Being Belle: Interview with Paige O’Hara , “Belle”, from BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
There are so very few truly empowered characters in film nowadays, especially female ones. That’s probably one of the reasons why BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is still relevant: it has one of the most interesting lead characters in a family film: Belle.
Growing up as a shy, nerdy, little girl who loved books and film, watching a character like Belle on screen for the first time was nothing but a delightful discovery: there’s a girl I can identify with. And I’m sure I wasn’t the only person who felt that way.
And it doesn’t end there: Belle’s not only smart, she doesn’t take anything from anyone, not even a huge monster-like creature. She doesn’t settle for just marriage, she wants true love. Craves adventure, wants out of the small town she’s in, wants better for her life. Just my type of lead character, and the fact that it’s a female character just makes it more interesting.
To play such a great role, you need someone great, and I can’t think of a better choice than Paige O’Hara. While talking to her I discovered why: she is smart, talented, kind and she also just happens to be beautiful.
Read my full interview with her below:
I’m here with the very talented Paige O’Hara, most of you may recognize her as the voice of Belle in Beauty and the Beast, which will be released in theaters in 3D this Friday. How are you?
Paige: I’m doing great, how are you?
Good, happy to be here. Belle is such an empowered character in a “princess” type of story, something very unusual, what would you say was the most challenging part of voicing this role?
Paige: The challenge was not even the character, because it was something I could easily identify with from the beginning. Really the challenge was the medium of doing the film, because of my stage background, where you have to project through a balcony, so it was all about softening your acting voice/singing voice on the film. Once I realized how to do that it was a wonderful journey, developing a role and working along with Robbie Benson as the Beast. That was a God sent, we don’t get to do this anymore where we were actually recording together.
What would you say was your favorite moment related to playing Belle?
Paige: Oh boy…, really the whole process was over three years, it was very special, getting to know all these wonderful people who worked on the film, working with the great Howard Ashman and Alan Menken , and getting to spend the time with Howard before he passed away, he didn’t get to see the film. I talked to him on the phone by the time of the press release, we were going to do press conferences and they wanted me to sing Angela’s song from the film. I went over Alan’s house and learned it on the piano, we called Howard and I sang it over the phone, he said “Oh it’s so beautiful! I love it!”, and that was actually the last time I really got to talk to Howard, so that was a very special moment. The next time I heard his voice was in the hospital, I was recording “Something There” with the Symphony , and that line “a bit alarming”, I wasn’t getting it, and Howard said to the headset “think Straisand!” And I said “mmmm…ok!” and I nailed it! (laughs). It was fun.
That’s lovely, I actually own the film and have seen the special features and I know what you are talking about. It was a very special moment.
Paige: It was!
Some people don’t know that besides doing the voice of belle in the main feature and its sequels, you also have a very interesting career as a plastic artist and also on Broadway, would you like to comment on this?
Paige: It’s funny, I’ve always painted, since I was three years old. I would copy artists as Da Vinci and Turner. I did watercolors growing up and I would sell them on the street when I was starting out in New York. I switched to oils fifteen years ago. Two years ago I did a portrait of Belle, and one of the head gentlemen, Michael Young, saw it at a art signing, and told me “Oh my God!” and they signed me as an artist for Disney Fine Arts. That was an amazing experience, so I’ve been painting other things and scenes from Beauty and the Beast for Disney Fine Arts. I continue to work on stage at the Luxor hotel in Las Vegas, the play its called “Menopause, The Musical!” and this is my seventh year playing a very bratty character, the opposite from Belle. She is a bratty soap star, but it’s very funny. I do come from thirty years in the business, and have been in a lot of Broadway shows. I’m very blessed I can still go on stage and still work with Disney.
I’ve seen your paintings on the website, “Belle’s by Belle”, and they are gorgeous.
Paige: Thank you very much.
Going back to Belle, any funny moment or even an odd anecdote related to playing this character?
Paige: (Laughs). Really just the hardest part was when I started, Robbie Benson wasn’t hired yet, and I auditioned totally calmed, but the first day of actually getting the part and coming in, all of the sudden this very loud voice comes from the microphone and Howard Ashman says “Stop! What are you doing? You are not playing for the second balcony! Do what you did in the audition, small and real, don’t change your voice, make it your voice.” And all of the sudden I made it through the whole first session , but at that moment I was laughing, “I can be calm now!”. But you know after that moment we had to stop and they were laughing since I was such a nervous rack, it became such a wonderful experience.
And I guess we all know how it ended (laughs).
Paige: yeah we do! (laughs)
I really admire the fact that you always choose to play very empowered characters, both in animation and on stage, any words/advice on empowerment in real life?
Paige: Absolutely, I mean, that’s the main thing about Belle, the princess of Belle being different to all the other Disney ones. Her goal is not to find a man, her goal is to learn about life, and literature, and make herself better and a strong person, and love will happen, but you have to love yourself and respect yourself in order to be able to love somebody else. I think that kind of empowerment, specially with Belle, who lived in a time period when most women didn’t know how to read, made her very special. I can encourage all the young women out there to be able to seek their dreams, and if you want something don’t stop, and be kind on yourself on achieving it, don’t beat yourself up like I tend to do, just go after it and diligently stick to your call.
That’s true, even after all this years after the film there are still so very few really empowered female characters in both screen and literature, so you really have to embrace the few ones that are still around.
Paige: There’s a wonderful series of books that have been around for twelve years now, James Patterson on the Maximum Ride series, and Max is a girl who is a leader and is genetically engineered to be able to fly, and has super strength, and is a teenager characters that is heroic since she’s trying to save the world! (Laughs).
What is your involvement with the books and audiobooks of Beauty and The Beast?
Paige: I recorded a lot of the books and stuff, we’ve been recording Belle’s voice since a couple of months ago when we decided I’m not doing it anymore, it got harder and harder to sang the way I did so many years ago, pretty much until the last few months all the books and the toys is my voice.
Do you have any words you would like to share with your many fans about the experience you have had as an actress, any words of wisdom you would like to say to close the interview?
Paige: as you know I became an actress at a very young age, and I went to New York at seventeen, I think the hardest thing for me to accept was rejection, because you would get more rejections than achievements in terms of the roles you are going over. The hardest thing for me to learn was to accept rejection and move on. Be prepared, if you are going into the business do your preparation, do your studying, put your time in, so when you walk into that door you know what you are doing, so that you can give them your best on that audition, and then you can walk away and move into the next project. Being able to also have a hobby that would take you away from the show business .As an actress in New York you can live three days of twenty four hours work a day, you are out of your mind . For me painting was a way to get some scape of it, sometimes you have to walk away to stay fresh. That’s my best advice: be prepared and have your work done.
Thank you so much, it’s been great talking to you.
Paige: Thank you.