Actor Dan Stevens attends the New York special screening of Disney's live-action adaptation “Beauty and the Beast” at Alice Tully Hall in New York City./AFP Photo
A night with ‘The Beast’
March 18, 2017 09:40 By Special to The Nation
Dan Stevens, who is known for his performance as Matthew Crawley in the Golden Globe-winning TV drama “Downton Abbey,” plays the Beast in the latest adaptation of “Beauty in the Beast.” He will next be seen in Noah Hawley’s Marvel series “Legion” for FX Channel and portrays Charles Dickens in “The Man Who Invented Christmas”.
He talks about his role as Beast, working with Emma Watson and what he liked about the role.
What was it that appealed to you about this role?
It’s a huge challenge turning a beloved 2D animated film into a more human 3D story, but it’s a great story with great characters so I was very excited – and my wife and kids were very excited, too). I also like that the film is a blend of the real and the virtual. We’ve obviously got some green screen and some CGI, but there’s also a great deal of real going on, too. I was in my early teens when the animated film came out and I remember seeing it at the cinema, so it was fun for me to think about all the different aspects of the character that I could play with.
What was it like working with director Bill Condon again?
Well, Bill is master of the big musical extravaganza, so he’s been just great. I had worked with him before so I knew his style and we were able to spend a couple of months going over the script and seeing how we could bring some nuances to the Beast and make him a little more two- dimensional and a bit more human. We wanted to make him appear like a human trapped inside this creature.
Tell us about your character. How does he differ from the Beast in the animated film?
One of the biggest differences is that in the animated film you don’t see the Beast before he was transformed. You see a stained glass window version of him but there’s no real sense of what he was really like. In this film we see him at the debutantes’ ball, and something that Bill and I were keen to bring out was this sense of a petulant, spoiled child and the sense of entitlement which led to his downfall. It was quite fun to do the prologue at the beginning of the film, which was conveyed almost entirely through the medium of dance, which is not something I’d done much of before, but it allows the audience to see why he was cursed in the first place, which was not just for having refused a rose but for all his other traits as well. There’s this psychological rationale about what makes a beast a beast, so I watched everything from “Wreck It Ralph” to “Citizen Kane” to help get me inspired.
Tell us about the film’s visual effects.
We’re doing something which has not really been done before – and certainly not to this extent – called Movaware, which is a separate facial capture technology. It’s entirely separate from the physical body capture where you have to think yourself back into the scenes that you’ve already shot without moving your body so that you’re just moving your face to the scenes whether you have any dialogue or not.
It was especially challenging, as you have to think back to scenes already filmed and move just your face, not your body, whether you had any dialogue or not. There was one instance where I had to do the entire ballroom waltz with just my face, which was quite interesting. I would walk on the set to film a scene where I am speaking to Lumiere but I would be looking at an LED light on a stick and hearing Ewan’s voice. It was like an extra level of weird that we had to deal with. I did get to meet all the actors quite early on as their human incarnations, which helped before I had to go in and shoot with them as objects. The puppeteering of the suit for the performance capture aspect was an ordeal for my calf muscles, let alone my whole body, and working with the technical teams to figure out how the stilts worked left my toes numb for about a week. A lot of it is not really stunt work, it’s just general movement. But the physical management and training just to get myself in shape and build up my strength took a lot of time and effort.
How was it working with Emma Watson (Belle)?
She’s great. There’s such a close relationship there, and I was very keen to calibrate the Beast according to the Belle that Emma wanted to be and to play, so we spent a lot of time together just talking about beauty and beastliness, men and women and masculinity and femininity, good and evil and all sorts of polar opposite things. We tried to work in some of those things and ultimately realised that the tale is not so much about an ugly thing and a beautiful girl but about the beauty and the beast that’s in all of us and the two sides each person has and learning to live with that balance. She’s a very interesting girl and is very intellectually engaged with the fairy tale, and that just makes for a much richer working experience. I hope that helps fuse all of our scenes.