With the 'The Little Mermaid' reaching box office success, Halle Bailey takes time to reflect on her tremendous journey toward becoming Ariel.
How do you know when destiny is calling? Halle Bailey certainly didn’t. It was July 2, 2019, when an unknown number popped up on her phone, and she just let it ring. She was busy anyhow, unpacking her gadgets and gizmos aplenty after a long weekend of celebrating her older sister Chloe’s birthday, and she was in no mood to entertain a stranger. “I don’t answer unknown numbers, so I saw it, and I said to myself, ‘Whatever I’m not going to answer it’,” Halle says.
Destiny quickly called again.
“Suddenly, my baby brother comes running in the room and screamed, ‘Answers your phone! Answer your phone!’ I was like, alright, fine. I answered it, and director Rob Marshall said to me, ‘Hello? I’m looking for Ariel.’”
It instantly sunk in – she had landed the titular role in the highly-anticipated live-action remake of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, after a lifetime of singing those iconic songs to herself again and again, channeling Ariel’s desire to get more out of life and hone the voice that brought her to fame at a tender age. To call this a dream come true would be an understatement.
“I couldn’t stop crying. I was crying, I think, for the entire day,” Halle remembers.
A lot of thoughts rushed through her mind – a lot of memories. She was eight years old when her father first taught her and Chloe songwriting, and by 13 she was a viral hit, singing Beyoncé songs in duet with such preternatural power that the icon herself signed her and Chloe to her management company Parkwood Entertainment just after Halle turned 16 in 2016.
Her sister has been by her side as she rocketed to fame. They have starred in films and series together, and released critically acclaimed hit albums together, but taking the role of Ariel would mean embarking on her own, leaving her family behind for the first time. She laughed, as she realized how much this mirrored the journey Ariel took in leaving her own world behind.
“Growing up, I was used to being a singer and musician, used to being on the road, but I was always with my family. I was home-schooled on our tour bus – I never experienced a brick-and-mortar school,” Halle explains.
“Ariel taught me so much about myself. This film was the first time I was on my own, filming something like this. It felt like a college experience for me, and Ariel is the one that helped me find myself and who I am independently on my own,” she continues.
Filming The Little Mermaid was no easy process. Halle put five years of her life into creating Ariel, auditioning when she was 18 and then entering a grueling years-long process of figuring out how to become a mermaid in front of a blue screen, swimming through the air connected to wires on a sound stage. Whenever she felt fear or self-doubt, she would remember the girl she was playing and feel inspired all over again.
“Ariel is passionate and headstrong and courageous, and she does so much for herself and her future. I aspired to be like that. These were very intense, transformative years when you were developing as a young woman, and it was honestly scary at points. And it was scary for Ariel too, but she always just went for it. I really try to adopt her qualities and give them to who I am now, and who I’m becoming,” Halle says.
People haven’t always seen the story of The Little Mermaid the way she does. Criticism has long been levied at the classic fable, decrying a storyline that appears to be about a woman who changes for a man. They said it set a bad example for young girls. Halle doesn’t believe that at all. Taking on this role was not just about furthering her own career and life, it was about setting an example for a new generation and representing the young girls of the world who rarely looked at the screen and saw a princess with a face like their own.
“To me, this story has beautiful themes. It’s about a spirited, driven woman who wants greater things for her life, and will do anything to secure her future. In this version, that’s all just been enhanced,” Halle explains.
“In our film, we dive deeper into understanding why she made the decision that she did, why she sacrificed her voice so that she could go live as a human on land.”
Ariel was never just chasing a man – she was yearning for her own liberation. She sings “Part of Your World” long before she meets the prince who ends up winning her heart.
“That’s always what she wanted, even initially. She wanted freedom for herself, for her life, her passions, and her goals. Love is a beautiful thing that she found along the way – just a part of the journey that she goes through. And what’s even more beautiful is that these are lessons that she and Prince Eric learn together,” Halle says.
Now, in the weeks after the film’s release, the world has seen what Halle and the rest of the film’s cast and crew worked so hard to create. Across the globe, mothers have shared photos and videos of their young daughters pointing at the screen, eyes wide with wonder, inspired by this remarkable performance just as Halle had once been when she watched the original.
All of that is deeply heartening for the rising star, but there’s still only one opinion that really matters to her – the person who she looked to for approval from the moment she first began to sing as a child, the person who was by her side through every up and down. The opinion she was waiting for most was that of her sister, Chloe.
“Chloe is my best friend. She’s my rock. When she finally saw it, she cried, too. She was squeezing my hand so tight the entire time. I’m just so happy that she loved it. I feel like, ‘Okay, I can pat myself on the back now.' My big sister loved it, too.”