As both “Harry Potter’s” Hermoine Granger and as herself, Emma Watson has been a role model for countless young woman. Of course, she also looked to a fictional character who brought considerable magic into her life, and now she gets to bring her own idol, “Beauty and the Beast’s” Belle, to life.
The opportunity to bring the bookish, strong-willed, kind-hearted heroine of Disney’s classic 1991 musical animated film to life for the live-action adaptation came with an extra degree of responsibility for Watson. She’d long considered Belle one of the most positive influences she discovered while she was growing up, a character who independence and affinity for reading helped shape her own inclinations over the years, as she revealed during a recent press conference for the new incarnation.
On the significant influence of the original, animated Belle on her as a young girl:
Emma Watson: Just to start, it’s really remarkable to play someone that I’m almost sure had an influence on the woman that I had become, I think. I think the first time I saw Paige O’Hara sing “Belle Reprise,” it’s kind of the “I Want…” song of all “I Want…” songs. I just immediately resonated with her.
I was so young, I didn’t even know what I was tapping into, but there was something about that spirit. There was something about that energy that I just knew she was my champion. I think when I knew I was taking on this role, I wanted to make sure that I was championing that same spirit, those same values, that same young woman that made me a part of who I am today.
So every time we would address a new scene that Bill, or Steve, or Evan had put together, I just always had the original DNA of that woman in mind, and I had my fist up. I was ready to fight. She was so crucial for me. It was just taking what was already there and just expanding it.
I love that in our version, Belle is not only kind of odd and doesn’t fit in, you see her not really a part of a community, in our film, she’s actually an activist within her own community. She’s teaching other young girls who are part of the village read. Moments like that where you can see her expanding beyond just her own little world, and trying to kind of grow it, I loved that. That was amazing to get to do.
On her own experience of feeling like an outsider, and ultimately finding her own place in the world:
I think what’s difficult about being in a microcosm, occasionally a school, or sometimes college universities, is that you feel that the people that are in your immediate surroundings are the only people in the world.
I remember feeling at school, if I didn’t fit, there was nothing else. That’s a really difficult feeling, but I guess what I would say for anyone that feels like an outsider in their environment, there’s a big wide world out there, with so many different people with diverse opinions, and perspectives, and interests, and go out there and find your tribe.
Go find your kindred spirits. They do exist. They don’t necessarily come easily. Pursue the things that you love and that you’re really passionate about. They’ll be there, but don’t give up. They are there.
On the takeaway from Belle’s tremendous passion for books and knowledge:
I think that Belle is this ultimate symbol of the fact that books can be rebellious. They can be incredibly empowering, liberating. They are a means to travel to places in the world that you’d never be able to under the circumstances.
I’m just really proud to play a character that has a certain earnestness about her, honestly, and she’s not in any way ashamed of that. It’s not easy being an outsider. It’s not easy to pick battles and it’s not easy to move and work against the system, to work against the grain, to move against the status quo.
But she does so with kind of this amazing fearlessness, with the support of her father, but really it’s something that she went to on her own, really, at the end of the day. I’m very grateful that this character exists and I get to bring her to life.