Little Mermaid star Halle Bailey on how Ariel moulded her as a woman

The singer and actress has won praise from her co-stars and Rob Marshall, the director of the film

Halle Bailey as Ariel in The Little Mermaid. Photo: Disney
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Since the first announcement of Disney’s live action remake of The Little Mermaid, the project has received its fair share of criticism.

From the diverse approach to the story, to lyric changes and mockery of CGI components of the film, fans of the original animated feature have had lots to say about the highly-anticipated film.

Whether the criticism is justified or not, one aspect of the film that’s guaranteed to win over audiences is its star, Halle Bailey.

“The first actor we saw for this role was Halle,” director and producer Rob Marshall said, at the first global press conference of the film on Tuesday in Los Angeles.

Marshall, known for films such as Chicago and Memoirs of a Geisha, shared that for her audition, Bailey sang the classic ballad of the film Part of Your World.

“I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I just thought she's so deeply connected to what she's singing about. It was so emotional, so beautiful. I thought, oh my gosh, we've been doing this for five minutes — have we found Ariel? And we had.”

Scroll through the gallery below for more pictures from The Little Mermaid

Marshall said they auditioned hundreds of other actresses of many different ethnicities, but Bailey had already “claimed the role” in that first audition.

Bailey, 23, came to prominence for being one half of the Grammy-nominated musical duo Chloe x Halle with her sister Chloe Bailey. As an actor, she’s mostly known for her role in the sitcom Grown-ish.

And while she obviously has the singing and acting skills to play Ariel, she admits that it was still incredibly emotional when she learnt that she'd got the part.

“My first reaction was just sobbing, honestly, I was just crying,” Bailey said, adding that she and her family were celebrating her sister’s birthday when she received a call from an unknown number.

“My baby brother comes running to me and was like, 'Answer the phone! Answer the phone!'”, she said. “So I answered it and Rob was like, 'Hello, I'm looking for Ariel' and I was like, 'Oh my gosh' and I just cried for the whole day.”

Bailey was 18 when production began, and credits the role for moulding her into the woman she is today.

“It's been five years of my life now, from 18 to now being 23. Those are very intense, transformative years when you’re developing as a young woman,” she said.

“I feel especially with the themes of the film and what [Ariel] had to go through with her passions and drive and speaking up for herself. Even though it may be scary, she went for it. I feel like those things I really try to adopt and give to Hallie now. So she's taught me so much for sure.”

The Little Mermaid is based on Danish author Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of a determined, inquisitive and spirited mermaid who falls in love with a human prince.

As the youngest and most defiant of King Triton’s daughters, Ariel decides to follow her instincts, and her heart, and ventures to the surface world to be with Prince Eric after striking a dangerous deal with the evil sea witch, Ursula.

Javier Bardem who plays the role of the sea king, said it was easy for him to form a fatherly relationship with Bailey.

“Right from the moment I met her, I just fell for her,” he said. “She has this thing where you can’t help but love her unconditionally.”

Bardem, who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 2008 for his role in No Country for Old Men, also praised Bailey’s work as a performer on set.

“I was mesmerised by the quality of her as a performer,” he said. “Not only the singing, I knew about that, but as an actress, how willing and courageous she is in going to the places that you had to go to. That was amazing.”

It could be argued that the modern reimagining of Ariel and Eric’s love story seems to have more substance than the original animated version, which was released in 1989.

Jonah Hauer-King, who plays Prince Eric, believes their version of the Disney love story has a stronger element of friendship between the characters.

Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric and Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney's live-action The Little Mermaid. Photo: Disney

Hauer-King said that his and Bailey’s friendship off screen came through the relationship between Ariel and Eric, two characters who are trapped behind castle walls, looking outward for answers.

“What was nice about that is that their relationship feels really earned,” he said. “They both felt like they were teaching each other things. They were excited and fascinated by each other's worlds, but they didn't actually know it until the end.”

He added that his co-star Melissa McCarthy who plays Ursula had a profound perspective on how Ariel and Eric’s love story is portrayed in their version of the film.

“Melissa said this yesterday and I think is a really good message for what it means to be in love and what it means to be in a relationship,” he said.

“It’s ultimately tied to friendship. That's the fundamental thing of it, and that's why it lasts and that's what makes it special. So that was really fun to explore.”

The Little Mermaid will be released in UAE cinemas on May 25

Updated: May 10, 2023, 11:16 AM