“I knew all of the lyrics to all of the songs and most of the lines of the characters,” enthuses Emma Watson, admitting that she didn’t need to do an awful lot of background preparation before auditioning to play Belle in Beauty and the Beast.
“I was a huge, huge fan of the original!” Crucially, given the musical content of the film, the 26-year-old actress also knew she could sing. “It was something I talked about a lot when I got cast as Hermione, that I really wanted to sing. But I had kind of put it to bed because the acting thing had gone quite well…” she gives a wry grin at her own understatement.
“Singing makes you much more vulnerable than speaking. In acting, you can hide behind a character, whereas, when you start singing, it’s your own voice. For me, there’s definitely a different level of vulnerability.”
While Harry Potter brought her global attention at just 11 years old, in recent years, Watson has also become prominent for her activism and her work as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. Unsurprisingly, then, her 2017 iteration of Belle involves some feminist updates.
“It is hard for me not to bring the consciousness that I have of issues to a part like Belle,” she nods. “I didn’t feel that I was changing the character because, if you listen to the lyrics of songs like Belle (Reprise), it’s all there. She’s a woman saying: ‘I want more than is expected for me to want, and I want to do more than people expect me to do.’
“But I definitely felt a responsibility to bring those elements out. And I expressed my point of view as strongly as I could without getting fired.”
Belle’s bookishness is an aspect that Watson, who has a degree in English literature from Rhode Island’s Brown University, strongly associates with. “When the Beast says to her that she can have the run of the library, that’s my dream,” she beams.
And it is her strength of mind in seeing beyond the Beast’s physical demeanour that she hopes audiences will take away. “What really resonated with me was the idea of Belle as this woman who is able to see deeper, to see the good in places that other people can’t — it is almost like her superpower.”
Beauty and the Beast is out in cinemas now