With the highly-anticipated live-action film swimming into theaters on May 26, Vital Thrills got a chance to talk to The Little Mermaid cast and crew.
The beloved story of Ariel, a beautiful and spirited young mermaid with a thirst for adventure, Disney‘s The Little Mermaid stars singer and actress Halle Bailey (grown-ish) as Ariel.
The Little Mermaid cast includes Tony Award winner Daveed Diggs (Hamilton, Snowpiercer) as the voice of Sebastian; Jacob Tremblay (Luca, Room) as the voice of Flounder; and Awkwafina (Raya and the Last Dragon) as the voice of Scuttle.
The movie also features Jonah Hauer-King (A Dog’s Way Home) as Prince Eric; Art Malik (Homeland) as Sir Grimsby; and Noma Dumezweni (Mary Poppins Returns) as Queen Selina.
The Little Mermaid cast is rounded out by Oscar winner Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men, Being the Ricardos) as King Triton and two-time Academy Award nominee Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me? Bridesmaids) as Ursula.
In the film, the youngest of King Triton’s daughters, and the most defiant, Ariel longs to find out more about the world beyond the sea, and while visiting the surface, falls for the dashing Prince Eric. While mermaids are forbidden to interact with humans, Ariel must follow her heart.
She makes a deal with the evil sea witch, Ursula, which gives her a chance to experience life on land, but ultimately places her life – and her father’s crown – in jeopardy.
The Little Mermaid is directed by Oscar nominee Rob Marshall (Chicago, Mary Poppins Returns), and written by two-time Oscar nominee David Magee (Life of Pi, Finding Neverland), with a live-action story adaptation by David Magee, Rob Marshall, and two-time Emmy winner John DeLuca (Tony Bennett: An American Classic).
DeLuca, who also produces, said “Under the Sea” was the most daunting thing to film in live action. He said, “And to conceive and shoot. And just, to have an idea of what we’re gonna do, and then how we were gonna do it. The logistics of that. I remember Rob and I kind of put it aside for a long time.”
Marshall added, “I know, it was so daunting. Because there’s one live actor. One live actor in this massive production number.”
DeLuca spoke about probably the other best-known song in the film, saying, “‘Part of Your World’ happened in the audition. In her audition, we were like, Rob and I were like, we want to know whether she can belt. Can she go, ‘Da-ah-ah.’ You know, so we tried all these things, and then we said, ‘Can you riff?’ And it happened, like, ‘Under the Sea.’ In the moment.”
Halle Bailey is part of a musical duet with her sister Chloe, and she was asked about having her there for the premiere. She said it was important to her and added, “Yeah, she cried. And she was like squeezing my hand so tight the whole time. And I’m just so happy that she loved it and I feel like okay, I can pat myself on the back now. My big sister loved it.”
Jacob Tremblay voices the role of Flounder, Ariel’s little fishy companion. He spoke about the fact that the voice actors actually got to record during the same sessions “I preferred it so much better than kinda being in a booth and especially ’cause of COVID. It would usually be on Zoom, but it was definitely a privilege that we all got to be together and we got to do our scenes together.”
Awkwafina was the one recording with him often, as she voices the role of Ariel’s bird buddy Scuttle, who is a diving bird this time around. She said, “I mean, definitely for me the first time I’ve ever read a scene with other actors. Usually you’re in the booth and a lot of the times the other actors are, you know, like the directors just read them with you. But we were all able to do it and yeah. It just all happened there. And there were other people in the room too. It was like pretty crazy.”
Noma Dumezweni, who plays Prince Eric’s mother Queen Selina (and a standout in the film), spoke about getting to have rehearsals, as Marshall and DeLuca are theater people. ” … for me, having a rehearsal on set is such a rare thing when I’m moving into the TV and film world. It’s such a joy to go all right, this is what we’re aiming for so we know it and then we can be free when we’re doing it.
“Which is what I love about rehearsal … this was just joyous … therefore, you do get know people. But I’m sitting here and out of all these people, and that’s what Rob and John are great at is they value each and every one of these performances. And there was a bit of my ego last I went, I have arrived.”
Bailey spoke about what Ariel means to her and has done for her. She said, “I tell people all the time I feel like Ariel truly has helped me find myself and like this young woman version of me, because it’s been five years of my life now. From 18 to now being 23, so those are 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.”
Javier Bardem plays King Triton in the film, and he says he loved Halle Bailey immediately. He explained, “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.
“The rest will be just have fun with it and enjoy 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.”
Awkwafina spoke about her connection to Scuttle. She said, “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. For sure.”
Poor Jacob Tremblay was given a little heat because he’s the only cast member who wasn’t born when the animated film came out. “I did definitely watch it quite a few times before going to film because I did wanna make sure that, 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.”
Composer Alan Menken, who worked this time around with Lin-Manuel Miranda, was asked if he thought composers were intimidating to young cast members like Bailey, who said she was nervous. He said he didn’t think he was intimidating, but said, “I really, I try to filter everything through the music scene as much as possible because they should have somebody they’re really comfortable within the room who’s plunked out the notes for them, and giving them phrasing notes. And then when I give notes, I want to go through them also.”
DeLuca mentioned that Marshall had tears in his eyes when hearing Bailey sing. Marshall said, “I mean, here’s the thing. The first actor we saw for this role was Halle. The first thing she did is she came in and sang for us. And she sang that song. She shut her eyes and started to sing the song. And I thought, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I just thought she’s so deeply connected to what she’s singing about. It’s so emotional. It’s so beautiful.
“And I thought, [laugh] oh my gosh, we’ve been doing this for five minutes. Have we found Ariel? And we had. But we didn’t know that. But then we saw hundreds of other actors after that, and Halle kept coming back in. And we saw every ethnicity. We saw everybody. And she claimed the role for hers. That’s what happened.”
Melissa McCarthy absolutely steals the show as the sea witch Ursula. She said that this was the first time her children wanted to come to one of her premieres. “That’s the first time they’ve come to a premiere and this is the first time they wanted to come. So, I was like nervous but also excited that they were there. And they just loved the movie so much and it was fun to see them get excited just about meeting people and seeing them. They were like oh my God, Halle’s sitting behind us. And like they’re, you know, they’re jaded old young people.”
Jonah Hauer-King was asked about playing Prince Eric and asked if he was ready for the fame he is about to have. He joked that Dumezweni was acting like his real mom. “Noma keeps coming to me and going are you okay? Are you ready? Is this all right? She looks after me like my mum. She was so good to me … Because the whole way through filming, she just put an arm around me like literally and metaphorically and was so good to me. So, thank you. I love you.
“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.”