Diving Deep at ‘The Little Mermaid’ Press Conference

Huzzah, Disney’s The Little Mermaid has almost arrived on shore! Slated to be released theatrically on May 26, the film is a live-action adaptation of the 1989 animated classic.

It stars Halle Bailey as Ariel, a young mermaid princess who longs to explore life above the sea levels. She strikes an ill-advised deal with sea witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy), giving up her voice in exchange for becoming a human for three days to chase after the handsome Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King).

Additional starring cast members include Daveed Diggs as Sebastian, Awkwafina as Scuttle, Jacob Tremblay as Flounder, Javier Bardem as King Triton, and Noma Dumezweni as new character Queen Selina. The film was directed by Rob Marshall, who serves as a producer alongside Marc Platt, John DeLuca, and Lin-Manuel Miranda. David Magee penned the screenplay. Composer Alan Menken, who worked on the 1989 animated film, composed the score and wrote several new songs alongside Miranda.

Ahead of the film’s theatrical release, the cast got together for a virtual press conference hosted by Nischelle Turner on May 9. The Nerds of Color got a chance to attend and hear from Bailey, Hauer-King, Diggs, Awkwafina, Tremblay, Bardem, McCarthy, and Dumezweni. Plus, Awkwafina answered one of NOC’s questions! Read on below to hear what they had to say.

Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The first question was directed at Hauer-King:

Eric and Ariel’s love story is an iconic one, but you both did an amazing job bringing new life to it. What was your favorite new addition to their story that you got to explore with the two of you?

Hauer-King: Friendship, I think. Disney romances are always, you know, they’re filled with that instinctive attraction to one another. We all wanna see that. But I think what was fun about this — and I think a lot of it came from our off-screen selves as well — 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 were very much looking outwards and not in. And I think what was nice about that was that it meant that their relationship feels really earned. 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. 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. So, that was really fun to explore and it was easy ’cause, you know, [Bailey’s] a riot, so we kinda got on fine.

The next question was for Bardem.

Javier, you have created a lot of memorable characters on screen. How did you want your character to be different here from what you’ve created in the past?

Bardem: I guess I tried to do just my job. And the job, it was very specific. It’s about a man who is deeply in love as a father with his daughter, and he’s confused and his fear and insecurity with that love. But he’s blocking her from her being free. So that kind of relationship is what I have to create, and that’s the role I have to play in the tale, for the tale to make sense … one of the beautiful themes in the story is that the mother and the father, the adults learn from their kids. Very important lesson of what love means. They thought they knew, but no, they didn’t have a glimpse of what real love is until they see their own kids departing.

That was followed by a question for Dumezweni.

You play a character that you don’t have in the original work, that we didn’t see, a 100% original live action character. So, were there challenges in making a character without seeming out of place with the familiar cast that we all know?

Dumezweni: In the loveliest way, no challenges. Because what I’m trusting is Rob Marshall and Bernard Telsey[‘s] casting, and all the people involved, and Disney [to go], “We want you to be part of this, and we’re creating this story” … they know the story inside and out. They’ve done their work. My daughter was 12 when I got this gig, and she just turned 16 a few weeks ago. So the sense of [trusting] the work that’s there because they know what they would like to see, so therefore … I was very lucky. All I do is just trust the people I’m working with. And when you can play with people in that way, it’s easy to just let be, not to hold on tight. So of course, I will watch myself going, ‘Ah, ah, ah,’ but you go, no, it works. And a good costume by Colleen Atwood always works for me. I’m, like, cheap. Give me a good costume, give me good hair, and I’m very happy. So all those things went into this.

Then, Turner asked Diggs a question of her own.

Daveed, I kind of talked to you about this last night, but I wanted to ask you this too, because you said, like, this is the coolest thing you’ve ever been a part of. And people are, like, this man has been in Hamilton, Blindspotting. Like, everything. Come on, why does this sit with you so well and so deep?

Diggs: We were just talking about this. It’s just big, and it wasn’t — well, particularly for us, I think, but I think in general the way we worked on it, and this is why I think it’s good, wasn’t big. We worked on it like it was a small thing. At least in that work session, it really felt like we were kind of doing, like, community theater. We were pushing boxes around, like, to make sets, you know what I’m saying? And we got in this groove where it was, like, that’s how you make art. We made something that we understood, that everybody could wrap their arms around, and that we really believed in and knew inside and out. And then so to show up when they’re shutting down the street and, like, the posters are huge, and then you watch the film and it’s massive, on this massive screen, and the world, it’s a whole world that I never saw at all, you know what I’m saying? I recorded some voices and I dipped [all laugh]. So, like, I never saw any of that. And so to just sit there and be struck by it, it’s just it is really cool, to see a thing that, like, you thought only existed in your imagination. It really felt like we were just building a world in our heads, but then it was there on the screen. That was crazy.

The next question was for Bailey.

When you were told the part was yours, that you were going to be Ariel, the Little Mermaid, what was your first reaction?

Bailey: I was just crying. I think we had celebrated my sister’s birthday the day before. So we were, like, we rented an Airbnb, we were coming home, like, unloading everything, like, in work mode. And then I got this call from Rob. And I don’t answer unknown numbers, so I just saw it, I’m like, whatever, not gonna answer it. And then my baby brother, like, comes running to me, was like, “Answer your phone, answer your phone.” [laugh] And I was like, okay. So I answered it, and then Rob was like, “Hello. I’m looking for Ariel.” And I was like, oh my gosh, and just crying for, like, the whole day.

The next question chosen was from the NOC for Awkwafina!

How do you get into character for voice roles like Scuttle, versus, like, you know, anything else that you do?

Awkwafina: You know, I would really like to say that I do, like, steaming or, like, exercise [all laugh]. I would love to say that I don’t go out the night before and I wake up early the day of. … I can say that I take a B12 vitamin before. No, I don’t, I really don’t. I wake up, I show up. Usually I’m in Crocs. And I’m just like, “Alright, let’s run it, Jed.” And then we do it.

After that, it was McCarthy’s turn to answer a question.

What was the best part of filming, and then what was the most challenging thing for you for this film?

McCarthy: I think that the best part of filming was every little minute of it. It was the rehearsal, it was the crazy 60-foot clam shell. It was trying so desperately not to cry every time you sang a melody, because I was like, I don’t want her to think I’m crazy, as, like, tears are running down my face. The whole process. Rob Marshall, I think we all agree, sets up this world that is like, it is like why I fell in love with plays. It feels so small and yet you know it’s this enormous thing, but it just feels like if we all do our best, like, maybe we can make a show. And then it just becomes so personal and everyone’s doing their best, and he’s just there wrapped and swaddled in cashmere, just cheering quietly. Like, just quietly cheering everyone on. And
everyone, from the actors to, like, talking about the gorgeous camera moves and the sound department’s killing it and look at the costumes and it’s an appreciation of every human and all the moving parts that it takes to make a movie work. And having a cheerleader like that is like, I can’t even explain how fortunate I feel, and I’m sure all of us feel too. Just a soft, gentle cheerleader. If the world had that running everything, you know, we wouldn’t be so mad at each other.

The next question was for Tremblay.

Can you talk about the amount of vocal preparation and coaching that went into your performance?

Tremblay: Yeah. Well, it was my first time, you know, singing at all, so other than, like, in the shower, you know, if that even counts. I did work with a vocal coach, and he just taught me, like, a bunch of warm ups, I guess. So, you know, you do a bunch of warm ups. … It was, like, a bunch of, like, tongue twisters. And I got good at them after a while. I liked it.

The following question was for Bardem.

Which musical sequence were you most excited to watch, since you didn’t have a song?

Bardem: All of them. I mean, all of them are very special. The quality of the choreography, the singing, the lyrics, the music, everything. It’s top notch. I mean, it’s top. And you could see the reaction of the crowd yesterday how they were applauding. The noise, they were enjoying, they were celebrating every number, as it deserves.

The next question was directed at all of the cast members.

What does it mean to you to bring The Little Mermaid to a whole new generation?

Diggs: I mean, I have a hard time wrapping my head around that, honestly. … A really good friend of mine who the day I got cast was, like, I’m bringing my daughter to the premiere, whenever that is. So he brought his daughter to the premiere last night. And that was such a special experience. And then me remembering that I, like, I stood in line to see The Little Mermaid opening night in Oakland, like, you know, when it first came out. That was, it was just this moment of oh, yeah, this thing that was sort of a fundamental part of my childhood is gonna be that maybe for this little girl, who was also so terrified of Ursula that I had to introduce her to Melissa afterwards so that she didn’t have nightmares.

McCarthy: Yeah, I don’t think I made it better [all laugh].

Hauer-King: Yeah, same as Daveed. It’s hard to wrap your head around it. The first time I saw it a couple weeks ago, I was with my family and some of the cast who are based in the UK. And Art Malik was there, who plays Sir Grimsby, and he brought his grandson out there, who is eight years old. And it was amazing seeing my mom’s reaction. It was amazing seeing my sister’s reaction. But seeing this little boy’s reaction, who I’d never met before, and seeing how taken in by the story he was, how transported by it, it was really, really special. And his eyes were wide and he was laughing and crying, and just watching it through his eyes was really, really special.

Tremblay: Yeah, no, it’s really cool, ’cause, you know, I have little cousins as well, and … a lot of the time I kind of do things that I’m not able to show my own cousins. But this is one of those things where I’m … I’m really excited to be able to show it to my family, and I always love to share with them and see younger audiences enjoy it. And I think it’s really important that all children can watch a movie and really see themselves in the characters.

And finally, the last question was for Bailey.

It was clear how much fun everyone had in the final product, but what was the most fun sequence to shoot?

Bailey: Oh, wow. Well, I definitely think there were so many moments that were so much fun to film. But the funniest, like, most hilarious moment will be a moment with me and Jonah, because — [laugh] I think when he first was, your first few days on set — you were thrown in the tank with me. So we had our first kind of moment of me kind of picking him up and saving him and having to be in the middle of the rainstorm and the wave machine and the—

Hauer-King: Literally saving me. ‘Cause I was drowning, so thank you [laugh].

Bailey: So we were both trying to survive this moment, and, you know, in the tank at Pinewood, it’s so intense. When they turn on the thunder and lightning and fires around us and the waves, it feels like you’re in the middle of the ocean, like actually in the middle of a thunderstorm. So I was trying to look like, you know, I’m a mermaid, I do this all the time. And at the same time-

Hauer-King: I was just passed out. I was fine.

Bailey: Yeah [laugh]. And Jonah’s like, you know, so much taller than me, but I had to hold him up. And we kept laughing about these boots that he had to wear, because he kept sinking under because of the boots. And, you know, so we to, like, raise our hands and ask Rob, we’re like, “You know, you don’t see the boots, right? So can he just take them off?” Because he kept, like, stepping on my toes.

Hauer-King: I was kicking you. I was kicking you. Just say it, I was—

Bailey: He was like, yeah, he was kicking me.

Hauer-King: I was kicking you. I was breaking your shins [all laugh].

Bailey: So we were just dying in the water the whole time. Like, we have to look natural. It’s gonna
be okay. It’s gonna be okay. But that was, like, the funniest moment, I think.

Hauer-King: It was quite bonding as well ’cause it was early on.

Turner: So the moral to that is you injured Ariel [all laugh].

Hauer-King: Yeah, yeah. Basically almost killed her.

Photo by Giles Keyte. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Be sure to catch The Little Mermaid in theaters May 26!