HER says Belle from Beauty and the Beast was a dream role

A version of this story about HER and “Beauty and the Beast” first appeared in the comedy series theme from TheWrap Awards Magazine.

Few multi-writers working these days can claim the takeover of industries like HER. In just the past four years, the California native with the signature shows has racked up five R&B Grammys, an Oscar (for her soulful “Fight for You ” from “Judas and the Black Messiah”) and an Emmy for Kids and Families for a tune from Netflix’s “We the People.” And after her energetic role as darling Belle from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” on ABC’s 30th anniversary special, the Primetime Emmy might just be calling. (Lest you think the ‘T’ in EGOT is to be ignored, HER is on the production team for the eagerly anticipated Broadway prow of the David Byrne/Fatboy Slim musical “Here Lies Love,” opening in July.) . And here’s the kicker: she’s only 25 years old.

How did you get involved with the 30th anniversary of “Beauty and the Beast”? Were you a Disney kid?
Oh man, it’s so crazy how time flies. I had a conversation with [producer and “Crazy Rich Asians” director Jon M. Chu] and he was so excited about the project and the vision of it. And he told me that they wanted me to play Bella. I’m a big, big, big fan of Disney and a fan of Disney princesses. I have always wanted to be a Disney princess.

I remember seeing Toni Braxton as Bella on Broadway many years ago. One notable thing about this role is that she is one of the few in the Disney canon that has a legacy of having black women play it. How did you want your Belle to vary?
I never imagined that it could be Bella. And be black and filipino [in the role] it’s really great. She brought him a completely different representation. One thing I did was put the traditional Filipino alphabet on my costume. [apron] in the opening number and went viral on TikTok. But he also wanted to highlight his bravery and his strength and ability to see the good in everything.

SHE in 'Beauty and the Beast: 30th Celebration'
ELLA in “Beauty and the Beast: 30th Celebration” (ABC)

Did you talk to any of the other Belles?
I don’t know if you noticed, but Paige O’Hara [the 1991 film’s voice of Belle] he played the owner of the bookstore. It was so surreal to hear his voice in person. She’s so sweet and loving and she taught me a lot about the character.

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How was the rehearsal, especially with the live singing? You do that all the time, but this was in a very different environment. You even get to play a guitar in the special.
We ended up recording some stuff and I put in some guitars, but then I had to go to Argentina to finish my tour with Coldplay. So everyone carried on and I kept rehearsing between shows. And immediately we had, like, a full day: choreography, shooting, fitting, because I had to make sure the costume was right. It got very intense but very fun.

This special has an embarrassment of talent.
It was so much fun working with everyone. David Alan Grier and Martin Short made us laugh out loud between takes. I’m a huge fan of Shania Twain and it was great to see her as Mrs. Potts. And I learned a lot from being around Josh. [Groban]who is used to live musical theater, and I learned a lot about it [requiring] a whole different presence. And Joshua Henry, same thing. I want that kind of presence in all my future projects.

Read more of the comedy series edition here.

Cover of the comedy series, Selena Gomez
Photographed by Jeff Vespa for TheWrap

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