Beauty and the Beast’s Belle is one of my favorite Disney princesses of all time. She’s strong, she’s quirky, and she makes it clear that she is not searching for a man in her life. She’s content with her books and her beloved father. When love comes, it comes naturally, starting as a friendship and growing into something more (just like it happened for me).
This week, I had the chance to interview Paige O’Hara, who plays the voice of Belle in Beauty and the Beast and left the interview loving Belle even more, knowing the woman behind the character.
Do you see yourself in Belle and how do you relate to her character?
I relate to her quite a bit actually. Particularly the part of her that felt out of place and odd. Because when I was growing up in Ft. Lauderdale and my friends were listening to Led Zeppelin and I was listening to Gershwin and Rogers & Hammerstein. And I was also a theater person, which is kind of like not the norm, I was totally indulged in theater since the time I was 6 years old as well as my artwork.
So I was sort of an oddball, I mean I still managed to have a fairly normal teenaged life, but I’ve always loved books and I’ve always loved that side of her wanting independence. She wasn’t looking for a man. You know, and 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 go to Broadway and experience life, travel around the world, have a career.
So there are a lot of aspects of myself in her.
Certainly I understood the sacrifice that she made for her father, because I felt that way about my parents before they passed on. I would have done the same thing. I actually put my career on hold for about 7 years to take care of them when they were sick and I don’t regret any of that. It was the most important thing I could do at that time.
How does it feel to be identified with a character you portrayed over 20 years ago?
It was just a little over a year ago that we were promoting the blu ray, and Disney put me on a press tour. We went to London and all these different cities. There was a very funny moment when I was with little kids, you know 5 and 6 year olds… and I walked in the room and their jaws dropped and this little girl came up to me, she says “Belle, where’s your ball gown?”
So they couldn’t really equate Paige, the older Paige, with Belle but then I just popped on the floor, opened up the book and starting reading the book in Belle’s voice and all of a sudden I had like 150 kids around me and it was timeless, it was like 20 years just didn’t matter. It really was a remarkable thing. I felt like the Pied Piper.
You loved princesses growing up – now Belle is alongside Cinderella and Snow White. She is what little girls love. How do you feel being a part of that legacy?
It’s one of the greatest honors of my life.
Coming from the Broadway world and the theater world where a lot of the performances are long forgotten, this is something I’m a part of that’s going to affect children for generations and generations to come.
Mary Poppins had a huge effect on me when I saw it, and Julie Andrews was the main reason why I went into the theater – that movie made me want to go into theater. It’s my favorite movie of all time. I really loved Cinderella as well, and I was just really glad at this time when this film came out that Belle was more independent and had more of an intellectual side to her and had her goal was to NOT get a man. Her goal was to find adventure, and to learn about the world, and it’s really just kind of amazing that that it’s still going on and it’s going to go on still long after I’m gone.
What’s your favorite scene from Beauty and the Beast and favorite song?
Well my favorite scene is where Belle and the Beast are playing in the snow. The little bird hops on his paw, and he’s seeing the bird and he looks up at her. I spoke with my directors and we decided that was the moment she begins to fall in love with him. And so when she sings “…new and a bit alarming,” she’s feeling romantic feelings for him for the first time. So I think that is my favorite scene.
What was it like singing at the Oscars?
They gave us the option to lip synch or sing live and of course I’m going to sing live – I’m a Broadway girl, you know. But 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.
I look and I see Barbara Streisand, Nick Nolte , Warren Beatty, I was like, ‘OK, just do your thing’, so I just kicked into my Broadway gear and I was fine. It was amazing. It was scary.
If you could ask Paige one question, what would it be?
Disclosure: I was not compensated for this post, but the trip to New York City and the shows and activities were paid for by Disney/Dreamworks. All opinions are my own.
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