The Little Mermaid – Behind The Scenes

The Little Mermaid has been wowing people since 1837 when she first appeared in Hans Christian Andersen’s collection of fairy tales. Over a hundred years later, she was brought to life in a big-screen Disney animation in 1989. With songs by musical maestro Alan Menken, the film became an instant hit with fans and critics. Now it is time for a live-action adaptation with Halle Bailey stepping into Ariel’s fins. We caught up with the cast and creatives at the global press conference.

Ariel is a mermaid princess, passionate about discovering what life is like on land, but her father forbids her from visiting the sea’s surface, believing that humans are dangerous. Bailey was cast as Ariel when she was 18, and now 23, she says she feels like she has grown with the character and understands Ariel’s drive to follow her dreams.

“I tell people all the time I feel like Ariel truly has helped me find this young woman version of me. It has been five years of my life now. 18 to 23 are intense, transformative years as you develop as a young woman. The themes of the film and what [Ariel] had to go through with her passions and speaking up for herself, even though it may be scary, she went for it, are things I try to adopt. She’s taught me so much.”

Javier Bardem plays King Titan, Ariel’s father. He is overprotective and refuses to let her learn about dry land. Bardem says he had a great relationship with Bailey offscreen that translated into their dynamic onscreen.

“Halle has this thing where you just can’t help but love her unconditionally. It was easy for us to connect. I was always mesmerised by the quality of her as a performer and the courage she shows in going to places where she needed to be.”

The film’s big villain is Ursula, Ariel’s evil aunt who has a score to settle with Titan. Melissa McCarthy, who plays Ursula, says that she is constantly surprised by how much attention film premieres get and says that despite years in the business, the novelty doesn’t wear off.

“It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve done it; it’s always a surprise when they shut down roads for [a premiere]. I love making movies, and this one has been really fun. It has been such a long labour of love; it has taken a while to make this beautiful thing. To be here finally is so exciting.”

McCarthy also says this was the first time her children wanted to come to a premiere of one of her films.

“I was nervous but also excited that they were there. They loved the movie so much, and it was fun seeing them get excited about meeting people like Halle.”

While most of the characters are humans or mermaids, some animals and sea creatures join the action in and out of the water. Awkwafina voices the scene-stealing Scuttle and says that doing the voice work differed from her previous voice-acting experiences.

“It was the first time I’ve ever recorded a scene with other actors. Usually, you are in the booth, and the other actors aren’t there; the directors read the [lines]. Here we were all able to do a lot of it together.”

The casting choices have come under scrutiny from conservatives who say that a white actor should play Ariel to reflect the character in the animation as opposed to Bailey, who is Black. Awkwafina strongly disagrees and says the film reflects the world we live in. “Everyone deserves to see themselves on screen,” she says.

Just as Ariel struggles to follow her father’s wishes under the sea, Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) has similar issues with his mother on dry land. Eric loves to travel, and the queen wants him to settle down and takes his responsibilities to his kingdom seriously. Hauer-King says that although the film is a fantasy, the characters’ challenges are real.

“What is special about the whole story is that it feels very grounded in reality. The Disney prince and the Disney princess aspect is amazing, and it’s fun and exciting, but even though we are living in this fantasy space, it just feels really connected to the real world.”

Hauer-King also says that despite the instant attraction, Eric and Ariel take their time to build on their connection.

“Disney romances are always filled with that instinctive attraction to one another. We all want to see that, but what was fun about this was looking at Ariel and Eric as two people who were kindred spirits who felt a little bit restless, who felt like they were behind the four walls of their respective castles, and were very much looking outwards and not in. What was nice about that was that it meant their relationship felt really earnt. They both felt like they were teaching each other things. They were excited and fascinated by each other’s worlds.”

The film’s director says that Bailey was the first actor to audition for the role, and the crew knew straight away that she had to play Ariel.

“The first actor we saw for this role was Halle. The first thing she did was shut her eyes and start to sing. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I just thought she was so deeply connected to what she was singing about. It is so emotional. It is so beautiful. And I thought, oh my gosh, we have been doing this for five minutes. Have we found Ariel? And we had.”

Words – Cara O’Doherty

THE LITTLE MERMAID is at cinemas from May 26th