Audra McDonald and Gugu Mbatha-Raw Discuss Their Roles in Beauty and the Beast
It’s almost opening day for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and today I’m sharing my interview with Audra McDonald and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. The ladies sat down with us during the #BeOurGuestEvent to talk about their roles as “Garderobe” & “Plumette”. I’d been looking forward to this interview all day. As a woman of color, and mother of a daughter it’s important to see characters like us in movies.
The ladies were so excited about sitting down with us and talking about the film. Audra who’s a new mom beamed talking to us about her newborn daughter, and how she handles working and being a mom. Our first question, of course, was about what drew them to the film.
Gugu : Well, for me 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 in the car on the way to ballet and tap and modern, everyday. [LAUGHS] 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 down the phone, so loudly.
I think it was probably the biggest reaction to getting a job that I’ve every had. [LAUGHS] ’cause 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 : Yeah, I know, I, when I got the, the call I, I’d known that the movie was being made and I was excited about it and 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, ‘wh–, 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? But any way so yeah, so of course, it’s just Disney, you want to be a part of it, so yes, it’s just an automatic yes.
Audra briefly shared with us about Oreos and their plans for a churro flavor before jumping into our next question. She had auditioned for the broadway musical of Beauty and the Beast but wasn’t cast. Of course, we wondered if she felt like this movie made up for not getting that part.
Audra: 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. 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.’ [LAUGHS] Thank you, this fixes it, thank you.
Audra has one of the most amazing voices I’ve heard. Her voice steals the scenes she appears in the movie. It’s beautiful, sultry and full of power. We were left wondering how she ended up on her musical path.
Audra : Well, this is mommy bloggers right? So, it was a lot of it had to do with my parents and my mom. I was a really hyperactive child struggling, actually and my parents were struggling with trying to figure out how to help me. And I was an overdramatic child and having a hard time in school and whatnot. And 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 all that stuff and I had all this extra energy and drama inside of me. And they said, ‘maybe this is gonna help her.’ And so, I auditioned for that when I was nine years old and that set me on my path and so 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. And so that’s what started me on my path.
I mentioned above the importance of seeing characters of color in films. Disney did an amazing job with casting a multi-cultural cast for this film. We asked about what the ladies were bringing to the film based on their individual backgrounds.
Gugu : Yeah, I mean I guess we’re all just brining 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. And yeah, I’m sort of thrilled about it.
Audra : Yeah, we got told that yesterday, we were doing press yesterday, someone was like, ‘so you guys are, you’re the first and second interracial kisses in a Disney film,’ or something like that, or close to one of the first. In live action and, Gugu and I are like, ‘we are?’ [LAUGHS] ‘Oh, okay, cool.’ We didn’t even think about that.
Hopefully we’ll get to a day where no one has to think about it. That’s what we’re aiming for so I mean I’m just pleased that Disney recognizes that you know, you’ve got to represent the entire world out there. And that’s what they’re doing.
We asked Audra about how it felt being in a movie like Beauty and the Beast, that will probably become a favorite of her two children.
Audra: When I got cast and I told my daughter, I also have two step-son’s so there’s four in our house. When I 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 god.’ [LAUGHS] The kids were most excited about that.
And that thrills me to no end because Emma’s such an incredible role model. I was saying in the 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 because of Emma Watson. You know what I mean? But, that’s what these kids are learning, if that’s your role model, then go, go, go. So, to be a part of this film that’s gonna obviously be 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.’
Next the ladies shared with us about their experiences preparing for the animated scenes and the live action sequences for the film.
Gugu : Well, for me it was just so liberating. I mean, I’ve never been offered a role like this before obviously, I had to come from doing some quite intense dramatic roles and the idea of playing a feather duster, I sort of thought was so whimsical and fun. But, also you know, it’s a lot of vocal work in the recording studio and finding not just the singing but finding the voice of the character, working on the French accent with the dialect coach and also just really going back to that childhood thing of like, ‘let’s pretend.’ You know, it’s, you’re not limited by your face and your body.
Audra : You know, you have so much more freedom I think. And, as I say it really helps when you get to you know, this huge team who are creating these CGI characters. I just found it incredibly liberating. Yeah and you also, Bill Condon, such an incredible leader, and an amazing director. And you feel very safe with him, so when you’re doing, especially the, the vocal work for the characters, it’s just you, the recording engineers and Bill. You know, and so Bill’s in there with you and he’s saying, ‘okay, now try one like this.’ So, he’s in there playing, you know, with you in a way. And it’s truly just make believe and so it’s, you know, 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.’
Audra : ‘grunt like this, okay now she’s just, snore this way, snore this way, snore and sing a high note.’ I mean so we just, you know, 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. And then you can then put on top of that, so it’s a real collaborative, it’s a real collaborative effort. It takes a village, it takes a massive village for this one.
As you can imagine the wardrobe for the film is amazing. Gugu and Audra shared with us details about the costumes they had for their live actions scenes and how it inspired their animated characters.
Gugu : Jacqueline I forgotten her last name, she’s done all of Joe Wright’s movies, she did Atonement, Anna Karenina, incredible costume designer. On my first costume fitting, she said, ‘okay, would you like to meet your object?’ [LAUGHS] 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 mopped like, in the original.
And I was pleasantly surprised to see that they made her into this sort of flying dove like peacock like, very dainty creation. So, in the costume fitting, we played around with the bird theme, 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, 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.
Audra : And we both got to be blonde. [LAUGHS] 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, 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.’ Now ‘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 to the wardrobe, the top of the wardrobe if you notice is her wig. And 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 and all of that. I mean and even within the design of like our make up and all of it is echoed in our objects.
We had asked everyone we spoke with during interviews what they wanted the audience to take away from the film, so we had to make sure we got the ladies point of view as well.
Gugu : Well I hope that people will get swept up in the romance and the music is just so iconic. I love the message that beauty is found within, it’s an oldie but a goodie. But, I think really for this film the idea to look a little deeper, see the human within each and every person even if the exterior is something that intimidates you or you’re not familiar with. There’s always a human underneath it all. And I think to try to connect to somebody’s soul, is really important.
Audra : Yeah, and also that love, there’s always the love conquers all, love wins and it’s not about just giving the love but loving yourself too. I think that’s what’s so important. And realizing that what you have inside of you is most important and not the outside doesn’t necessarily matter. And I’m sure that’s what people are gonna take away from this.
I was in awe when I saw the film. I wanted to see it again immediately after we screened it. For actors and actresses though it’s different the way they view a finished piece of work. Audra and Gugu talked briefly about how it felt for them to see it all come together.
Gugu : It was breathtaking. I saw it for the first time just two nights ago at the Hollywood premier and to see it with an audience and people are applauding after musical numbers. You know, at a screen and it just brought back all those memories of those songs. There’s a couple of new songs in this version of the film. Days in the Sun and also the Beast has his own solo. So, yeah, it was really overwhelming.
Audra : I saw it at the London premier and I was so shocked at how moved I was. And I really felt that I was watching it as an innocent sort of 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 sort of 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 know, but it was just you get swept up, you get absolutely swept up. You know?
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast opens in theaters everywhere on March 17th. Check out the trailer below.
About Beauty and the Beast:
The story and characters audiences know and love come to spectacular life in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” a live-action adaption on of the studio’s animated classic featuring an extraordinary ensemble cast, including: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Hattie Morahan and Nathan Mack with Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson.
Directed by Bill Condon and based on the 1991 animated film “Beauty and the Beast,” the screenplay is written by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos. Alan Menken provides the score, which includes new recordings of the original songs written by Menken and Howard Ashman as well as three new songs written by Menken and Tim Rice. The film is produced by Mandeville Films’ David Hoberman, p.g.a. and Todd Lieberman, p.g.a with Jeffrey Silver, Thomas Schumacher and Don Hahn serving as executive producers.