Halle Bailey and Jonah Hauer-King on ‘The Little Mermaid’s Love Story

admin2021May 26, 2023

From director Rob Marshall and screenwriter David Magee, Disney’s live-action reimagining of The Little Mermaid goes on an adventure with a curious young mermaid, as she explores the world beyond the sea and interacts with humans for the first time. While on land, Ariel (Halle Bailey), who traded her siren song for legs bestowed on her by the sea witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy), gets to know Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) and the two form a connection that just might be strong enough to bring the kingdoms of sea and land together.

During this conference to promote the new film, co-stars Bailey, Hauer-King and McCarthy talked about the kinship Bailey felt for Ariel, what it means to be a Disney prince, Ariel and Eric’s love story, bringing Ursula to life, and the most memorable sequence for Bailey and Hauer-King.


Question: Halle, what was your reaction to learning that you’d be playing Ariel in The Little Mermaid?

HALLE BAILEY: Oh, my gosh, I was just sobbing. I was crying. We had celebrated my sister’s birthday the day before, so we had rented an Airbnb and were coming home, unloading everything in work mode. And then, I got this call from (director) Rob [Marshall]. I don’t answer unknown numbers, so I was like, “Whatever, I’m not gonna answer it.” And then, my baby brother comes running to like, “Answer your phone!” I was like, “Okay.” So, I answered it, and then Rob was like, “Hello, I’m looking for Ariel.” I was like, “Oh, my gosh!,” and was just crying for the whole day.

Halle Bailey as Ariel in The Little Mermaid
Image via Disney

Do you feel a kinship with Ariel, in any way? Do you have things in common?

BAILEY: Absolutely. I feel like Ariel truly has helped me find myself and this young woman version of me. It’s been five years of my life now, from 18 to 23. Those are very intense, transformative years, as you’re developing as a young woman. But I feel like especially these themes of the film and what she had to go through with her passions and drive and speaking up for herself, and how even though it may be scary, she went for it, those are things I really try to adopt and give to Halle now. She’s taught me so much, for sure.

Jonah, being a Disney princess is a big deal, but being a Disney prince is cool too. Are you ready for the world to see you in that role?

JONAH HAUER-KING: I don’t know if I’m ready for it, to be honest. It’s a great privilege. It’s a huge honor. What’s special about this is that the whole film feels very grounded in reality. The Disney prince and princess aspect is amazing. It’s fun and exciting. But even though we’re living in this fantasy space, the themes just feels really connected to the real world. But being a Disney prince is weird.

BAILEY: It’s so weird.

HAUER-KING: It’s definitely weird.

MELISSA McCARTHY: I just wanna say, instead of it being these caricatures, you guys have given them humanity. You’ve tethered that these are real people and that everyone walks with the same problems, the same troubles, and the same worries. That’s the big difference. They brought their humanity to the screen.

HAUER-KING: Thank you.

Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric in The Little Mermaid
Image via Disney

Ariel and Eric’s love story is an iconic one. Jonah, what was your favorite new addition to their story?

HAUER-KING: The friendship. Disney romances are always filled with that instinctive attraction to one another. We all wanna see that. But I think what was fun about this was looking at Ariel and Eric as two people who are kindred spirits that are a little bit restless, and who were behind the four walls of their respective castles, very much looking outwards and not in. What was nice about that was that it meant 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. That was really lovely. It’s a really good message for what it means to be in love and what it means to be in a relationship, which is ultimately tied to friendship. That’s the fundamental thing of it. That’s why it lasts, and that’s what makes it special. So, that was really fun to explore, and it was easy because Halle is a riot, so we got on fine.

Melissa, what was the best part of filming this for you, and what was the most challenging part?

McCARTHY: The best part of filming was every little minute of it. It was the rehearsal. It was the crazy 60-foot clamshell. It was trying so desperately not to, every time Halle sang a melody because I didn’t want her to think I’m crazy, with tears running down my face. It was the whole process. I think we’d all agree that Rob Marshall set up this world that is similar to why I fell in love with plays. It feels so small, and yet it’s this enormous thing. It just feels like, if we all do our best, maybe we can make a show. It became so personal. Everyone was doing their best, and Rob was there, just swaddled in cashmere and quietly cheering everyone on. Everyone, from the actors, to the gorgeous camera moves, to the sound department killing it, to the costumes, it’s an appreciation of every human and all the moving parts that it takes to make a movie work. Having a cheerleader like that, I can’t even explain how fortunate I feel. I’m sure we all feel that. If the world had that kind of cheerleader running everything, we wouldn’t be so mad at each other. And the most challenging part of filming was just to do good for him and to keep up with this incredible cast.

Didn’t you say that you actually never touched the ground?

McCARTHY: I slipped on the clamshell occasionally, onto my back, but I was literally never on my feet. We were either up in rigs, or various different magical things. If you were diving, it was one rig. If you were spinning, it was another. I was never on the ground.

Melissa McCarthy as Ursula in The Little Mermaid
Image via Disney

Halle, what was the most fun sequence for you to shoot?

BAILEY: There were so many moments that were so much fun to film. The funniest, most hilarious moment was with me and Jonah, when he was thrown in the tank with me, in his first few days on set. We had our first moment of me picking him up and saving him, and having to be in the middle of the rainstorm with the wave machine.

HAUER-KING: She literally had to save me because I was drowning.

BAILEY: We were both trying to survive that moment in the tank at Pinewood. It was so intense. When they turned on the thunder and lightning, and had the fires around us and the waves, it felt like you were in the middle of the ocean, actually in the middle of a thunderstorm. I was trying to look like a mermaid who does that all the time.

HAUER-KING: I was just passed out. I was fine.

BAILEY: And Jonah is so much taller than me, but I had to hold him up. We kept laughing about these boots that he had to wear because he kept sinking under. I said to Rob, “You don’t see the boots, right? Can he just take them off?” Because he kept stepping on my toes.

HAUER-KING: I was kicking her and breaking her shins. It was really bad. But Rob was like, “No.”

BAILEY: He said, “No, keep the boots on. It’s fine.” We were just dying in the water, the whole time and we had to look natural. That was the funniest moment.

HAUER-KING: It was quite bonding, as well, because it was early on. I basically almost killed her. I almost broke her legs.

The Little Mermaid opens in theaters on May 26th.

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