I was very lucky to chat with director Bill Condon about today’s trailer, and all the anticipation surrounding Beauty and the Beast. The first thing I told Condon was that Beauty has been my favorite film since it came out in 1991 and that Belle had helped shape my identity. Worrying immediately after I said this that I had scared him with my intensity (wouldn’t be the first time), he instantly reassured me saying, “Like you, I loved that first movie, I saw it many, many times. And I was old enough not to be into animated films at that point, but it was just a great musical and an incredible story. I just think, for me, it felt like a great responsibility to take that wonderful film, and kind of translate it into a different media. You know, the fact that it’s real and three-dimensional. It’s a very intriguing, challenging daily process to make sure you’re being true to what you loved, and what I loved, and what everybody else loved, to hopefully kind of expand on it, and give people something to connect to it.”
Phew. Much relief—both because Bill Condon didn’t think I was crazy, but also because I knew this film was in the best possible hands. I asked him—before I had seen today’s trailer—which moment he thought would give us all goosebumps. His answer? “I can’t wait for people to see [the household staff moving] and I can’t wait to hear people’s reactions. But I have to say the first moment of excitement is, you know, builds on the teaser that’s been out there before, [Belle] kind of holds Lumiere out to see the Beast’s face for the very first time. Pretty fun.” Pretty fun but also pretty emotional and pretty stunning. Condon was 100% right about that.
He elaborated, “Technology has allowed us to create photoreal teacups that speak, candlesticks that can sing and dance—that part, it couldn’t have been made until now, and that’s what’s exciting about it. I have to say, it reminds me of—I grew up on Disney and it was always the wow factor was always such a huge factor, [Disney filmmakers] always seemed to be in the forefront back then doing things you couldn’t imagine, and now, maybe since then, thing like Star Wars have kind of taken over. But I do think this has the same thing—some of the stuff we’re doing here just hasn’t ever been seen before, and I can’t wait for people to continue to get a taste of it.”
Like everyone else, I was waiting with baited breath to see Emma Watson and Belle and Dan Stevens as Beast walk and talk, and today we got to for the first time. Obviously, I cried. I wondered if anyone else had ever been in the running since it now seems impossible to me that anyone could inhabit these characters better. According to Bill Emma was, “the first and only choice, and I was so thrilled when she decided to do it; I first met with her, and that’s the thing, you meet her—I mean, there are so many reasons she’s right for it before you meet her, but when we talked she loved it so much, and that’s a huge thing, and she understood it in such a basic way … What you’re describing, for you, [my obsession with the film] I think she would say the same thing, it meant so much to her growing up. I was talking to her, when actors, when you’re in a position where you can choose roles that you can play, when you start to see over time that your body of work becomes your autobiography, it felt that there’s a great connection between what she stands for and what she does in the public sphere, and certainly what it means historically. Belle is the first kind of independent Disney heroine, and someone who wasn’t interested in getting the guy.” Preach.
As for Dan Stevens, “No, [he wasn’t always the choice] which I like. The thing about Dan is that, I’m sure people are thinking, ‘Oh god, he was sort of the heartthrob in Downton Abbey,’ [why, yes that is what I was thinking] and it isn’t that. I worked with him briefly on The Fifth Estate, and he’s such a great actor, and if you look at the work he’s done since he left that TV show, he’s done a lot of stuff that’s very dark, he’s played criminals a few times, very convincingly. And also, because there is such a gamut of emotions expressed in this movie, he’s funny, he’s goofy in his own way, which you never expect anyone that handsome to be such a good actor, and he can sing like crazy. All of that together is … It’s very interesting when you cast someone like this—everyone always starts out with a lot of ideas, but when you look and look and look at what the part demands, it actually gets to be a very short list.”
Condon kept-lipped about who else had been on that shortlist, so I asked about Dan’s signing, and specifically, the fact that Beast has a new song. “The great thing was that Alan [Menken], is revisiting it 25 years later, and even 20 years after the [Broadway] show, and it’s just so available to him. I think these songs fit into the texture of this movie so seamlessly. That’s what’s so exciting, they could have been written then.” Yessss. As if I could be any more excited! Bill also mentioned the new Howard Ashman lyrics that the filmmakers found and added to the film. He teased, “I can’t wait for people to see how we use it in the movie, and it’s very… kind of a nice twist.”
If you’re anything like me, you have been spending the past year wondering what it was like to be on the set of this movie. And as you’re about to read, it is every bit as magical as you have been imagining it. “We just started with rehearsals, and with a big huge table with everybody—the whole village, the chorus, and all the people who ran all the various departments. We performed the show tunes, the movie —there were a few people who couldn’t make it, but basically everybody got to see what everybody else is doing, and I’d been rehearsing with everybody in rooms and they’d been taking dance lessons and music lessons, but then suddenly we did it. It’s, to me, still one of the most special days I’ve ever spent while making a film,” said Condon. It’s decided: I need to figure out how to build a time machine to get into that room and witness that table read.
“So much of [the movie] had to be imagined,” Condon continued. “You take the number ‘Be Our Guest,’ which took over a month to shoot, and half a year to plan, and a year to finish. But that’s a number, except for Emma, no one’s there. It’s first created in a computer and then [special effects teams] bring it into reality, but yeah, that was a real … something I’ve never experienced before.” It took a year to finish the “Be Our Guest” scene, people, Chills.
As our time wore thin, I wanted to know what Condon’s favorite part of the new film was. He didn’t want to give it away, but he did tell me, “it’s a very emotional scene towards the end that I always look forward to. We’ve done a few audience screenings and things, and I always look forward to that moment when it comes.” Ah, to be in those few audiences!
Finally, I asked Condon what he wanted you, the fans, to know before seeing this movie. His response was perfect:
Thanks so much to Bill Condon to taking the time to speak with me. Beauty and the Beast opens in theaters March 17, 2017.