Want to know a true pinch me moment?
Sitting in a small room in LA with not just one, but two Disney LEGENDS!
We had the opportunity during our Beauty and the Beast press trip to interview Director, Bill Condon and Musical Genius, Alan Menken. Yup, THAT Alan Menken (which is the exact question I got from my sister-in-law when I told her who I was interviewing!). These 2 men are responsible for allowing us to fall in love with Beauty and the Beast so easily and so effortlessly.
To give you a little more background on Bill Condon and Alan Menken, let me dish with you for a second! Bill Condon is an American screenwriter and director who is best known for directing and writing the critically acclaimed films Gods and Monsters, Chicago, Kinsey, Dreamgirls and the two final installments of the Twilight series, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 and Part 2. In 1998, Condon debuted as a screenwriter with Gods and Monsters, which won him an Academy Award; he was also nominated for the screenplay of Chicago in 2003. Not too shabby! And Alan Menken is an American musical theatre and film score composer/pianist best known for his scores for films produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios. His scores for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and Pocahontas have each won him two Academy Awards. He also composed the scores for Little Shop of Horrors (1986), Newsies (1992), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Hercules (1997), Enchanted (2007), Tangled (2010) and Sausage Party (2016), among others. Pretty amazing, right??
But to be there with these 2 incredible men, it was just AWESOME. They were our first interview of the day on our beauty and the Beast press day, so we were all excited and ready to go! We had just listened to Alan Menken sing “Gaston” with Luke Evans and Josh Gad, so we were ALL still on cloud 9 about that singing surprise!! Bill and Alan were super nice and happy yo answer all the questions we had for them! We couldn’t help but GUSH IMMEDIATELY as to how much we loved the movie!!
Bill answered, “I have to say, there’s this movie, this classic, perfect movie that already exists and for me more than anything it was the score, the chance to really roll around in that music and to restage it, you know, do a kind of a new version of it in a live action format but to specially use those songs. It just felt to me that, that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Alan jumped in right after Bill saying, “When I heard that Bill was directing, I didn’t know you, but I knew the work you had done… Bill is a major fan of musical theatre. He loves it so, he knows the craft. He knows musicals and so that was huge.”
I was curious to hear from them how they work together. Bill said, “Well, for me I was intimidated at our first meeting because here I am and I’m sort of talking about the first possible new song [in Beauty and the Beast] and this is a legendary composer, but also it’s a property that as we keep saying is perfect on its own. So it’s like okay, is he [Alan] gonna tell me we need that, but Alan is the direct opposite of that. You know, I think Alan as a man of the theatre, is somebody who craves the dialogue and the collaboration. I think that’s what it’s about and that became clear very, very soon, you know. We just started a conversation, it went on for a couple of years, right?”
Alan added, “We know what’s necessary in order to collaborate and there are people who are new to musicals and will try to reinvent the wheel in one direction or another, but we both have been through so much and when you’re a pro you basically arrived at the same place kind of because you know what’s important and you know what needs to get done. And you also know the necessity of process and I know that for me to go back to Beauty and the Beast on my own, no way I could do it. I had done it. It’s all about other people coming in and collaborating and for me the director is the boss and so it takes such a burden off of me. Now I’m able to be a catalyst, which is what I wanna be more than somebody driving the ship. Bill had the burden of actually driving the ship.”
We were all wondering about the challenges of preserving the timeless classic with integrating new things? Were there new things to integrate? I mean, truly… how do you take this iconic animated film and keep the beauty of it (pun not intended!).
Bill took this question for us, “I think again it was always about revealing more. It wasn’t about reinventing, you know. So it was to bring it into the real world and have you start to ask questions that [maybe] didn’t matter in the animated film. How did Belle and Maurice wind up in this village? What happened to her mother? How did the Prince become such a dissolute figure that he was worthy of being cursed? And, it’s interesting you start asking those questions and you start to bat around what the possible answers are. Then you’re making something different, but I think for me I could rely on my own kind of reverence for the original film in knowing when you’re changing something or going too far. You know, I hope never to cross that line.”
We really wanted to know about EMMA. Why Emma? How did Emma come to be as Belle?
Bill was happy to answer this question, “Well I suspected it. Just seeing her in Harry Potter. It seemed like that was a perfect kind of connection to a 21st century Belle. Then we met. I was shooting a movie called Mr. Holmes, so we met for an hour and the thing that I loved was how much she loved the original movie and how much she wanted to play the part and she came with a whole pile of books because I was late… And then the only question really became she’s never sung professionally before. She needed to answer that question for herself, too… For her the voice, her voice is so much — it’s so much a continuation of who she is and how she speaks and there was clearly this kind of sweetness to it and clarity to it that made it seem like it was gonna be a different Belle, but I was gonna be a really satisfying one.”
It’s crazy to think that Emma was really taking on such a GIGANTIC challenge with the singing. I can’t imagine never singing and then going for this role, it’s so incredible. It really does she her breadth as an actress. Even Alan said, “She was a little terrified. I mean no bones about it and we made sure she had her vocal coach.” And obviously, she nailed it!
I also just want to reiterate how incredible it was being in the same room as Alan Menken. He is responsible for such iconic Disney class music, music that I still listen to with my children and always will! We needed to ask Alan how incredible it is to know that he’s had such impact on people’s lives. “It’s unreal. It’s unreal. It gives me, frankly it gives me more of a sense of what we think of a collective consciousness, that we’re all a part of a collective consciousness because, you know, we as artists are conduits for emotion and for things, they really come through us. I mean God knows we shape them, and so I just feel very blessed honestly, blessed that I’m a vehicle for that. It’s amazing and wonderful because basically I was a kid who liked to practice the piano and I was a nervous kid with an ulcer and I just was a dreamer and then somehow I found that writing songs was really where my brain would settle. I just did it and did it and did it, and now it has an impact on people, I’m just living my life and it’s had that effect and wow.” He was so gracious in his answer, you could tell it really came from his heart. So beautiful!
I can’t thank Bill Condon and Alan Menken enough for their time, their talent and their drive to create such incredible entertainment!
If you haven’t seen Beauty and the Beast yet, go see it tonight!! It’s SPECTACULAR!! It’s playing in theaters everywhere now! I brought my whole family Sunday night and they ALL loved it!
Disclosure: Disney Press Trip. Travel covered by Disney.