A version of this story about H.E.R. and “Beauty and the Beast” first appeared in the Comedy Series issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
Few multi-hyphenates working these days can claim the take-over of industries quite like H.E.R. In just the last four years, the California native with the signature spectacles has racked up five R&B Grammys, an Oscar (for her stirring “Fight for You” from “Judas and the Black Messiah”) and a Children’s and Family Emmy for a tune from Netflix’s “We the People.” And after her spirited turn as the beloved Belle from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” in ABC’s 30th anniversary special, the Primetime Emmy might be calling. (Lest you think the ‘T’ in EGOT be ignored, H.E.R. is on the producing team of the anxiously awaited Broadway bow of the David Byrne/Fatboy Slim musical “Here Lies Love,” opening in July). And here’s the kicker: She’s only 25.
How did you become involved with the 30th anniversary “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 over-the-moon excited about the project and the vision for it. And he told me that they wanted me to play Belle. I’m a huge, huge, huge Disney fan and a Disney princess fan. I have always wanted to be a Disney princess.
I remember seeing Toni Braxton as Belle on Broadway many years ago. One notable thing about this role is that it’s one of the few in the Disney canon that does have a legacy of having Black women playing it. How did you want your Belle to vary?
I never imagined that I could be Belle. And to be Black and Filipino [in the role] is really, really cool. It brought a whole different representation to her. One thing I did is I put the traditional Filipino alphabet into my costume [apron] in the opening number and it went viral on TikTok. But I also just wanted to bring out her bravery and her strength and ability to see the good in everything.
Did you chat with any of the other Belles?
I don’t know if you noticed, but Paige O’Hara [the 1991 film’s voice of Belle] played the bookshop owner. It was so surreal hearing her voice in person. She’s so sweet and nurturing and taught me so much about the character.
What was rehearsal like, especially with the live singing? You do that all the time, but this was in a very different setting. You even to get to rock a guitar in the special.
We ended up recording some things and I laid down some guitar stuff, but then I had to leave to go to Argentina to finish my tour with Coldplay. So they all kept going and I kept rehearsing between shows. And immediately we had, like, a full day: choreography, recording, fitting, because I had to make sure the costume was right. It got really intense but just so much fun.
This special has an embarrassment of talent.
Everybody was so much fun to work with. David Alan Grier and Martin Short had us cracking up in between takes. I am such a huge Shania Twain fan, and it was great to see her as Mrs. Potts. And I learned so much from being around Josh [Groban], who is used to live musical theater, and I learned so much about it [requiring] a whole other presence. And Joshua Henry, same thing. I want that kind of presence in all my future projects.