“The Little Mermaid,” starring Halle Bailey as Ariel, is one of Disney’s newest live-action reimagining of their animated classics. Like its animated predecessor, the film follows Ariel, a young, spirited mermaid passionate about exploration. However, her rebellious nature gets her into trouble, especially when she becomes smitten by the young human Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King). And she ignores her father, King Triton (Javier Bardem), who warns mere people about making contact with humans. As such, it leads to a father-daughter confrontation that eventually pushes Ariel to Ursula (Melissa McCarthy), a sea witch who agrees to help the princess walk amongst the humans on the surface world on a few conditions.
ThatsItLA had the chance to participate in the virtual press conferences for “The Little Mermaid,” where Bardem and McCarthy talked about the updates to their characters and reflected upon a new generation of Disney fans watching a beloved animated classic come to life. Additionally, Noma Dumezweni, who plays Queen Selina, a new character made for the live-action film, talked about what her character brings and how it reflects the world we live in today.
Playing the helicopter parent King Triton, Bardem said it was easy to connect with her on-screen daughter because “She has this thing where you just can’t help but love her unconditionally and honestly. So it was just easy for us to connect.” The Oscar-winning actor said he was mesmerized by her performance as an actor and as a singer and that she had the willingness and courage to go to the places it had to go.
While the actor has played many memorable characters on screen, Bardem spoke about what made Triton different from the ones he played before, opposite a young cast. “It’s about a man who is deeply in love as a father with his daughter, and he’s confusing his fear and insecurity with that love,” he said. “He’s blocking her from her being free. So that kind of relationship is what I had to create. And that’s the role that I have to play in the tale for the tale to make sense.”
McCarthy agreed. “I just want to say, but you guys have given, instead of being these caricatures, you’ve given them humanity,” she said. “You’ve tethered these are real people. Everyone walks with the same problems, troubles, and worries. And I think that’s the big difference you guys brought your humanity to this to the screen.”
Having already worked with Marshall and producer John DeLuca, Dumezweni was excited to jump into a new world with familiar people. “The thing with what I absolutely love with Rob and John is that their theater babies,” she said. The actor credits the two for having rehearsals, which is rare to see in any production of this size and scale, whether it’s TV or film.
And on playing a new character created for the film, Dumezweni said it all comes down to trusting the storytellers and the material they started to make sure it feels like nothing is out of place and that the character is the right fit for the reimagining. “All I do is just trust the work the people I’m working with, and when you can play with people in that way, it’s easy to do,” she said.
McCarthy raved about Marshall’s approach to keeping “The Little Mermaid” as grounded as possible. Since the director comes from a musical background, one can see how everything feels like a large cinematic stage. “He sets up this world. That is why I fell in love with plays. It feels so small, yet you know it’s this enormous thing,” she shared. “But it feels like if we all do our best, then maybe we can make a show.”
Having one of the more complicated parts of the production, which included her coming out of a giant 60-foot clamshell, McCarthy greatly appreciated the various departments that helped bring her character to life. “Everyone’s doing their best, and he’s just there, swaddled in cashmere, just quietly cheering everyone on, from the actors to the gorgeous camera moves,” she said. “And the sound department is killing it—and look at the costumes! It’s an appreciation of every human and all the moving parts it takes to make a movie work. And having a cheerleader like that, I can’t even explain how fortunate I feel and all of us feel.”
Bardem later said he learned much about being a parent, especially in this reimagining. One of the things he picked up was that the mother and the father learn from their kids is the all-important lesson on what love means. “They didn’t have a glimpse of what real love is until they see their own kids departing,” he said. “It’s always respect and other people’s journey.”
And Bardem is excited to be a part of something for a new generation. “I can’t wait for my own kids to watch it. I mean, it’s an honor to be in such a classic,” he said. Although he did joke with the fate of his character with director Rob Marshall.
“It must be nice for you that your kids can watch this one because No Country for Old Men probably not so much. Right,” Hauer-King jokingly asked. “That was one of the reasons he did this film. Right? So they can actually watch something.”
“At least they know that I have a job,” Bardem replied.
“The Little Mermaid” opens in theaters on May 26, 2023.