Tuesday 14 April 2015
Shepperton Studios, London
Ian McKellen recalls the day
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST starts!
The first read-through of a film-script gathers together the cast to meet 'round a table and speak their words outloud for the first time: a nerve-wracking occasion as we try to impress each other and at the same time somewhat underplay, lest our initial reading is not quite what the director has in mind. Today there were sly glances at our director Bill Condon, who thankfully smiled benignly throughout. Behind him and 'round us there was a further audience - Disney producers who we may not meet again until the movie's premiere, plus colleagues in charge of cameras, lighting, sound, sets, costume and make-up who will be our constant companions throughout the shooting schedule.
Today Beauty and her Beast (Emma Watson and Dan Stevens) read with their supporting cast: and a happy reunion it was for me, next to Mr Holmes' "Lady in Grey" (Hattie Morahan) along from Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) and Kevin Kline, who I haven't seen since we received our Tony Awards together in 1981. The cast were seated 'round four long trestle tables placed in a square. In the middle on their own little stage there was a large clock and a feather duster and a candelabra, who all remained static throughout the morning. Elsewhere, everything and everyone was alive and even kicking, high-kicking too. Bill Condon had decided to put on a show and I've never seen or heard anything like it.
I arrived nearly late after a two-hour drive across London's morning rush-hour: and into Shepperton Studios where films have been made since 1931. There were clusters of white roses on the tables and a mike for each actor so we could be heard above the music from the electronic keyboard and percussion and the glorious voices of a 30-strong choir. They were impressive enough, until the studio lights dimmed and the chorus sprang up and danced their merry way through the classic songs by Alan Menken, who was sitting next to Tim Rice who has contributed some new ones. It's the first time that I've heard applause at a read-through, let alone a standing ovation by the end. The legendary Audra McDonald had sung and Emma Thompson too (a cupboard and a teapot in the Beast's bewitched household).
But my favourite moment, because it made me weepy, was when the Beast's loving arm was placed tentatively on Belle's shoulder after their pas de deux. Clearly dancing and singing rehearsals had started before today. My own are to come. I'm going to have to work hard to equal what has already been achieved. All the long way home, I hummed Be my Guest, in which I shall get to sing a line or two. Aren't I the lucky one?