Disney’s live-action Beauty And The Beast now holds the sixth highest opening weekend of all time! Which does not surprise me at all – it is a magical movie. One I am honored to have had a part in promoting. Over the past week I have been sharing exclusive behind the scenes secrets and cast interviews from my recent trip to LA for the Be Our Guest event. Our first sit down opportunity was with Beauty and The Beast director Alan Menken and composer Bill Condon. Both are so successful, I swear I could just feel the talent in the room. I’m excited to share some of the highlights from that interview below.
Q: What drew you to this story?
AM: I was drawn to the story by Disney. I mean it was basically Howard Ashman and I were working Little Mermaid, it hadn’t been released yet but people were very happy with it and they said how about Beauty and the Beast. We’re interested in doing that next. I have to say Howard and I actually, we had Aladdin but Aladdin had to go back to development because we were a bit to edgy. There was more development work to do on that so Beauty and the Beast then came in and became the next thing we worked on together. And, as far as what drew me to it beyond that I mean I gotta go back and credit Howard who had some really, you know, when you look at the initial story and how you’re gonna turn it into an animated musical then it was a matter of inventing the enchanted objects and inventing these huge ego for Gaston and his posse of nitwits who praise him. so simply because for the structure we needed to put in production numbers and comedy numbers and so it was all those brilliant ideas and I gotta say Howard was so instrumental in that.
BC: I have to say it was, you know, so I come in. there’s this movie, this classic, perfect movie that already exist and for me more than anything it was the score, the chance to really roll around in that music and to restage it, you know, do a kind of, you know, new version of it in a live action format but to specially those songs. It just felt to me that, that once in a lifetime opportunity.
AM: When I heard that Bill was directing it I didn’t know you. I knew the work you had done but Richard said Bill is a major fan of musical theatre. He loves it so this was oh, he knows the craft. He knows musicals and so that was huge.
Q: How do you work together throughout the process?
BC: Well for me I was intimidated at our first meeting because here I am and I’m sort of talking about the first possible new song and this is a legendary composer but also it’s a property that as we keep saying is perfect on its own so it’s like okay, gonna tell me we need that but Alan is a direct opposite of that. You know, I think Alan as a man of the theatre, is somebody who craves the dialogue and the collaboration. I think that’s what it’s about and that became clear very, very soon. We just started a conversation, it went on for a couple of years.
AM: Yeah, and also we’re both professionals. I mean we both have done a lot of work. We know what’s necessary in order to collaborate and, you know, there are people who are new to musicals and will try to reinvent the wheel in one direction or another but we both have been through, both of us have been through so much and when you’re a pro you basically arrived at the same place kind of because you know what’s important and you know what needs to get done and you also by the way know the necessity of process and I know that for me to go back to Beauty and the Beast on my own, no way I could do it. I had done it. It’s all about other people coming in and collaborating and for me the director is the boss and so it takes such a burden off of me. Now I’m able to be a catalyst which is what I wanna be more than somebody driving the ship. Bill had the burden of actually driving the ship so I don’t know.
Q: Talk about the challenges of preserving the timeless classic with integrating new things?
BC: I think it was always about revealing more. It wasn’t about reinventing, you start to bring it into the real world and you start to ask questions that didn’t matter in the animated film. How did Belle and Maurice wind up in this village. You know, what happened to her mother? How did the Prince become such a dissolute figure that he was worthy of being cursed, you know? And, it’s interesting you start asking those questions and you start to bat around what the possible answers are. Then, you’re making something different but I think for me I could ever really rely on my own kind of reverence for the original film in knowing when you’re changing something or going too far. I hope never to cross that line.
Q: How did you know that Emma was your Belle?
BC: Well I suspected it right, just seeing her in Harry Potter. It seemed like that was a perfect kind of connection to a 21st century Belle. Then we met. I was shooting a movie called Mr. Holmes. We met for an hour and the thing that I loved was how much she loved the original movie and how much she wanted to play the part and she came with a whole pile of books, because I was late, because I was shooting and she was in the middle of reading, so there she was, you know. And then the only question really became she’s never, sung professionally before. She needed to answer that question for herself too. She wanted to go off.
It was Christmas holiday and she said, you go out and get a script together you can send me. We made a handshake deal and Emma’s gonna go off and make a tape and explore her voice, and that was the thing, that kind of scary moment. To me it’s more intimate than taking your clothes off when you first hear somebody sing even in a karaoke session. You know, it’s like oh, my god, that’s the sound that comes out of you. You know, we’ve seen that a few time in movies too but, for her the voice, her voice is so much — it’s so much a continuation of who she is and how she speaks and there was clearly this kind of sweetness to it and clarity to it that made it seem like it was gonna be a different Belle but I was gonna be a really satisfying one.
AM: She was a little terrified. I mean no bones about it and we made sure she had her vocal coach. I had Michael Kosarin, my musical director. Bill was actually at the sessions. This is not necessarily it always is but it’s so helpful because she was I think really intimidated by me. I don’t know why. Possibly because of me being the composer I don’t think she wanted to be that vulnerable in front of me so I really hung back, you know, in the control room and in the back of the control room. And we also had a guy named Matt Sullivan who is a music supervisor and just gave, had to give Emma the space to just find her voice and work on it and work on it and she did and Dan was similar. He also was, you know, it was new for both of them.
Q: Adopting musical to film takes a fine balance. Here you also have the animated film. How did you manage to incorporate all of those and how is it different from working straight off of a musical without an animated film?
BC: Well the thing is that it had been conceived as a movie first so there are certain principles, you can’t just stop a movie for a ballad for three minutes. The story’s gotta be told during the course of a movie number. You can’t do things you can do on stage. So that had already been figured out by Alan and Howard and the creations of the originals so that was a useful thing to build on, and I think for me in terms of making it different you take the number of Belle. People look at that and say, well, it’s just the way it was in the animated but actually, in the course of that we’re telling some other new stories. You know, we’re showing the fact that this is a village where only boys go to school or girls do their laundry and where, the village lasses who are so into Gaston resent Belle because their mother has always doted more on Belle than her. Little glimpses, characters who then turn out to play bigger roles in, one of them turns out to be Mr. Potts. One of them turns out to be somebody else’s spouse, so it was fun to be able to pack as much story into the songs because that’s — I think you’d agree that’s when movie songs really work.
AM: And what Bill was doing, you could compare it a high wire act. I mean in a sense every choice he makes is one that has to be weighed against the next choice he makes and then also what was there and people’s expectations and it’s I always say we have two brains. We have this brain and we have this brain and a lot of time it’s this brain. The gut brain that goes yeah, my gut tells me I need something there. My gut tells me it doesn’t make sense. That’s something wrong with that. My job, you know, as I often liken what I do to being an architect, that we take a story and we create structures that can be musicalized and write these songs and we create that structure.
I’m not gonna live it. The actors are gonna live it. The director is gonna be like the contractor or whatever analogy you wanna give it. It can be lived in so many different ways and I love that. I love when a song or a musical of mine is re-conceived as long as you don’t take our numbers and throw hand grenade to it. A structure is a structure but then it’s great when it gets reinvented and that’s been so well done with this movie.
Q: I grew up loving your music. It’s helped me through hard times. My daughters dance to your songs. Is hearing stories of how your music has impacted other people, impacted you?
AM: It’s unreal. It gives me more of a sense of what we think of a collective consciousness, that we’re all a part of a collective consciousness because, you know, we as artists are conduits for emotion and for things, they really come through us. I mean god knows we shape them and so I just feel very blessed honestly, blessed that I’m a vehicle for that, when I sometimes. That’s amazing and wonderful, because basically I was a kid who liked to practice the piano and I was a nervous kid with an ulcer and I just was a dreamer and then somehow I found that writing songs was really, composing was where my brain would settle and I just did it and did it and did it and now it has an impact on people like that and that’s, I’m just living my life and it’s had that effect and wow.
Beauty And The Beast is now playing in theaters everywhere!
“Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” is a live-action re-telling of the studio’s animated classic which refashions the classic characters from the tale as old as time for a contemporary audience, staying true to the original music while updating the score with several new songs. “Beauty and the Beast” is the fantastic journey of Belle, a bright, beautiful and independent young woman who is taken prisoner by a beast in his castle. Despite her fears, she befriends the castle’s enchanted staff and learns to look beyond the Beast’s hideous exterior and realize the kind heart and soul of the true Prince within. The film stars: Emma Watson as Belle; Dan Stevens as the Beast; Luke Evans as Gaston, the handsome, but shallow villager who woos Belle; Oscar® winner Kevin Kline as Maurice, Belle’s eccentric, but lovable father; Josh Gad as Lefou, Gaston’s long-suffering aide-de-camp; Golden Globe® nominee Ewan McGregor as Lumiere, the candelabra; Oscar nominee Stanley Tucci as Maestro Cadenza, the harpsichord; Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Plumette, the feather duster; six-time Tony Award® winner Audra McDonald as Madame Garderobe, the wardrobe; Oscar nominee Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, the mantel clock; and two-time Academy Award® winner Emma Thompson as the teapot, Mrs. Potts.”
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FTC Disclaimer: I attended an expense paid trip by Disney to LA press events for Beauty and The Beast. I was not asked or influenced to write a positive blog post. Photo Credit: Coralie Seright – Lovebugs and Postcards. All opinions shared are always honest and my own. This post contains no affiliate links.