed. It was a lot of dance training for this, and particularly for that iconic waltz. I, first of all, learned it on the ground.
Emma: But that’s kind of a four-step process.
Dan: Yes, with different partners.
Emma: We learned it together.
Dan: Then I graduated to the stilts.
Emma: And then he graduated to the ballroom because that hall is so huge that filling that room was a kind of challenge in itself.
Dan: It’s quite a process. Yeah, waltzing on stilts. Not something I thought I would ever be able to say.
How much of the Beast was CGI and how much was actually you Dan?
Dan: So it’s all me, kind of. It was motion capture puppeteering of the suit. I’m inside a giant muscle suit on stilts, so the Beast’s body was me moving inside there. The facial capture we do separately. Every two weeks, I’d go into this booth, and ten thousand UV dots would be sprayed on my face, and twenty-seven little cameras would capture everything I’ve been doing for the past two weeks just to my face. So it was my face driving that Beast’s face and they turned that information digitally into the Beast’s face and mapped it onto the body that I’d been working on the set. So in answer to your question, lots of CGI. It is me driving it all, and it’s an amazing new technology that’s never been used this extensively before, and it’s very, very exciting.
Emma, how much were you involved in the design of Belle’s dress?
Emma: I was very heavily involved in the dress. Trying to get the dress right was really difficult because we needed to dress her to serve a number of different purposes and functions. It needed to be of the period. Originally she started off with a very kind of like a seventeenth-century traditional dress. Then we realized that it didn’t do that cute twirly thing that it does in the animation when the dress spins behind her?
We were like, damn. It has to do that. Otherwise, it’s not right. So we’re like, okay, back to the drawing board. It’s gotta twirl. All right, so it’s gotta be of the seventeenth century, but the bottom has gotta be different. So let me try another version of it, which kind of did have that movement. It was lightness, so we made it out of chiffon. Then we were like, she’s also gotta ride a horse in it, and she’s gotta be able to kind of go into the third part of the movie which is where she goes back to see her father. So it also kind of needs to feel like an action hero dress which is why the front of the dress looks a bit like a coat of armor.
It’s got gold flecks in it, and it had that kind of warrior element to it, as well. So, yeah, we kind of created a warrior, modern seventeenth century twisty, twirly dress hybrid.
Dan: There was a lot of chewing and throwing with that dress design, During that extensive design period, Emma came over to my house in London for dinner, and we were talking about the dress. What the dress was gonna look like, and my five-year-old daughter at the time sort of overheard our conversation, and she scurried into the next room with a pen a paper and came back about a half an hour later with five different dress designs. And Emma was very, very sweet. She sat down with Willow, and she looked through them all, and they, they chose which one they thought they should go with. Anyway, a few weeks later, Willow came on set and saw Emma in the finished dress, and she said,” Yep, that’s the one”. So in her mind, she designed that dress.
What would you say to girls that feel different and odd in their way?
Emma: What I remember being so torturous, actually, about school was, that is your whole world. It’s like this microcosm; the people that are in your class, that’s your entire universe. That is your planet, and if you don’t fit with those, however many people are in your class, it’s miserable.
And I think what my mom said to me was that look, it might feel like the end of the world right now, that you don’t quite fit, but one day, you might be grateful for that. And it’s very hard to see at the time. But there’s a big, wide world out there with people who have diverse interests, and perspectives, and opinions. And you have to just like go out there and find your tribe; find your kindred spirits; find the people that resonate with you and that you feel at home with.
And it takes a bit of persistence. It doesn’t necessarily come overnight. When I look back on not feeling like I fit in at school, I’m grateful that I didn’t because I don’t particularly want to be like any of who were the cool girls in my class anymore. I’m glad that I was different. That I was a bit odd and I didn’t fit in. All of this is easy to say in retrospect, but anyway, I hope that’s helpful.
Can you talk about your chemistry on and off camera?
Dan: I think I made you laugh just by being in this monstrous, muscle suit on stilts.
Emma: That’s true. The dance scenes are very bonding because, when you’re this close away from somebody else’s face, it’s awkward. It feels very intimate, and you don’t know that person. It forces you to kind of break down a certain number of barriers that would be there without that. I also think Dan is a, is a feminist in his own right.
I found out on this tour, which I can’t believe he never told me, but he was one of the first people to review Caitlin Moran’s, How to be a Woman. It’s one of the books I chose for my famous book club. He wrote a review of it for one of our English newspapers. Coming into the project, he was so excited by the speech I’d given at the UN.
He wanted to make sure that we were collaborators and exploring the masculine and the feminine energies that are in this movie. How to celebrate them both, to serve them both, to make sure that they interact in a way which is dynamic and fun for people to watch. So I think all of those shared interests- books; our conversations about feminism, he was a dream collaborator.
Dan: Thanks, Em.
Many of us have children that this version of Beauty and the Beast is gonna be the only one that they grew up with. What is important for both of you, for girls and boys to take away from this film? It’s a great- on both sides. There are such great messages for boys and girls to learn which is what I loved.
Dan: There really are. I remember even for me, the animated film as being a Disney film that was immediately loved by boys and girls. I have a great friend of mine who’s now in his mid-thirties. He grew up in the west of England in the countryside, which for him, Belle was his greatest hero. He used to go into the fields of Somerset and sing; “I want to venture in the great wide somewhere” because there is some- there’s something about the, the spirit of Belle that is to be championed in all of us. I think that curiosity, that imagination, that ability to see beneath the surface, but also to see beyond your immediate surroundings. And she has a tremendous vision in all ways, and I think that’s, that something to be applauded.
Emma: I think as a child, I had a very hard time working out to why people weren’t kind to other people. I think what is so beautiful about Belle is that she’s so nonjudgmental. It’s her ability to see beyond the surface of things and to understand that kind of everyone has a story. You don’t always know what that story is, and to kind of look deeper into things before you make a judgment.
And, so there’s compassion and empathy there which I think is kind of a relief. I don’t think anyone is inherently evil. I think there’s light and dark inside everyone, and I believe that Belle symbolizes that very well.