From the director Rob Marshall and screenwriter David MagesDisney’s live-action reimagining Little Mermaid Adventure with a curious young mermaid, as she explores the world beyond the sea and interacts with humans for the first time. While on land, Ariel (Halle Bailey), who traded his siren song for the feet given to him by the sea witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy), get to know Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) and the two form a relationship that may be strong enough to unite the sea and land empires.
During a conference to promote the new film, co-stars Bailey, Hauer-King, and McCarthy spoke about the kinship Bailey feels for Ariel, what it means to be a Disney prince, Ariel and Eric’s love story, bringing Ursula to life, and the most memorable sequence for Bailey and Hauer -King.
Question: Halle, what was your reaction when you found out you were playing Ariel Little Mermaid?
HALLE BAILEY: Oh my gosh, I just cried. I cry. We had celebrated my sister’s birthday the day before, so we had rented an Airbnb and headed home, unpacked everything in working mode. And then, I got a call from (director) Rob [Marshall]. I don’t answer unknown numbers, so I’m like, “Whatever, I’m not going to answer that.” And then, my little brother came running like, “Answer your phone!” I was like, “OK.” So, I answered him, and then Rob said, “Hello, I’m looking for Ariel.” I was like, “Oh my gosh!”, and just cried all day.
Do you feel a kinship with Ariel, in any way? Do you have anything in common?
BAILEY: Of course. I feel like Ariel has really helped me find myself and this young female version of me. It’s been five years of my life now, from 18 to 23. Those were very intense and transformative years, when you develop as a young woman. But I feel especially the themes of this film and what he has to go through with his passion and drive and speaks for himself, and how scary though it may be, he does it, those are things that I really try to adopt. and give it to Halle now. He taught me so much, for sure.
Jonah, being a Disney princess is a great thing, but being a Disney prince is also cool. Are you ready for the world to see you in that role?
JONAH HAUER-KING: To be honest, I didn’t know if I was ready for it. This is an extraordinary privilege. It’s a great honor. What’s special about this is that the whole film feels very grounded in reality. The Disney prince and princess aspect is amazing. It’s fun and exciting. But even though we live in this fantasy space, the themes feel very connected to the real world. But being a Disney prince is weird.
BAILEY: This is so weird.
HAUER-KING: This is really weird.
MELISSA McCARTHY: I just want to say, instead of being these caricatures, you have given them humanity. You have anchored that they are real people and that everyone is walking with the same issues, the same problems, and the same worries. That’s the big difference. They bring their humanity to the screen.
HAUER-KING: Thank you.
Ariel and Eric’s love story is an iconic one. Jonah, what’s your favorite new addition to their story?
HAUER-KING: Friendship. Disney romances have always been filled with an instinctive attraction to one another. We all want to see that. But I think what’s nice about this is seeing Ariel and Eric as two people who are kindred spirits who are a little on edge, and who are behind the four walls of their respective castles, looking very much outward rather than inward. the good thing about that is it means their relationship feels totally earned. They both felt like they were teaching each other things. They are passionate and fascinated by each other’s world, even though they don’t really know it until the end. That is very fun. This is a very good message about what it means to be in love and what it means to be in a relationship, which is ultimately related to friendship. That’s the basics. That’s why it lasts, and that’s what makes it special. So, it was really fun to explore, and it was easy because Halle is such a riot, so we were good.
Melissa, what was the best part of making this film for you, and what was the most challenging part?
McCARTHY: The best part of making the film is every minute of it. It is practice. It was an insane 60-foot clamshell. It was trying so hard not to, every time Halle sang the melody because I didn’t want her to think I was crazy, with tears streaming down my face. It’s the whole process. I think we can all agree that Rob Marshall orchestrated this world which is similar to why I fell in love with drama. It seems so small, but it is a very big thing. It’s like, if we all do our best, maybe we can make a show. It gets very personal. Everyone was doing their best, and Rob was there, just wrapped in cashmere and quietly cheering everyone on. Everyone, from the actors, to the beautiful camera movement, to the sound department turning it off, to the costumes, this is an appreciation of every human being and all the moving parts that are necessary to make a film successful. Having cheerleaders like that, I can’t even describe how lucky I feel. I’m sure we all feel that. If the world had cheerleaders like that running everything, we’d be less mad at each other. And the most challenging part of making a film is doing good for it and following this amazing cast.
Didn’t you say that you actually never hit the ground?
McCARTHY: I sometimes slip on the clam shells, on my back, but I really never stand up. We’re on a rig, or a variety of different magical things. If you dive, it’s a single rig. If you spin, it’s something else. I’ve never been on the ground.
Halle, what was the most fun sequence for you to shoot?
BAILEY: There were so many really fun moments to film. The funniest and funniest moment was with me and Jonah, when he was thrown in the tank with me, in his first few days on set. We had our first moment when I picked him up and rescued him, and had to be in a rainstorm with a wave machine.
HAUER-KING: He really had to save me because I was drowning.
BAILEY: We were both trying to survive that time in the tank at Pinewood. It was intense. When they lit thunder and lightning, and had fire all around us and waves, it was like being in the middle of the ocean, actually in the middle of a thunderstorm. I try to look like a mermaid doing that all the time.
HAUER-KING: I just fainted. I’m fine.
BAILEY: And Jonah is much taller than me, but I have to hold it in. We kept laughing at the boots he had to wear because he kept sinking. I said to Rob, “You didn’t see the boots, did you? Can he just let it go? Because he keeps stepping on my toes.
HAUER-KING: I kicked him and broke his shin. That’s so bad. But Rob was like, “No.”
BAILEY: He said, “No, keep the boots on. It’s okay.” We were just dying in the water, all the time and we had to look natural. It was the funnest moment.
HAUER-KING: It’s pretty bonding too, because early on. I basically almost killed him. I almost broke his leg.
Little Mermaid opens in theaters on May 26.