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Filmmakers Talk “The Little Mermaid” and Finding Halle Bailey for Ariel During Press Conference

Hi everyone!

We were invited to “The Little Mermaid” live-action press conference, with moderator Nischelle Turner hosting both the filmmakers and the talent in two separate discussions.

The filmmaker discussion featured director/producer Rob Marshall, composer Alan Menken and producer John DeLuca. The press conference took place the morning after what Marshall called a “dream premiere” at the Dolby Theatre in L.A. after working for four-and-a-half years to create the live-action version of the classic Disney animated film.

(L-R): Cinematographer Dion Beebe, Director Rob Marshall, and Producer John DeLuca on the set of Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo by Giles Keyte. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Turner asked how the three were feeling after playing to such a receptive audience that was “cheering after every musical number”.

Marshall said, “I mean, it was very emotional. It’s taken us four and a half years to create this film.” Marshall noted that the entire cast was there during this “incredible” night. “It was one of the great moments in our lives.”

Turner asked DeLuca about “Under the Sea” being the most complex thing to shoot in the film. DeLuca said it was the hardest to conceive and shoot. “I remember Rob and I kind of put it aside for a long time” due to logistics, saying “We’ll get to that”.  Marshall continued, “I know, it was so daunting. Because there’s one live actor. One live actor in this massive production number.”

Alan Menken is a Disney Legend, having composed films that included the original “The Little Mermaid”, and he was brought on for the live-action version. Turner asked him about giving creative license to the performers, including Halle Bailey (Ariel), and whether he has any nervousness just saying, “Do your thing”.

(L-R): Scuttle (voiced by Awkwafina), Flounder (voiced by Jacob Tremblay), and Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Menken answered, “No. I’m not really an intimidating person, but (laughing), I think the composer role can be intimidating to actors.” He talked about how talented Bailey is as Ariel. “The emotion is just right there on her face and in her voice” and “She’s completely adorable. She’s so talented. You can’t take your eyes off her”.  

Menken continued that during the recording sessions when the film was just put together roughly, “Wyatt, the editor, kept tapping to bring over boxes of tissues for me. Because when we got to ‘Part of Your World’, I was just weeping. Part of it is the, you know, missing Howard (Ashman, the lyricist for “The Little Mermaid” in 1989) kind of reaction, and also just remembering the innocence of what we put in there originally”.

Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Menken was not the only one praising Bailey. DeLuca said, “…When she first auditioned and sang the song for us, I turned to Rob and there were tears streaming down his face.” He continued that Bailey was the first actor they saw for the role. “I just thought she’s so deeply connected to what she’s singing about. It’s so emotional. It’s so beautiful. And I thought, (laughing) oh my gosh, we’ve been doing this for five minutes. Have we found Ariel? And we had.”

They did audition hundreds of other actors after that, but Bailey kept coming back in. Marshall replied, “And she claimed the role for hers. That’s what happened.”