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BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
ROBBY BENSON AND PAIGE O'HARA: Beast and Beauty, Together Again
You may have seen the 1991 version of Disney's Beauty and the Beast either on the screen or on tape or DVD. This month, the film is being re-released in large format (IMAX) all across the U.S. The film has improved picture and sound quality and it's so cool to see the great landscapes and the characters on the HUGE screen. All the little details come alive. A whole new musical number "Human Again" is added. If you have one of these big format theaters in your area, be sure to check out this classic.
Before the holidays we spoke with the voices of Belle (Beauty) Paige O'Hara and the Beast, Robby Benson. They've remained close friends and told Lynn b. about getting their roles, the fun of working together, Robby losing a friend in the twin towers and what the two are doing now.
AGW: Is this the first time you've seen each other in a long time?
Paige: Actually, we spent a week at Disney World for Walt's hundredth birthday celebration a week ago.
Robby: It was a great time.
Paige: I got to meet Julie Andrews.
Robby: There's a lot of perks working for Disney. When I started going to Disneyworld to do publicity for "Beauty and the Beast", my little girl got to go on as many rides as she wanted.
Paige: Front of the line.
Robby: And now, my little girl is a freshman at NYU studying film and my little boy who is nine, loves it at Disney World. At school, they made them say what they wanted to be when they grew up and he said he wanted to design themeparks. He has this idea for a roller coaster that goes under the ocean in a tube and you see all the sharks and stuff.
AGW: What are you up to now, Robby?
Robby: I've written a new play, a musical. We've got it in workshops now and hope to open it back east. It's called 'Open Heart: The Musical'. Seriously. It is the ultimate love story but ridiculously funny. It's a three person musical. I play this guy on a personal journey. It's a chance to work with my wife (Carla DeVito). We met on Broadway in "Pirates of Penzance".
AGW: Did seeing "Beauty and the Beast" again, in this new big screen format, bring back memories from the first time you did the voices?
Paige: We had such a good time. We got to work together (recording the voices). Most of the time they put you in a booth by yourself and Robby and I requested to record together so it was a lot more spontaneous. When we saw it this time it was like a whole new film. The detail is incredible. I'm a frustrated painter as a hobby so I appreciate the background and it's masterpiece quality and it was interesting to see the townspeople. Some of them were reanimated to get more detail. In the "Belle" (song) I saw expressions on the people I'd never seen before and it was nice that the song "Human Again" was put back in because that was Howard's (Ashman, who co-wrote the music) second favorite song.
AGW: What were some of the most memorable scenes for you two when you first got together? When did the magic start to happen?
Robby: The magic started to happen the second we were allowed to work together because when you do cartoons for Saturday morning, they line you up and you all work together but when you do big animated films they do it very separately and sometimes you never see the people that you work with.
Paige: I started a month before (Robby) was hired. They hadn't found a beast yet and I felt like I was floundering a little bit and as soon as he was hired it all came together.
AGW: What was the first scene you did together?
Paige: It's the first scene in the film where we meet each other..the scary one.
AGW: In 1991, when the small screen film was released, they kept the fact that Robby was the beast a big secret. Robby did you feel like this was special treatment or wonder why they didn't tell everyone?
Robby: I started working when I was five years old. I'd done the Ed Sullivan Show and had been on Broadway. I sold my first screenplay when I was 17. There's madness to all of this. I can't figure it out. I feel like I was just lucky to be hired and went along for the ride. The sad thing about being an actor is that you are pigeonholed. (No one knew Robby could do such a big, low voice!). I used to do voice recording work to get out of school. I did voices for all the old Godzilla movies. Voice work is a gift. You just close your eyes and you are there.
Paige: You can just wear a baseball cap. No one cares. I'd never done anything like it. I'm a Broadway girl. My first few sessions (the directors) were saying 'Stop playing to the second balcony'. They were teaching me how to do on-camera work. They treated it like a (live-action) film, especially for Belle and the Beast. They wanted us very real.
AGW: Did you physically act out the scenes while doing the voices?
Paige: Pretty much from the waist up you can do gestures and expressions.
Robby: They videotaped us. If anyone ever saw those... oh boy. I contorted myself.
Paige: He was sore at the end of the day
Robby: I had no idea. I'd just start playing the scene and the next thing I knew, I was limping. (Note: Robby came to the interview carrying his basketball). The reason I have my basketball is because my back is out and I use it to roll on.
AGW: Did they alter your voice, Robby, to make it a little scarier for the Beast?
Robby: Well, there is movie magic. They could turn up the volume. I actually do sound engineering too. They would take some of the high end out of the speeches. I was taught how to (pitch my voice low) without hurting it.
AGW: Gee, you act, do voices, direct, sound engineer. Is there anything you don't do?
Robby: (laughs) I was brought up in an environment where education was the key and you learned as much as you possibly could. I was taught by the best and was always hungry for more information. That's one of the reasons I teach at college level. I love it.
AGW: How did you both get cast in the roles?
Paige: I just read about the auditions in the New York Times and called my agent and said I had to be seen. I went in with 500 other people. I sang and read. They had me sight read the opening number and I did three different scenes and read with the directors who would close their eyes while I was doing it. They taped it and sent it back to the boss. I did five auditions and the third one they said I was hired. They had no Beast yet. They looked at a guy who was a voice over actor and they decided they needed a real actor.
Robby: They approached me and I auditioned. I think you always audition for Disney.
Paige: Unless maybe you're Robin Williams (the genie voice in Aladdin).
Robby: I approached it immediately like it was a real character, not a cartoon voice. It was this tormented soul who also had a sense of humor. It seemed like a Broadway musical.
AGW: There is a new scene in which Belle teaches the Beast to read. That wasn't in the original movie was it?
Paige: We recorded that scene and Robby ad-libbed half of it. It was there but it was cut for time purposes the first time. I'm glad it's back.
AGW: What are you doing now Paige?
Paige: I'm living in Las Vegas. I just played the Venetian hotel with Robert Goulet. I'm doing my concert work. My next recording (cd) is doing all of Jerome Kern and Victor Herbert with the London Symphony. (Paige is also recording voices for a new Disney film).
AGW: (Note: Robby was wearing a pin with someone's picture on it and the date 9-11) Robby, what's on your pin?
Robby: This is a dear friend of ours, one of our closest friends, Val Silver Ellis. She was in the tower. My daughter watched the second plane going into it and that's very upsetting. We've been dealing with that. I wear this not just for her memory but her family. My daughter was at NYU. They thought some small plane had (accidentally) crashed into the tower and, like kids do, they went toward it. She was on a cell phone trying to tell us what was happening. It was obviously a horrific day. I was in fetal position. I didn't know what to do. I wanted to take care of her.
AGW: (Changing the subject). The lead song "Beauty and the Beast" got nominated for an Oscar.
Paige: They wrote it as a Broadway Musical for the screen and I was so glad that the song got nominated.
AGW: This was the first animated film nominated for an Academy Award. What did you think when that happened?
Paige: I just thought 'this is history'. Now, with the new category (for animated films) this will never happen again (an animated film nominated along with live action films). I as so excited because I was called to sing at the Oscars and the Disney studio stood up for me singing and not a pop artist.
AGW: Can you guys do a bit of your B and B voices?
Robby: I always tell this story. When this first started I was confused because I would have mothers come up to me with their little babies saying "Do the Beast". And I would do a big (in beast voice) 'Geeeeet Out!'. And the baby would start crying, I was like 'this is horrible'. So now, the one that I always do is (beast voice) 'Belle, are you happy here with me?' That works for everybody.
Paige: I like to put down Gaston. I went too far on that. I like to say (Belle voice) "Gaston, you are positively primeval' (meaning REALLY old-fashioned toward women).
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