Jonah Hauer-King wears a cow print jacket from FENDI. Charlie Gray
"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 tour and according to director Rob Marshall (Chicago in 2002, Memoirs of a Geisha in 2005) because he aspired to make adult characters in non-musical films. Hauer-King (London, 27), however, had the features of a prince (a Disney prince, not a Windsor; although he studied at Eaton like the real British monarchs). And she could sing: she proved it with Amy Winehouse's I Heard Love Is Blind, 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 Mermaid, which is why he feels that movie was always part of his life. For that reason and because he was born in 1995. "The Disney films of the nineties were my introduction to cinematic storytelling," he says. "All the people of my generation carry them inside, they are part of their learning of the world, we do not remember a life without them. That's why they're so special, because they contributed to our education, to our cultural sensitivity. When I played my mother the songs from our movie, even though she hasn't seen the original in 25 years, she remembered all the lyrics."
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His mother, who is a theatrical producer, gave him only one piece of advice at the start of filming: "Work hard, be nice to people and learn the dialogues." His father is a prominent London restaurateur who promoted businesses such as Wolseley, Delaunay or Brasserie Zédel, where Jonah spent six months working as a waiter after leaving school at age 17. He loved the experience, because in a way it helped him to put the interpretation into practice by having to adapt his energy to each group of diners. But he did not get any paper in six months, he became afraid and decided to study philosophy and theology at the University of Cambridge.
"Whether you are practicing 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 maybe enriching myself as an actor as well. The truth is that I didn't choose that 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, to understand communities at other times in history that were trying to make sense of themselves, their lives and the world around them. That gave me a lot of tools for my work," he says.
Jonah Hauer-King poses for ICON in PRADA denim jacket and pants and EYEWEAR BY DAVID BECKHAM sunglasses. Charlie Gray
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 in 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 have.' Art should be available to everyone," he says.
Her first roles came in 2017, in the BBC adaptations of Return to Howard's End and Little Women. In the latter he played the role of young heartthrob played by Christian Bale in 1994 and Timothée Chalamet in 2019. Between takes, the actor was distracted by trying on the corsets and hats of the actresses. Did he 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 is that I tried on all the costumes that did exist. A certain red-haired wig roared quite a bit. And there was a shell bra that also rolled quite a bit. And I think if you dig deep enough you'll find it. If not, when the movie is released I will send it to you."
Halle Bailey shares a picture of Jonah via her Instagram story! pic.twitter.com/AQjzVThi3A
— Jonah Hauer-King Updates (@jonahhauerking) July 12, 2021
Hauer-King's challenge was to breathe life into a character that in the original, more than a character, was an idea. A vehicle for Ariel to make her desires come true. That's why Eric was the least iconic character in a movie full of sweeping creatures: Rob Marshall and screenwriter David Magee (Searching Neverland in 2004, Life of Pi in 2012) set out to give it more depth. He is the most expanded character compared to 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. On this occasion, the prince has a song of his own, which the original lacked. It was written by original composer Alan Menken, winner of eight Oscars, and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton, Viana) who 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 vulnerability that is 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 feels like exploring the world. And meeting Ariel is a catalyst," he says.
Filming was delayed by a year because of the pandemic, which gave him time to prepare physically. Hauer-King already had Eric's blue eyes. His nose is spinning too. And its dimples. And a certain romantic air, a certain expression of a good kid and unmistakably good family teeth. He only lacked the bearing. "I gained a little weight, I became more athletic, because Eric is a sailor. And during filming these people know how to use their time. As soon as I had two hours to spare, they sent me to the gym, to dive or to practice the reins of the carriage, "he says. Even through Zoom you can perceive in Hauer-King the good manners, the non-intimidating charm and the upright posture of the prince. A guy that anyone could fall in love with.
Marshall knew that the film's success depended largely on the romance being convincing, even though Ariel didn'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 in giving depth to the script and the relationship and making sure you understand why they fall in love," says the actor. Lin-Manuel Miranda has modified the lyrics of Bésala, the subliminal song that the crab Sebastian improvises to get Eric to kiss Ariel and break the spell, so that it sounds more... Consensual: the verse "she wants too, there is 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, more than 160 million dollars collected 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 says of The Tattoo Artist of Auschwitz, the adaptation of Heather Morris' novel in which he plays the Jew in charge of recording the numbers of prisoners in the infamous Nazi concentration camp.
The Little Mermaid opens a new era in the life of Hauer King. It is about to be observed, analyzed and commented on by hundreds of millions of people. Reflecting on it, he remains silent, looks around (a typical cuisine of the English countryside, that is, a perfect kitchen) and decides to take epic out of the matter. Perhaps because he suspects that might not be the case, because he knows that in this machinery 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 too much about it, because if I do I'll probably lose my mind. What I know is that it's a lot of fun to promote the movie, but it's dangerous to let it absorb your whole life. That's why I'm not going to sleep every night thinking about it."
Trailer of the movie 'The Little Mermaid'
This image released by Disney shows Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric, left, and Halle Bailey as Ariel in "The Little Mermaid." (Disney via AP) Photo: Disney
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