THE LITTLE MERMAID Director Rob Marshall Talks About Casting His First Choice Actress Halle Bailey as Ariel
Disney’s live-action The Little Mermaid opens in theaters this next Friday, and fans are looking forward to the film, which will showcase the incredible talents of the star-studded cast led by Halle Bailey as the title mermaid, Ariel. Bailey sounds like a real-life Disney princess, with the chops to play a part written around her voice. The film’s director, Rob Marshall, who previously directed Nine, Annie, Into the Woods and Mary Poppins Returns, recently chatted with Deadline about finding the perfect leading lady, and when asked about hearing her sing, he said:
I first saw Halle on the Grammys, when we had just started casting. We were looking everywhere, and there was no agenda to cast a woman of color. Just, let’s find the best Ariel. And then I saw this beautiful creature, singing like an angel on the Grammys. I thought, who is this? We brought her in. I had no idea if she could act, but thought, she’s so kind of ethereal and otherworldly about her. And when she sang Part of Your World, by the end of the song, I was in tears. I wasn’t even aware that I was in tears. She was so deeply connected to the emotion of the song. You know, she just has a natural depth to her.
He went on:
The thing about Ariel that’s so tricky is that you’re asking for so many things. You’re asking for innocence and vulnerability, but strength at the same time. Strong-willed, almost bullheaded kind of character who sees what they want and goes to get it. But there had to be joy from her, and Halle had all of that. She was the first actor we saw for the film, the first one. And then we saw everybody else. She set the bar so high, and nobody surpassed that bar. We did a screen test with her, and it was just, well, this is it. I went immediately to Bob Iger with the screen test, and within minutes he said, yes, of course. She’s Ariel.
When asked about the controversy that arose when a black woman was announced as the actress who would play Ariel, Marshall said:
I didn’t think that it was a big deal, casting a woman of color. I thought, that’s an archaic way to see the world. When that controversy arose, from narrow-minded people, I thought, wow, that really feels like it’s coming from another century. Are we really still there? But the bonus that came with that casting, and I wasn’t aware of it at the time, is seeing these young girls of color and young boys of color looking at her and thinking, wow, I’m represented. It was very, very moving to me.
I have loved seeing the reactions of people of color seeing Halle Bailey in the role. She’s got such an incredible voice. She truly embodies the part, and I can’t wait to see what they’ve done with the film.
Watch The Little Mermaid in theaters on May 26th.