Melissa McCarthy plays Ursula without a wig in ‘The Little Mermaid’. For what?
Melissa McCarthy knew she had big tentacles to fill to portray the villainous Ursula for live-action “The Little Mermaid.”
McCarthy fell in love with the outrageously hair-dressed half-octopus sea witch from the Disney animated original in 1989 while working as a nanny for two VHS-obsessed children.
“I’ve seen ‘The Little Mermaid’ more than any other movie, hundreds of times. We literally watched it every night,” McCarthy, 52, says. “I always thought Ursula was the most dishonest and amazing part.”
Playing the dream role in the remake (in theaters Friday) alongside Halle Bailey’s siren, Ariel, proved doubly difficult for two-time Oscar nominee McCarthy — not only by pulling off a convincingly conniving performance starring Ursula’s great song, “Poor Unfortunate Souls”, but inevitably inviting comparisons to her beloved original animated Ursula, voiced by Pat Carroll.
“My hope was to give all the love I have for Pat Carroll’s original,” McCarthy said. “And then I put my own spin on it.”
Here’s how McCarthy spun his Ursula in ‘The Little Mermaid’:
Melissa McCarthy Proved She Has The Vocal Chops For ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’
Playing Disney’s new Ursula – who urges Ariel to ditch her golden voice for human legs and feet to pursue her true love Prince Eric – has proven to be one of the hottest casting stories ever. Hollywood. Even Lizzo threw her blonde Ursula wig in the ring in 2018, dressing in a full ensemble and wearing the “Poor Unfortunate Souls” belt in a social media video. McCarthy implored director Rob Marshall in what she was sure was a futile effort.
“I said to him, ‘I’m probably not even at the bottom of your list. But I would love to talk to you about this, please, because I feel this connection with Ursula,'” McCarthy said.
Over lunch, Marshall told McCarthy he already knew about his singing chops from Barbra Streisand’s 2016 album “Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway,” which features the unlikely duo singing “Anything You Can Do “.
Streisand’s song helped. “But I didn’t really know how well Melissa could sing,” Marshall says. “I was thrilled to see that she literally had this massive voice with so much color. And she’s fearless.”
“We just clicked as friends and collaborators,” McCarthy said of Marshall.
Even Lizzo came to the cast after meeting McCarthy while taping Adele’s “One Night Only” concert special and bonding over their shared love for Ursula. “I’m definitely watching ‘Little Mermaid’ this weekend,” Lizzo told USA TODAY.
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McCarthy has had decades to consider and sympathize with Ursula’s plight. Of course, she cheats on the innocent Ariel, and the sea witch is a curse on King Triton (Javier Bardem). But she has her reasons. After all, Ursula lives alone at the bottom of the sea with only two eel henchmen, Flotsam and Jetsam.
“She’s categorized as the villain, but I have a complicated view of Ursula. She’s misunderstood, damaged,” says McCarthy, who grew more compassionate for Ursula during the COVID-19 pandemic that halted filming. “Coming out of lockdown to play someone who isn’t 100% mentally healthy because of their isolation – we can all relate to that.”
To boot, there’s a new twist to Ursula’s dastardly power move to dethrone King Triton and become Queen of Atlantica. In the new version, the two characters are linked. So Triton expelled his own sister from the kingdom.
“Knowing that your family banished you and sent you into exile was a game-changer for me,” McCarthy says. “The very people she wants to love have rejected her. Even though she deserved it, she missed her whole life.
The empathy goes no further, however, as McCarthy brings a delightful naughtiness to Ursula. She capped off the performance by singing “Poor Unfortunate Souls” with a 200-piece orchestra. “It’s as terrifying as singing with Barbra Streisand,” McCarthy says.
Melissa McCarthy ditched her Ursula wig, learned to swim like ‘a creature that lives in water’
The underwater scenes in “The Little Mermaid” were shot in a studio against a blue screen that required McCarthy to be strapped to rigs to simulate effortless water movement. Water and special effects, like Ursula’s hair and tentacles, were added digitally through computer graphics. But the levitation movements were very real.
“I had to go to ‘swimming school’ because Rob really wanted it to appear that you’re not swimming, but floating like a creature that lives in water,” says McCarthy, who honed her water “slide” for Ursula. . “I’ve never seen this kind of beautiful asymmetrical underwater movement in a movie.”
Filming with blue-screen technology meant McCarthy had to wear a skullcap rather than Ursula’s famous white hair. It was “at first, traumatic” for McCarthy, who had come to love the Ursula wig she wore from a transformative camera test.
“Once I put that wig on, it was like, ‘Oh, honey,’ like everything made sense with Ursula,” McCarthy said. “I had quite a few conversations with Rob, asking, ‘Can I still wear the wig?’ “
Request denied. But McCarthy was able to lean into Ursula’s elaborate makeup, which took over an hour a day to apply, and her gloriously dark eggplant nails.
“I can’t imagine finding my Ursula without that makeup, it’s the armor she puts on to show the world,” McCarthy said.
The corset dress with iridescent tendrils emerging from the collar was the centerpiece. McCarthy worked with costume designer Colleen Atwood to ensure maximum flexibility for the water scenes. “Colleen designed a corset that still allowed me to slip,” says McCarthy.
Seeing the final performance after all the painstaking additions of computer-generated imagery – from Ursula’s tentacles to her fabulous hair – was breathtaking.
“Each hair was drawn and manipulated through a series of computer movements. It was just amazing,” said McCarthy, who fully understood the wig ban when she saw Ursula’s wonderful mane at the ‘screen. “It was like, ‘I get it! I really get it.’ “
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