Behind the Scenes of 'Beauty and the Beast'
The film’s stars and creators share memories of shooting in a French village on a stage outside London
Before production began, Emma Watson worked closely with Bill Condon and Dan Stevens to polish the script, adding what she calls “detail and depth and fullness and wholeness to the scenes.” She also focused on fine-tuning Belle’s character, expanding beyond what little was established in the 1991 film. Says Watson: “There was never very much information or detail at the beginning of the story as to why Belle didn’t fit in, other than she liked books.” Lots and lots of books, like the ones she’s holding here as she takes direction from Condon in the library. Later in the movie we also learn where Belle and her father lived before moving to the “little town full of little people.” It’s a city that holds special meaning for Watson. “l sing a song called ‘Paris of My Childhood,’ which was odd for me to sing because I was born in Paris and my childhood was in Paris,” she says. “It’s a sweet melody, a really lovely song.”
For the “poor provincial town” that Belle longs to escape, the crew built a real French village on the Shepperton back lot, providing a dramatic contrast between this cozy setting and the imposing castle nearby. Greenwood says her team combed French towns looking for a place to shoot, and though they found candidates in Conques and near Paris, when it came time to discuss bringing cast and crew to these actual villages, they realized it would be easier to create one from scratch. “As much as I thought it should be real, how could you say, 'No, I don’t want to build a French village on the back lot’? So we built it,” Greenwood explains. “That was great because we could then hybrid all the things we’d seen and put all the best elements into our village.” Including a wandering French rooster. Cocorico!
Kevin Kline’s wayward Maurice, Belle’s father, finds himself lost in the woods near the Beast’s castle on his way to sell his music boxes at the market. If he looks safe here, he won’t be for long. “I spent so much time getting pushed around,” Kline says with a laugh. “I noticed it after a couple of weeks, and I said to Bill, 'I’m on the floor again.’ [Maurice] is sort of the fall guy, so I get roughed up a lot!” As fans of the fairy tale will remember, Belle’s papa eventually reaches the Beast’s castle, a majestic but creepy estate Kline describes as “disquieting” to see in person. “It wouldn’t be my first choice if I weren’t stuck in a snowstorm and being pursued by these ravenous wolves,” he quips. Production designer Sarah Greenwood says she and her team emphasized the castle’s magic and grandeur in the grounds and exteriors nearby: “The whole landscape became part of the enchantment.”
It’s easy to become blasé when you’re an actor used to working on lavish productions. But the Beauty and the Beast cast never tired of their surroundings. “I remember the first time Emma Thompson and I saw the ballroom set and our jaws dropped because it’s just so gorgeous,” says Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who plays Plumette. The majestic ballroom was the perfect setting for the final number, when the Beast and all the household objects return to their human form. “Just breathing it in, from the costumes to the flowers to the music, and everybody dancing and swirling around in unison, there was a real magic to it.” The room also evolves with the story. “In the prologue, before he gets transformed into the Beast, it’s almost as opulent as Versailles,” set decorator Katie Spencer says. “Then it’s an echo of what happens to him, and then it comes back for the big celebration at the end.”
Filming Beauty and the Beast can be, well, a beast — at least for Luke Evans and Josh Gad, whose extra-macho Gaston and less-than-macho Le Fou shared bombastic scenes that sometimes led to mildly painful accidents. “We slapped hands so hard, [Josh] burst a blood vessel in his thumb,” Evans (right, with Gad and producer David Hoberman) recalls, laughing. “We had to stop rehearsals, get the medic in. He thought his finger was going to drop off, but I think he’ll survive. We just slapped hands hard, but obviously we just caught our thumbs at some point, and he’s a delicate flower.” But if they’re sounding too similar to their characters here, don’t worry: At least Gad can confirm that his hair in the film is completely fake. “If I had hair this good, I would not be doing Beauty and the Beast right now,” he deadpans. “I would be modeling.”
In this scene, Audra McDonald’s Madame de Garderobe sings for the prince just before he’s transformed into a hairy horned creature. De Garderobe craves attention, but McDonald herself responded a bit more modestly when she learned she’d won the role. “I was just shocked I was asked to be involved, to the point that when I was flying over there, I was like, 'Do they really want me to play her?’” she says. “I was pretty much in disbelief until they put the costume on me and shoved me out on-set.” Which then just made her even more speechless, of course. “When I walked on-set, it felt like I was walking into a dream.” Stanley Tucci, who plays de Garderobe’s maestro and husband, Cadenza, was also humbled by the splendor. “The scope of the set was enormous. They had these candelabras, these chandeliers coming from the ceiling with real candles. It was just stunning,” he says.
Sir Ian McKellen couldn’t wait to slip on that wig and mustache, especially since it meant working with a director he knows well. “I’ve done two films now with Bill Condon, and we’re always looking for a third,” the actor says. “It was absolutely typical of Bill that he wanted to have a few friends with him, so I was very, very thrilled to suddenly be in my first Disney movie.” Though most of McKellen’s work involved voicing his character Cogsworth, the actor says his favorite moment was finally meeting the cast in person for the final celebration. “There was one absolutely glorious day when went out and joined all the actors in doing the final scene, when all the characters in the castle come back to life and become real people,” he says. “So I did feel I was in the thick of it for at least a day, and singing and dancing was an absolute joy.”