5 Things We Learned From Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” Talent Press Conference

On Tuesday, May 9th, the cast of Disney’s The Little Mermaid – Halle Bailey, Melissa McCarthy, Javier Bardem, Daveed Diggs, Awkwafina, Jacob Tremblay, Jonah Hauer-King, and Noma Dumezweni – sat down for a virtual press conference moderated by Entertainment Tonight’s Nischelle Turner to discuss how this classic story was updated for the 21st Century and how they managed to offer original takes on such beloved characters. Below, we summarized the five most important things we learned.

Halle Bailey in The Little Mermaid

1. Halle Bailey developed a “kinship” with Ariel throughout the film’s production.

Halle Bailey was first cast as Ariel in the summer of 2019, and now, four years later, The Little Mermaid is finally premiering. When commenting on that experience, Bailey said that Ariel “truly has helped [her] find [herself]” and guide her through the “transformative years [of] developing as a young woman,” thanks to the film’s themes of “[going] through with [your] passions” and “speaking up for [yourself].”

“Even though it may be scary, [Ariel] went for it,” Bailey said. “I feel like those things I really try to adopt and give to Halle now. So, she’s taught me so much, for sure.”

Halle Bailey in The Little Mermaid

2. This The Little Mermaid “reflects the world we live in”

When asked about this cast – and the diversity of it – Awkwafina (who voices Scuttle in the film) said that this The Little Mermaid “reflects the world we live in,” as “everyone deserves to see themselves on screen.” There’s a naturalness to the diversity that doesn’t try to draw attention to itself, but instead simply subtly depict 21st Century society as is, evolving this take on the classic tale from its predecessor.

Jonah Hauer-King and Halle Bailey in The Little Mermaid

3. Though The Little Mermaid is a fairy tale, this version remains rooted in reality.

When asked about his take on Prince Eric – and “a Disney prince” in general – Jonah Hauer-King said that “even though we’re living in this fantasy space [in the film], it just feels really connected to the world and to the real world,” with themes that can parallel events and experiences taking place today and reminding us why this story matters.

Melissa McCarthy added that Bailey’s and Hauer-King’s performances as Ariel and Eric brought “humanity” to characters that could’ve become “caricatures,” and showed that “everyone walks with the same problems and the same troubles and worries.”

Jonah Hauer-King and Halle Bailey in The Little Mermaid

4. The greatest new addition to Ariel and Eric’s romance? Their friendship.

When asked about updating Ariel and Eric’s romance, Hauer-King said his favorite addition was the exploration of their initial friendship.

“Disney romances are always filled with that instinctive attraction to one another,” Hauer-King said. “But I think what was fun about this… was looking at Ariel and Eric as two people who were kindred spirits who felt a little bit restless, who felt like they were behind the four walls of their respective castles, and very much looking outwards and not in. And I think what was nice about that was that it meant that their relationship feels really earnt. They both felt like they were teaching each other things. They were excited and fascinated by each other’s worlds although they didn’t actually know it until the end.”

He added: “And so that was really lovely because I think, actually Melissa said this yesterday, that I think it’s a really good message for what it means to be in love and what it means to be in a relationship is ultimately tied to friendship. That’s the fundamental thing of it. And that’s why it lasts, and that’s what makes it special.”

Halle Bailey in The Little Mermaid

5. Halle Bailey almost missed director Rob Marshall’s call offering the role of Ariel.

When asked about her initial reaction to being offered the role of Ariel, Halle Bailey offered quite an amusing anecdote, saying that her family had just “celebrated [her] sister’s birthday the day before” and were “coming home [and] unloading everything, in work mode” – and then she got the call. But there was another wrinkle.

“I don’t answer unknown numbers, so I just saw it [and was] like, whatever, not gonna answer it,” Bailey said. “And then my baby brother comes running to me like, ‘Answer your phone, answer your phone.’ … so I answered it, and then Rob was like, ‘Hello, I’m looking for Ariel.'”

The Little Mermaid Is In Theaters May 26th

The Little Mermaid 2023 Poster

Written by
Though Zoë Rose Bryant has only worked in film criticism for a little under three years - turning a collegiate passion into a full-time career by writing for outlets such as Next Best Picture and Awards Watch - her captivation with cinema has been a lifelong fascination, appreciating film in all its varying forms, from horror movies to heartfelt romantic comedies and everything in between. Born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, she made the move to Los Angeles in 2021 after graduating college and now spends her days keeping tabs on all things pop culture and attempting to attend every screening under the sun. As a trans critic, she also seeks to champion underrepresented voices in the LGBTQ+ community in film criticism and offer original insight on how gender and sexuality are explored in modern entertainment. You can find Zoë on Twitter, Instagram, and Letterboxd at @ZoeRoseBryant.

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