In March, Disney’s remake of “Beauty and the Beast,” starring British actress Emma Watson as Belle, had the seventh-biggest domestic box-office launch of all time for any movie, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
espnW recently spoke with the film’s choreographer, Anthony Van Laast, about his work on the movie, the challenges of overseeing animated dance segments and how he convinced English actor Dan Stevens — who plays Beast — to dance on stilts.
espnW: Why was this project a must-do for you?
Anthony Van Laast: I was a fan of the original animation. Bill Condon, the director, and I have previously [worked] on Broadway. I absolutely adore the man, and when asked to join, I completely jumped at the chance without hesitation. I love the music. I didn’t realize when approached that I would have to do all of the CGI choreography initially, but it dawned on me later.
espnW: Where did you draw inspiration from?
AVL: I knew the book and stage play very well. I enjoyed the animation with my kids when they were young. However, I only viewed it once afterward, because I didn’t want to be totally influenced by it when we made the new version. Bill was influenced by the Jean Cocteau (1946) version.
espnW: How did you go about designing dance steps for a candelabra, a clock, a teapot and other objects? Take us through that process.
AVL: Those sequences were done in motion capturing. The motion was so complicated. I had to get technology lessons to understand the different techniques. I didn’t even know what pre-visualization meant at the time. Pre-visualization is moving the storyboards.
espnW: What was the most challenging scene?
AVL: The opening scene took a bit of time to do, but it was fun for me. We wanted to make it look like real people in a real village, not a village full of dancers. We wanted it based on reality. But doing the pub scene with Luke Evans, who plays Gaston, and Josh Gad [who plays LeFou] was really fun.
espnW: You had to teach lead actors Dan Stevens and Emma Watson how to waltz. How much prep time did you have with them?
AVL: We had three months of movement training. I’ve worked with Emma on the Harry Potter [franchise] before and choreographed a dance with her then.
espnW: Oh, and Stevens had to use platform shoes to emulate the Beast’s height for the ballroom scene?
AVL: Because Dan’s height had to be altered to suit the Beast’s character, we used 10-inch stilts taller than Dan’s normal height of [6 feet]. First, he had to learn how to walk on them, then dance, and finally teach him the waltz. He physically had to be that tall so when Emma held on to him it was the right height. There could not be any special effects. Emma’s biggest fear was he would tread on her toes.
espnW: She also had to practice with one-pound weights on each of her wrists to help with posture for the waltz scene.
AVL: Right, I wanted her to get the right shape of the arms. The weights make you engage your back muscles.
espnW: What other projects are you working on?
AVL: Well, I just finished a comedy film with Will Ferrell. However, my next big [project] is the Tina Turner musical. She is a wonderful woman. It’s going to be a very exciting project. Her presence is definitely felt and admired.
This interview has been edited for length.
Meredith Harper Houston is a Los Angeles based Choreographer, Dancer, Beauty Expert, and Founder/Artistic-Director of The Swan Within: Healing Through Ballet non-profit for incarcerated teens and Merryland Dance Studio