Last night to defuse a rising tantrum from my over-tired 5-year-old, I paused and said, “Do you know who I got to talk to on the phone with this afternoon?”
And he said, “Who?”
And I went on to tell him the
(somewhat completely made-up fairytale) story of how Belle and Cinderella and Snow White were all best friends and how they probably all hang out together (he has a crush on princesses.) Who knows, I might have embellished the story a bit about Belle’s social life outside of Beauty and the Beast, I mean what do we really know? But in the end, he simmered down and the tantrum was successfully averted.
The truth is, though, that I did technically get to speak with “Belle” yesterday, only it was the wonderful and talented actress, singer and artist who played Belle in the Disney animated classic, ”Beauty and the Beast‘, Paige O’Hara.
The oscar-award winning film has been digitally remastered and is set to hit theaters everywhere for a second round of movie watchers (and a whole new generation, actually!) this time in Disney 3D on Friday, January 13th. We’re all excited around here.
I was part of a conference call with other bloggers and Paige O’Hara, where we learned a lot about the woman behind the animation. She is a fascinating and gifted artist and performer and the call was like a trip down memory lane with Paige O’Hara.
O’Hara says she auditioned 5 times for the part of Belle and when she found out she got it, it turned out to be a very eventful three days.
”I was really excited about it and I really was thinking I was going to get it and my husband-to-be — he proposed to me the day before I got the job, it was my birthday, so I got engaged and it was my birthday and Beauty and the Beast all happened in a matter of 3 days and it was just one of those things,” she explained. ” I just felt really confident that it was my part and of course when the timing did happen and they said it was my role, I was just, that moment was a life-changing experience.”
Her favorite part about working on this animated film 20 years ago (and yes, it’s been 20 years!) was having creative license with the part. Most actors in animated films voice the parts separately, however, O’Hara says she got to record the part together with her co-star Robby Benson (who plays the Beast).
“It’s more expensive and more time consuming to do it that way, but to have the fact that Robby and I could have that kind of time to create scenes and then go back and then they look at them and then if something doesn’t work, and then rewrite it and do it over again – the whole creative process was just something that I have never experienced before or after that movie,” explains O’Hara.
When Belle was first created, O’Hara says the drawing of Belle was just a little too perfect, so they had to make some changes. “She sort of looked like Angelina Jolie initially. But her look changed and sort of came about and they used some of my face and they made it look a lot better than my face.”
And Belle became the first brown-haired, brown-eyed princess, modeled after O’Hara.
O’Hara says that she identified with the character of Belle and her independence. “That’s the thing about Belle. She’s the only princess that’s not looking for a man. She wants to enjoy life, and that’s Paige as a young teenager, wanting to you know, go to Broadway and experience, you know, travel around the world.”
And go to Broadway and travel, she did, ending up in the first animated movie ever to be nominated for an Oscar. O’Hara recalls the moment she found out the moment Beauty and the Beast was nominated (which turned out to be 6 actually!) “I remember I got a phone call from Jeffrey Katzenberg and it was like ‘Oh my God’ but he said, ‘I have double whammy. Your song ‘Belle’ was nominated and we want you to sing it.’ And I was like oh my gosh.”
And when it was O’Hara’s turn to shine in the spotlight at the Oscars, she shared a moment with actress Angela Lansbury backstage. “I was standing in the wings and Angela Lansbury was standing next to me and she was going to introduce me and she was shaking like a leaf, and I was shaking like a leaf. And I said, ‘Angie you nervous?’ And she said, ‘Honey when you get to be my age you’ll learn when you’re supposed to be nervous — this is it.’ And she leaned over and she patted me on the bottom and she said, ‘If I could sing like you, you have no reason to be nervous.’ That made me feel so good.”
In the years since Beauty and the Beast, O’Hara continued her work as “Belle” in “Enchanted Christmas” and ”Belle’s Magical World,” CD-ROMS, games and interactive toys. She also just signed on with Disney Fine Art to paint a series of paintings of scenes from Beauty and the Beast. Recently O’Hara received the Disney Legends award and she’s currently starring in a play in Las Vegas, where she lives.
But O’Hara still has another dream to fulfill. She’s working on a musical about her idol, Judy Garland, which she hopes will get off the ground next year.
“Playing Judy would be a dream come true for me because she was my idol growing up, my favorite singer and actress, and I’m sort of at the place now where I’m physically – I’m ready to play her now. I have had enough life experience to understand her, and so I’m hoping within the next year or so we can get this back on its feet and maybe tour it and take it around the country and then I can portray Judy in a very positive light.”
But as for the legacy she helped create with the character of Belle?
“It’s one of the greatest honors of my life,” she says. “Coming from the Broadway world and the theater world where a lot of the performances you know, are long forgotten, this is something I’m a part of that’s going to affect children you know, for generations and generations to come.”
Are you going to see it?
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