Fan Expo Dallas brought in a variety of stellar voice actors and actresses last weekend–one of which was Paige O’Hara, the voice actress for Disney princess Belle in the 1991 animated film, Beauty and the Beast, which was one of my favorite Disney animated films growing up, along with Mulan and Sleeping Beauty. Belle remains a role model and icon for women and girls today, and it was lovely getting to see Paige O’Hara speak about what went on behind-the-scenes and the importance of Belle for her and for her fans.
Paige O’Hara isn’t just a voice actress; she is also a theater actress, a singer, and currently a Disney artist. She was in Showboat, Oklahoma!, and Les Miserables. O’Hara stated early in the panel that she was a musical fan as a child but didn’t realize she had the talent to sing until later on; she actually got her start in acting first.
For the voice casting of Beauty and the Beast, she called it “nerve-wrecking.” O’Hara said for her last audition for the role of Belle, it was down to two people: her and a friend. And she was actually hired a month before they found Robby Benson, who voiced The Beast. O’Hara took this opportunity to voice Belle once again: “Belle is my voice but softer… I could still do it! I’m 61 years old.” Cue the applause!
The moderator asked for more stories about what went on behind-the-scenes. There were so many, we’re listing them in bullet form.
- O’Hara and Benson did not get to record scenes together until they requested it from the producers. Weird, right?!
- The original “Be Our Guest” song number was thrown out because it was sung to Maurice, instead of Belle.
- The film took four years to come together. Gotta appreciate those animators!
- It was easy to work with Richard White, who voiced Gaston, because he and O’Hara were friends long before the film took place.
- The only days the entire cast was together was when they recorded the songs.
- When O’Hara got the call from her producer that the film had been nominated–the first for animated films ever–for an Oscar for Best Picture, she was ecstatic but also learned that she had to sing on live television too. The Academy had wanted pop singers to sing the songs from the film, but the producers fought for all their voice actors to come sing at the Oscars.
When it was time for questions from the audience, a fan asked O’Hara about her thoughts on the live adaptation remake Beauty & the Beast, starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens, that released last year. O’Hara stated she loved the film and loved that Belle was the inventor. However, she disagreed with the wardrobe and did not enjoy the added gun violence. She also thought that since the Beast got his own song in the live adaptation that Robby should do a recording of that new song: “Robby can really sing!” We’d be down for hearing his voice again!
Another fan asked O’Hara one of the best questions I’ve heard at a panel: “If you could be any other Disney princess, who’d you be?” O’Hara didn’t have to think very hard or very long–“Mulan!” O’Hara said Mulan inspired her and she’s been taking boxing and kickboxing classes and she’s working on getting her black belt too. Great choice!!
Last but not least, a fan asked, “What advice would you give as Belle to young people today?” O’Hara said, “I think everyone should read–we all need an escape. [Reading] changed my life. Continuing to read has made me a better artist and actress.”
Featured image credit: Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage