“They wanted to make sure they hired the right person,” Jonah Hauer-King explains of his presence as Prince Eric in The little Mermaid. The first suitable person was Harry Styles, who was offered the role in 2019. He turned it down, according to him because he wanted to go on tour and according to director Rob Marshall (Chicago in 2002Memories of a Geisha in 2005) because he aspired to play adult characters in non-musical films. Hauer-King (London, 27 years old), however, had the features of a prince (a Disney prince, not a Windsor; although he studied at Eaton like real British monarchs). And he could sing: he showed it with I Heard Love Is Blind of Amy Winehouse, during one of the many phases of a casting that lasted almost a year.
Hauer-King admits to not remembering the first time he saw The little MermaidThat is why he feels that this movie was always part of his life. For this reason and because she was born in 1995. “The Disney movies of the 1990s were my introduction to film narrative,” she says. “All the people of my generation carry them inside, they are part of their learning about the world, we don’t remember a life without them. That is why they are so special, because they contributed to our education, to our cultural sensitivity. When I played my mother the songs of our movieEven though he hadn’t seen the original in 25 years, he remembered all the lyrics.”
His mother, who is a theater producer, gave him only one piece of advice before the start of filming: “Work hard, be nice to people and learn the lines.” His father is a prominent London restaurateur who launched businesses such as Wolseley, Delaunay and Brasserie Zédel, where Jonah spent six months working as a waiter after leaving school at the age of 17. She loved his experience, because in a way he helped her put the interpretation into practice by having to adapt his energy to each group of diners. But he didn’t get a role in six months, he got scared and decided to study Philosophy and Theology at Cambridge University.
“Whether you are a practitioner or not, religion has a fascinating place in our society. I wanted to understand the meaning of the world, how religion guides people. And I wanted to take advantage of the privilege of learning, of studying, of enriching myself as a person and perhaps enriching myself as an actor as well. The truth is that I did not choose this career because of my aspirations as an actor, but now I realize that during my studies I had to understand people who are different from me, understand communities at other moments in history that were trying to make sense of themselves. , to their lives and to the world around them. That gave me many tools for my work ”, he assures.
Hauer-King is aware of his privilege: like most British actors, he comes from a wealthy family. That is why he collaborates as a volunteer at Wac Arts, a theater school that helps young people in social exclusion to explore their artistic concerns. “You have to raise your hand and say, ‘I’ve had a lot of opportunities that others don’t.’ Art should be available to everyone ”, he defends.
His first roles came in 2017, in the adaptations that the BBC produced of Return to Howard’s End and little women. In the latter, he played the role of a young heartthrob played by Christian Bale in 1994 and Timothée Chalamet in 2019. Between takes, the actor was distracted by trying on the actresses’ corsets and hats. Did she repeat the tradition by trying on the mermaid tail? “Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but the mermaid tail doesn’t exist. It’s digital. What I can confess to you is that I tried on all the wardrobe that did exist. A certain redhead wig curled up quite a bit. And there was a shell bra that was also pretty cool. And I think if you dig hard enough you’ll find it. If not, when the movie opens I’ll send it to you”.
Hauer-King’s challenge was to breathe life into a character who, in the original, was more of an idea than a character. A vehicle for Ariel to make her dreams come true. That’s why Eric was the least iconic character in a movie full of rampaging creatures: Rob Marshall and screenwriter David Magee (Searching Neverland in 2004The life of Pi in 2012) set out to give it more depth. He is the most expanded character from the original film: he has his own frustrations, which connect him with Ariel, because he feels like an adventurer and rebels against the constrictions of the palace. This time, the prince has a song of his own, which the original lacked. It is written by original composer Alan Menken, winner of eight Oscars, and Lin-Manuel Miranda (hamilton, Viana) have composed for this new version.
“Songs are a wonderful way to get to know the characters and understand them, because you’re literally giving them a voice. I think we see in Eric a complexity and a vulnerability that’s not in the original. We find out a lot about him, where he comes from and how he feels about his life as a future king and the expectations placed on him. He wants to explore the world. And meeting Ariel is a catalyst,” he notes.
Filming was delayed a year due to the pandemic, which gave him time to prepare physically. Hauer-King already had Eric’s blue eyes. His nose is upturned too. And the dimples of him. And a certain romantic air, a certain expression of a good boy and teeth unmistakably from a good family. He just lacked the bearing. “I gained a little weight, I got more athletic, because Eric is a sailor. And during filming these people know how to make the most of time. As soon as I had two hours free, they sent me to the gym, to dive or to practice the reins of the carriage, ”he says. Even through Zoom, Hauer-King’s good manners, non-intimidating charm and upright posture of the prince are apparent. A guy anyone could fall in love with.
Marshall knew that the success of the film depended in large part on the romance being compelling, despite the fact that Ariel doesn’t say a word. During rehearsals, Hauer-King and Bailey practiced the physical expression of their attraction. “The truth is that there was a natural chemistry between us, but also Rob and David did a great job of giving depth to the script and the relationship and making sure that it is understood why they fall in love” says the actor. Lin-Manuel Miranda has modified the lyrics of kiss herthe subliminal song that Sebastian the crab improvises to get Eric to kiss Ariel and break the spell, so that it sounds more… consensual: the verse “she wants to too, there’s only one way to ask her” has remained in 1989.
Now, with one of the great successes of the summer behind him (he has, in just four days, raised more than 160 million dollars at the box office), Hauer-King looks to the future. “The work I’m doing now is very absorbing and needs my full attention,” he admits regarding The Auschwitz tattoo artistthe adaptation of the novel by Heather Morris in which he plays the Jew in charge of recording the numbers of the prisoners in the infamous Nazi concentration camp.
The little Mermaid opens a new era in the life of Hauer King. He is about to be watched, analyzed and commented on by hundreds of millions of people. Reflecting on it, he remains silent, looks around (a typical English country kitchen, that is, a perfect kitchen) and decides to make the matter less epic. Perhaps because he suspects that it might not be the case, because he knows that in this machine there are many, many things that are above him: the brand, nostalgia, or Halle Bailey, the actress who plays Ariel. “I feel more comfortable being watched when I play someone else. Like Jonah, I am less comfortable with attention. I don’t know if that’s going to change as a result of this movie. maybe yes, maybe no, I try not to think about it too much, because if I do I’ll probably lose my mind. What I know is that it’s a lot of fun promoting the movie, but it’s dangerous to let it absorb your entire life. That’s why I don’t go to sleep every night thinking about it.”
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Jonah Hauer-King, the prince of ‘The Little Mermaid’: “I’m sorry to disappoint you, but the mermaid tail does not exist”