“The Little Mermaid” Press Conference Highlights Part 1

The Little Mermaid

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The Little Mermaid” is Disney’s live-action reimagining of the studio’s Oscar-winning animated musical classic. Inspired by the Timeless Tale written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen in 1837, it is the quintessential story of an outsider, and a story that speaks to everyone.

Ambitious in scale, but grounded in reality, the big-screen musical features a brilliantly talented all-star cast, including Halle Bailey as Ariel, Jonah Hauer-King as Eric, Daveed Diggs as Sebastian, Awkwafina as Scuttle, Jacob Tremblay as Flounder, Noma Dumezweni as The Queen, Art Malik as Sir Grimsby, with Javier Bardem as King Triton and Melissa McCarthy as Ursula.

Set in the 1830s in and around the waters of a fictious island in the Caribbean, Ariel is a spirited 18-year-old mermaid with a beautiful voice and a thirst for adventure. She is the youngest child of King Triton, who rules the oceans from his underwater kingdom and is the most defiant of his daughters of the Seven Seas. Frustrated with the confines of her life, Ariel is fascinated with the world above the surface, but it is a world inhabited by humans, with whom Triton has forbidden all merfolk from interacting.

Ariel makes a deal with the evil Ursula, a sea witch feared by all merfolk. Ariel chooses to give up her mermaid gifts, including her siren song, in exchange for legs and a chance to experience the human world.

During a recent press conference, we had the opportunity to hear from Talent on what it was like to be part of this live-action film.

Twenty-three-year-old Halle Bailey, one-half of the GRAMMY-nominated R&B duo Chloe x Halle was cast as Ariel, the strong-willed mermaid from under the sea. Casting a young woman of color in such an iconic role was a no-brainer for Marshall. “Our goal was to find someone who was incredibly passionate, smart, vulnerable, clever, with a great deal of fire and joy,” he says. “When I first saw Halle, she was so young and sort of otherworldly, and the voice was simply angelic. Plus, she had such a deep connection to what she was singing about.” Marshall continues, “We were just looking for the best actor for the role, period. We saw everybody and every ethnicity. There really was no agenda. As a director, your hope is that an actor comes in and claims the role and says, ‘this is mine,’ and that’s exactly what happened with Halle.”

The Little Mermaid

Q: Ariel is the Disney princess, and now you have been bestowed that. Do you feel like you have kind of a kinship with her just any way? Do you feel like you and Ariel have things in common?

Halle Bailey: “Absolutely. I mean, I tell people all the time I feel like Ariel truly has helped me find myself and like this young woman version of me, you know, because I, well, it’s been five years of my life now.”

“From 18 to now being 23, so those are like very intense like transformative years as you’re developing as a young woman. But I feel like especially these themes of the film and what she had to go through with her passions and drive and speaking up for herself, and even though it may be scary, she went for it. I feel like those things I really try to adopt and give to Halle now. So, she’s taught me so much, for sure.”

King Triton is played by Oscar-winning Spanish actor Javier Bardem (“No Country for Old Men”). “I was especially drawn to the relationship he has with his daughter,” says Bardem, “because even though he loves her very much, it’s not always in the best ways. He needs to grow up and face what he fears the most, which is his daughter’s freedom, her independence, and that conflict was very interesting to me.”

The Little Mermaid

Q: King Triton has to be a helicopter parent, and you were like he’s the ultimate helicopter parent. Don’t go five feet away from me. But like what about the relationship that you all just, you know, developed with each other? Did you have a little bit of a paternal feeling over here?

Javier Bardem: “Oh, yes. Right in the moment I met her, I just fell for her. I mean, she has this thing where you just can’t help yourself but love her unconditionally.”

“So, that was done on the first day. So, the rest will be just having fun with it and enjoying the process and I feel it was easy for us just to connect and [dance?] together. And I was always mesmerized by the quality of her as a performer, let alone the singing that I knew. But as an actress, how willing and courageous she is. And in going to the places that she had to go to. And that was amazing.”

Scuttle, voiced by Awkwafina (“Raya and the Last Dragon,” “Crazy Rich Asians”), is a neurotic, dim-witted seabird who thinks of herself as an expert on all things human, and upon whom Ariel relies as a source of information. While clueless most of the time, she is a loyal friend to Ariel.

Q: Awkwafina, what does like seeing this cast, the diversity of it, just the naturalness of it, and what it means to audiences? What do you think about that?

Awkwafina: “I mean, I think that as you said, I think it reflects the world we live in. And I think that everyone deserves to see themselves on screen.”

Q: Do you feel a kinship with Scuttle?

Awkwafina: “Yes, I do feel a kinship with Scuttle. I mean, like I am Scuttle. Like after like two margaritas, you know what I mean, on a Tuesday. I mean, we have that we’re neurotic, things like that. Yeah. Yeah, I am Scuttle.”

Jacob Tremblay (“Luca,” “Good Boys”) is the voice of Flounder, a timid fish and Ariel’s best friend. Flounder is boyishly charming but is still somewhat childish and a little skittish.

Q: Were you familiar with Flounder or did you go back and like watch the film multiple times?

Jacob Tremblay: “Yeah, no, I don’t remember not knowing about the movie and not knowing the characters. So, it was cool ’cause obviously is still a big part of my childhood and I love the film.”

” I did definitely watch it quite a few times before going to film because I did wanna make sure that you know when people watch the film, they felt like it was Flounder because obviously there’s a lot of things that I had to embody like his, I guess, like his anxiety and his anxiousness. But at the same time, I wanted to make sure I made him my own, and I think that’s when like having everyone there really came in just being able to riff off each other.”

Prince Eric is played by Jonah Hauer-King (“A Dog’s Way Home”). “Eric is kind and compassionate and adventurous and spirited,” says the actor. “But when we first meet him, he’s actually quite lost. I don’t think he knows who he is, and there is a kind of churning, restless spirit in him. That is why he’s so drawn to the sea; because he is drawn to the unknown and what’s out there and not just what’s in front of him.”

The Little Mermaid

Q: Now, Jonah, we know being a Disney princess is a big deal, but being a Disney prince is nothing to sneeze at either. Are we ready for this?

Jonah Hauer-King: “I don’t know if I’m ready for it, to be honest, but it was, yeah.”

“But yeah, it’s a great privilege. It’s a huge honor, but I think what’s special about this is it’s all, I don’t know, the whole story, the whole film feels very grounded in reality. So, the Disney prince and the Disney princess aspect is amazing and it’s fun and exciting, but I think watching it last night made me realize that for all of us, even though we’re living in this fantasy space, it just feels really connected to the world and to the real world.”

“And the themes feel connected to the real world now. So, yeah, but who knows? I mean, being a Disney prince is weird, isn’t it? It’s kind of weird.”

Two-time Academy Award nominee Melissa McCarthy (“Bridesmaids,” “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”) is Ursula, the cruel and vindictive sea witch, half-woman/half-octopus, who has been banished by King Triton for her misdeeds. As the sister of Triton, she plots her revenge and dreams of one day ruling the sea herself.

The Little Mermaid

Q: What was the best part of filming, and then what was the most challenging thing for you for this film?

Melissa McCarthy: “It was the rehearsal, it was the crazy 60-foot clam shell. It was trying so desperately not to cry every time you sang a melody because I was like, I don’t want her to think I’m crazy, as, like, tears are running down my face.”

“The whole process. Rob Marshall, I think we all agree, sets up this world that is like, it is like why I fell in love with plays. It feels so small and yet you know it’s this enormous thing, but it just feels like if we all do our best, like, maybe we can make a show.”

The Little Mermaid” is directed by Rob Marshall with a screenplay by David Magee. The songs feature music from Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman, with new lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda. The film is produced by Marc Platt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, John DeLuca, and Rob Marshall, with Jeffrey Silver serving as executive producer.

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