Melissa McCarthy was definitely on edge when she knew she’d be working with the actor behind Anton Chigurh, Bond villain Raoul Silva and many other intimidating characters, but Javier Bardem quickly disarmed her during their one day shooting together at The little Mermaid. McCarthy and Bardem play rival siblings Ursula and King Triton in Rob Marshall and John DeLuca’s live-action reimagining of the 1989 animated classic, and when her anxiety quickly dissipated, McCarthy made it a point to enjoy every second she had. shared with Bardem.
“I was very nervous to meet him, but the nerves disappeared within two seconds. From the moment you meet Javier, he’s like a walking warm hug,” says McCarthy The Hollywood Reporter. “I always find it fascinating how people throw their energy so differently per character. When his energy is on, that’s what you’d expect if you’re in a room with Javier (in character). You feel it.”
Bardem’s body of work consists mostly of grown-up fare, including some of the most terrifying villains to ever hit the screen, so he definitely wanted to make something his two young children could enjoy. The movie has also helped him prepare for the inevitable day when he has to let his kids leave the nest, something King Triton has a hard time dealing with with Ariel (Halle Bailey).
“It’s about the fear and the insecurity you feel as a father in understanding and accepting that sooner or later your kids are going to go free,” says Bardem. “And as a father, I had to deal with that. In Rob (Marshall) and John (DeLuca)’s version, they’ve amplified that side of the story… It’s more reliable and emotional than the original…with all due respect and love to the original, of course.”
Below, during a recent conversation with THRMcCarthy and Bardem also discuss how Marshall and DeLuca’s backgrounds in dance and choreography made their film experiences even more unique. Bardem then advocates a spin-off of Ursula and Triton.
I never thought I’d be interviewing you together. Had you two ever crossed paths before?
Melissa McCarthy: No, but I dreamed about it. I’ve always wanted to, so this is pretty exciting for me.
Javier Bardem: Also for me. I follow the great work she does, and we love her at home. So it was great to know that we had at least one day when we could cross paths on set.
Melissa, was being against type a big factor in her bond with Ursula?
McCarthy: I always start with the character. For me, a comedy or a drama, there are no differences. Energetically there is sometimes a different drive depending on the story, but I consider them both to be the same and I prepare in the same way. I kind of dig into what their armor is, what they’re hiding, and what they let people see versus what really deflects it so you don’t notice the insecurity. In Ursula’s case, it’s the loneliness, the rejection, and all those great fun qualities. She’s a great girl. She slides off a piano in every cabaret bar you go to, and you can’t look away. But there’s a lot of darkness and a lot of damage to this character, so that’s really what I was trying to balance. I didn’t want to take her light away and just go dark, but it really was a constant, careful balance of dark and light.
Javier, your character is an overprotective father who has trouble losing his grip. Could you tell yourself where he came from as a father, even if he went too far?
Bardem: Naturally. It’s about the fear and uncertainty you feel as a father to understand and accept that sooner or later your children will fly free. And you have to support that, because that’s what life is all about. It is finding your own way and not living by the orders of others. And as a father, I had to deal with that. In Rob (Marshall) and John (DeLuca)’s version, they’ve given that side of the story a little more force. In that sense it is more reliable and emotional than the original, with all due respect and love for the original of course.
Most of your movies are aimed at adults, so you wanted to make something your kids could watch too?
Bardem: Yes, that was a good reason for me to say yes, among many other reasons, but being able to share this with my kids was an important one. They haven’t seen it yet, but they will, and that will be a baptism of fire for me. Let’s see if I survive.
McCarthy & Bardem: (Laugh.)
McCarthy: I think you’ll do well.
Bardem: Okay, let’s see!
Melissa, no one scares people like a Javier Bardem character, so were you pretty anxious leading up to your scene?
McCarthy: I was very nervous to meet him, but the nerves disappeared in two seconds. As soon as you meet Javier, he’s like a walking warm hug.
McCarthy: He’s so sweet, and I always find it fascinating how people throw their energy so differently per character. Of course I’m a fan like everyone else, but you don’t know what you’re running into. And then I thought, “Oh, sure. He’s this very open, warm, creative person who can throw lightning bolts,” which is no pun on King Triton. When his energy is on, that’s what you’d expect if you were in a room with Javier (in character). You feel it. You don’t just see it or believe it; you really feel it viscerally. So when you get to work with someone who can do that, it’s always exciting.
Bardem: My turn! Working with Melissa is a pleasure and a gift. Too bad we only had one day.
McCarthy: I know.
Bardem: But I had a moment where (Melissa) delivered some pretty heavy lines and they made my spine (shiver). I felt the energy. So I didn’t see her Ursula until that point, but I knew then that she had created a unique and iconic Ursula in this movie. She has brought everything you can ask for and imagine. So I need an Ursula spin-off, and since our characters are siblings, I want to have a scene with her at dinner.
McCarthy: Let’s go for six or seven if we throw it. Come on!
Disney, I hope you’re listening.
McCarthy & Bardem: (Laugh.)
Robert Marshall was once a dancer before becoming a choreographer and then a director. So does he direct motion more specifically than most directors?
McCarthy: Of Rob and John are dancers and explain things physically, especially John. A dancer cannot not use their bodies and their physicality, so every movement we do in this is choreographed. We didn’t stand on the ground, so ten people made all our movements possible. There were people lifting us up and down, circulating and undulating. So we all had to work as this team of dancers, and Rob and John really speak to that. They speak to the physicality, and that is related to the emotion and the story. So when they do what they do, it’s like nothing else. They know it from all sides and they have lived it most of their lives. So I’m just lucky to be on the receiving end of that because it’s really delicious.
Bardem: They also have this taste and elegance that you’re either born with or not, and they put that into everything they do. So when you watch this movie, it’s so elegant. Every aspect of it is so beautifully taken care of, and it is a delight. It has such a big heart and it is so beautifully done in every detail.
There’s an existing template that you had to be somewhat faithful to, but you still have some input on your character designs?
McCarthy: I think it’s in the recipe, but if you had an idea, they were so open and cooperative.
McCarthy: So anything was possible, which is a very special way of working.
The little Mermaid will be in cinemas from May 26. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.