Being a “Beast”: Interview with Robby Benson, from Disney’s Beauty and The Beast
Imagine this challenge: you have to create a character that is half animal/half human. Scary but lovable. Intimidating, but charming enough to deserve the love of a beautiful young lady. I know right? But this is what the animators at Disney had to tackle while making Beauty and the Beast. Once they had the character design issue solved, they knew they needed someone talented and charming to bring it to life. Robby Benson made the call, and was smart enough to know what the Beast needed to be in the context of the story. He’s a fascinating family man, overall artist and college professor of Film. Here’s my interview with him:
I had the pleasure of interviewing Paige O’Hara (voice of Belle) and asked her this same question, want to hear your own experience in the same film. What is your favorite moment related to playing the lead on Beauty and The Beast?
I think my favorite moment was when I understood they gave me freedom to make the Beast funny, because I thought it shouldn’t be just a cartoon character, that it should be well rounded. I felt like I understood him, which sounds like a lot of “actor talk” but it’s true. I felt like there were times that, instead of being just angry and wild and loud, that anger at times was pathetically funny. And I feel like I understood that.
That’s a very interesting answer, it actually leads me to my next question. In real life you are a very serene person, how was the process of playing a character so filled with anger and frustration?
It is actually the closest to my personality that I’ve ever played in my career. It made me feel like I was at home, in a very good way. Because in the other roles I’ve played I’ve never had the opportunity to do the things that the Beast does.
And the results speak for themselves, that character is such a lovable part of that movie, excellent work. The rest of your resume is incredible: actor, writer, composer, director (you even directed the TV show Friends at some point). You wrote a very funny book about all of this experiences called “Who Stole the Funny?”. What would you say is the most ludicrous or bizarre experience you’ve had working in the industry?
There are too many to tell you, but to be honest I believe in taking the “Obama” approach and being a gentleman! (laughs). I really do. I don’t like telling stories out of school, so I don’t want to put anybody down, but I can tell you that probably my most passionate and probably my proudest project I’ve ever been a part of has been very behind the scenes in the last eight months, I had the opportunity to produce and sound engineer my daughter’s debut album, and her lyrics and her singing are just phenomenal. It just came out, it’s called Lyrics: Love, Life, Revolution , and it’s on Itunes, Amazon and CDBaby. I’m so proud of her, because it is such a great album. And I’m just so proud to be a part of it, and that me and my wife Karla DeVito all collaborated in this beautiful project.
I have a question about your kids, since you mentioned your daughter. Both of your children are artists as you in different fields. What piece of advice would you give them and also to younger generations about working in the entertainment industry?
I have always said: Only do this if you love it. Never ever do it because you want to be famous. Never ever do it because you want to make money. Good things will happen if you stay true to yourself, if you do it just because you absolutely adore the work. If you adore the work it doesn’t really matters, if you are happy it doesn’t matter, you’ll figure out the way to make it work. Even if you have to moonlight and have another job it doesn’t matter. The second it becomes “cut throat” , the second you are doing it for all the wrong reasons, which is money and fame, that’s when people go wrong. That’s a very subjective point of view, but I believe it, passionately.
And it shows, because you have been so successful in everything you have done in your career. You have to care to make it in my opinion.
I think so, you have to care. I remember having a conversation with someone once, and he said he didn’t care. It was something we were working on creatively. And I said “that’s impossible, you have to care” . And when I found out he truly didn’t care, it literally blew me away, it took me days to comprehend that feeling of someone actually doing this and not caring about it. I think they forget that what we do at that very moment, if it’s on tape, if it’s on film, a handful of people will hear or see, but they will do it for decades. And we want it to be the best it can possibly be. So I do think you have to be very passionate about what you choose to do.
That’s is true. You started in the business at a very young age. Having the experience of being a professor of Film at NYU, what would you say is the main difference starting in the industry nowadays?
I think I was really lucky, I’ve worked with the best pros you can ever imagine. They passed their knowledge forwards to me. I’ve been teaching for the past twenty two years, and having the opportunity of doing so, I feel like it is my obligation to pass it forwards. We need good storytellers, we need good filmmakers, whether is film or digital, it doesn’t matter. We need people who can make us laugh or cry or think. And I think now is my moment to tell others what I know and see if I can help them.
Last question: what’s your favorite Disney film?
By far, Beauty and the Beast.
Me too! (laughs)
It’s been a pleasure and an honor, best of lucks with your daughter’s album.