Being a Disney princess is no small job. Jodi Benson, who portrayed Ariel in the original The Little Mermaid (1989), has only had to handle being the voice of a beloved character. But her successor Halle Bailey has become both the voice and the face of the red-headed mermaid in Disney’s live-action remake of the film.
In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, Bailey revealed the comforting advice Benson shared with her as she prepared to take on the role. “She told me how proud she was of me and how I’m handling everything, and encouraged me to just go for it,” the actress explained. “I appreciate her for being so warm and welcoming to me because she’s the GOAT, and it was important to me to get her stamp of approval.”
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At the blue carpet premiere for The Little Mermaid, Bailey and Benson shared an embrace before posing for the camera, holding 37 years of history and reinvention between them. During an interview that night, Benson joked that Bailey barely needed her guidance or direction.
“She doesn’t need any advice from me!” Benson joked to Entertainment Tonight. “She’s brilliant. I did get to meet her a few times and chat with her and just tell her how proud I was of her, and I love that she has a purity of heart and a pure spirit, and you can see that vulnerability and that childlike bravery and courage coming through, and it’s beautiful. I’m so thrilled for her and I’m so proud of her.”
Many parts of Bailey’s journey through becoming Ariel have been worlds away from what Benson experienced all those years ago. The initial announcement of her casting, which director Rob Marshall locked in from the moment she sang “Part of Your World” during her audition, was met with vitriolic racism from a small but loud faction of people. In the process of bringing a once-animated character into the real world in more ways than one, she also had to manage the physical strain of it all.
“The racism didn’t surprise me,” Bailey told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s a little disappointing, but it’s bound to happen. I didn’t let it affect me and just focused on the positive response I was getting. This moment is so much bigger than any of that. Especially for the Black and brown babies out there, I hope they feel filled with love and confidence in who they are, because it’s essential that they see themselves in roles like these.”
That made it all worth it, but it still took its toll, creating experiences for Bailey that mirrored Ariel’s own trials. “I think we all go through the things Ariel goes through: feeling uncertain but passionate about our future, knowing when we want something great for ourselves and what lengths we’ll go to get it,” Bailey added. “This whole process was a lot on me, physically and mentally. I never thought I would ever be able to accomplish something like this, and coming out of it, I’m a very different person. I know now what I want for myself and my future.”
The Little Mermaid hits theaters on May 26.
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