Disclosure: This is part of a sponsored collaboration with Disney. I received an all-expense paid trip from Disney so that I could gather and share this information about the Interview with Audra McDonald and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. However, all experiences and opinions are always 100% my own as this post is written by me in its entirety. This post contains affiliate links.
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to have an enchanted voice? I can’t carry a tune, I’m also pretty tone-deaf, but I sure can recognize talent when I hear it. There’s one voice that I could listen to sing over and over – the voice of Audra McDonald. Her accolades include six Tony Awards®, two GRAMMY Awards®, an Emmy® Award®. She can easily transition from Broadway to Opera and film and television. Buckle up as I sit face to face for an interview with Audra McDonald and Gugu Mbatha-Raw.
Interview with Audra McDonald and Gugu Mbatha-Raw
Audra once auditioned for Beauty and the Beast on Broadway – but wasn’t cast!
On the night before we started filming in London, we all went out to dinner and they had a dinner for the cast and everybody. Aren’t those adorable? And I said to, after I’d had a glass of wine I was jet lagged, I’d flown over from New York, I was jet lagged, had a glass of wine, I was like, ‘so, Alan. I auditioned for the musical on Broadway for the ensemble and I didn’t get cast in the ensemble.’ And he goes, ‘I know, I know, I know. Is this okay?’ I was like, ‘yes.’ Thank you, this fixes it, thank you.
On how Audra’s musical talents developed and that path she took…
A lot of it had to do with my parents and my mom. I was a really hyperactive child struggling and my parents were struggling with trying to figure out how to help me. And I was an over-dramatic child and having a hard time in school. They went to the local dinner theater one night and saw a little junior troop that performed before the main musical and it was a group of kids.
I loved to sing at home and I had all this extra energy and drama inside of me. And they said, ‘maybe this is gonna help her.’ I auditioned for that when I was nine years old and that set me on my path. I really have my parents to thank for looking for something that would be right for me to express who I was and find a way to channel that energy. That’s what started me on my path.
What was your connection to this film that made you want to be a part of it?
Gugu: I was obsessed with the original Disney film. It came out when I was eight years old, I had the cassette tape, made my mom play it in the car on the way to ballet and tap and modern, everyday. I knew all the words to all the songs and it is still my favorite Disney movie so I had a very personal connection to it. When my agent called and said they wanted me to play a part in this I squealed into the phone so loudly. I think it was probably the biggest reaction to getting a job that I’ve every had. I think that little eight year old inside of me was just so excited and it sort of connects you back to growing up with Disney movies. And then this cast is just phenomenal.
Audra: When I got the call I’d known that the movie was being made and I was excited about it. My agent called and he said, ‘so, Beauty and the Beast,’ he’s like, ‘yeah, they’re turning into this, isn’t that great?’ he’s like, ‘yeah, so they want you to be in it.’ I was like, ‘excuse me? That doesn’t make sense. I was like, ‘what? Why? I mean–.’ But, if Disney calls, like I said, I would sell churros at the park for them, you know what I mean? I hear that Oreos is making churros, it’s a churro flavored Oreo, I just heard. But so of course, it’s just Disney, you want to be a part of it, so yes, it’s just an automatic yes.
On bringing diversity to the film with a multi-cultural cast
Gugu: We’re all just bringing ourselves and thrilled that Bill Condon, the director, had the vision to make it such a diverse cast. It wasn’t really something we discussed which is kind of cool in this day and age, it just sort of is. I’m thrilled about it.
Audra: We got told that yesterday, we were doing press yesterday, someone was like, ‘you’re the first and second interracial kisses in a Disney film,’ or close to one of the first in live-action. Gugu and I are like, ‘we are?’ ‘Oh, okay, cool.’ We didn’t even think about. I mean and hopefully we’ll get to a day where no one has to think about it. That’s what we’re aiming for so I’m just pleased that Disney recognizes that you’ve got to represent the entire world out there. And that’s what they’re doing.
How did you prepare for your roles for the animated parts versus the regular parts?
Gugu: For me it was just so liberating. I mean, I’ve never been offered a role like this before. I had come from doing some intense dramatic roles and the idea of playing a feather duster, I sort of thought was so whimsical and fun. It’s a lot of vocal work in the recording studio and finding the, not just the singing but finding the voice of the character. Working on the French accent with the dialect coach and just really going back to that childhood thing of, ‘let’s pretend.’ You’re not limited by your face and your body.
Audra: You have so much more freedom. It’s just play, really, when you get to this huge team who are creating these CGI characters. I just found it incredibly liberating. Bill Condon is such an incredible leader, and an amazing director. And you feel very safe with him, so when you’re doing, especially the vocal work for the characters, it’s just you, the recording engineers and Bill. Bill’s in there with you and he’s saying, ‘okay, now try one like this.’ So, he’s in there playing with you in a way. And it’s truly just make-believe and so for the wardrobe it was like, ‘okay, she’s kind of trying to get to the staircase at this point so, grunt a little bit.’ ‘Grunt like this, okay now she’s just, snore this way, snore this way, snore and sing a high note.’ We had the time and the freedom to just sort of explore and then they take that, they go and work with the CGI folks and then the CGI folks bring back something. Then put on top of that so it’s a real collaborative effort. It takes a village, it takes a massive village for this one.
Everybody’s favorite topic: Costumes and Make-up!
Gugu: Jacqueline Durran, she’s done all of Joe Wright’s movies, Atonement, Anna Karenina, she’s an incredible costume designer. On my first costume fitting, she said, ‘okay, would you like to meet your object?’ In the room, they had the feather duster on a stand and I was kind of taken aback because Plumette is quite different to the feather duster Fifi, who’s more sort of mop like in the original.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that they made her into this flying dove like peacock, very dainty creation. In the costume fitting we played around with the bird theme and I had a big tail feather on one of my costumes, a huge bustle which also worked with the period. And feathers, I had feathers in my hair and we played around with this sort of Marilyn Monroe style wig so it was kind of fun for me to blonde which is just so outrageous and audacious It was really just sort of channeling a mixture of that sort of playful flirty Marilyn thing with feathers.
Audra: We both got to be blonde. But with the wardrobe the first time I sat in the chair and the dress being so large that I couldn’t walk in any regular door to get to set, I had walk sideways. And scrunch because once they started putting the wig on, they put the first part and I was like, ‘wow, that’s big, that’s tall’ and she said, ‘hold on.’ ‘Okay,’ she’s like and ‘the top part,’ ‘okay,’ then birds and stuff started going, I was like ‘oh my goodness what is going on?’ But, it makes perfect sense because once she’s transformed into the wardrobe, the top of the wardrobe if you notice is her wig. And then you couldn’t even see them, but this is the detail that Disney pays attention too. The shoes that I wore were the feet of the wardrobe, so if you’d actually seen my shoes, they curled up into the exact sort of way that the legs of the wardrobe. I mean and even within the design of our make up and all of it is echoed in our objects that we play.
Working with Emma Watson
Audra: When I was cast and I told my daughter, I also have two stepson’s, that’s four in our house. When I told my sixteen year old that I was doing it, she was like, ‘oh that’s cool.’ And I was like, ‘Emma Watson.’ And she’s like, ‘oh my g-d.’ The kids were most excited about that. And that thrills me to no end because Emma is such an incredible role model. I was saying in press conference, my daughter for her sixteenth birthday and her fifteenth birthday, asked for people to make donations to charities in her name. And that’s what she asked for and that’s because of Emma Watson. That’s what these kids are learning, if that’s your role model, then go, go, go. To be a part of this film that’s gonna be a part of obviously a classic and part of the Disney cannon and also be in a film with someone like Emma Watson who has influenced my kids so much is very important to me and one of the reasons I said, ‘yes.’ She’s a great lady. I was overwhelmed with how proud I was of her. Which it’s not my place to be, I’m not her mom. I’m just proud of not only the work that she’s done but what she represents. How she comports herself ’cause she could be a very different person and people would forgive her for it. Instead she’s risen absolutely up to the top and is being a great role model. So, I’m really proud of her.
Gugu: She was very busy, but I’m so inspired by her and we’ve met a few times and she really is a very inspiring, leading lady. I think she’s perfect for this role, articulate, smart and stands up for what she believes in with her work at the UN. I’m just proud to be supporting her in this film.
What was it like to actually see everything come together?
Gugu: It was breathtaking. I saw it for the first time just two nights ago at the Hollywood premiere and to see it with an audience and people are applauding after the musical numbers. It brought back all those memories of those songs. There’s a couple of new songs in this version of Days in the Sun and the Beast has his own solo. It was a really overwhelming. It’s the power of the score as well, it transports you. There’s just something about that music that is so romantic and hits you on an emotional level that you can’t not be swept up in it.
Audra: It was overwhelming. I saw it at the London premiere and I was so shocked at how moved I was. I really felt that I was watching it as an innocent general audience member. Not someone who had been a part of the film. I hate watching myself on film or on-screen at all and this I felt completely removed from it. I didn’t really see myself up there, I was just in the world and I was weeping at the end and I was like, ‘I was there, I was in the scene. Why am I crying so much?’ You get absolutely swept up. I think it was just the way that the entire film came together. To the point where I couldn’t see the seams. I knew where the seams were but I couldn’t see them. In doing that I wasn’t able to sort of like critique this and critique that and listen, I was just swept up in everything, like I fell into Brigadoon along with everybody else.
Go behind the scenes with the Emma Watson, director Bill Condon, and the rest of the cast of Beauty and the Beast and see how they brought the tale as old as time to life in a whole new way in the “Bringing Beauty to Life” video for Beauty and the Beast.
Beauty and the Beast opens in theatres everywhere TOMORROW, March 17th!
Get social with Beauty and the Beast using #BeOurGuest and #BeautyAndTheBeast
Check out all the fun the bloggers had behind the scenes with #BeOurGuestEvent
Photography by Coralie Hughes Seright/LovebugsandPostcards.com and Disney