Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Interview: Kathryn Beaumont, Voice of Peter Pan's Wendy

Kathryn Beaumont started her career as a child actress in England before MGM signed her to a contract and brought her family to Hollywood. Little did she know at the time that would lead to a meeting with a Hollywood legend: Walt Disney. Kathryn Beaumont

Kathryn Beaumont

Shortly after arriving in Hollywood, Disney put out a casting call for a new animated feature: Alice in Wonderland. Ms. Beaumont was eventually cast as Alice and it led to a face-to-face meeting with Disney. "I was very awestruck because the first time I met him was when we went in to sign the contract [for Alice in Wonderland]," Ms. Beaumont recalled during a recent interview. "We were going to go up to Walt's office and meet him. I was very nervous because he was a person who was so well-known all over the world. But I realized he was an easygoing person, an everyday person and he wasn't the icon in the office, the head of the studio you never saw. He was very much a part of the studio and made himself known and seen. He sat down on the couch with me and with the [Alice] book and started talking to me about what was happening in the book and how they were going to interpret some of the scenes. He was so relaxed with me and it made me feel much, much better. I liked him a lot."

Disney apparently liked what Ms. Beaumont brought to Alice in Wonderland enough that he cast her as Wendy Darling, the oldest of the children that fly off to Neverland in Peter Pan. But, she explained, her job involved more than just providing the voice for Wendy.

"They would invite me to come up and sit in on storyboard conferences and there was a reason for that in that they wanted me to understand what the scene was about and understand every aspect of it where my experience with MGM had been that you got your little script and you memorized your lines and you really didn't have an idea what the story was about - you just knew that scene. So there wasn't really an understanding and a following through of what was going on in the film. At Disney, the fact that I would go in and watch how the storyboard was evolving and what the character was going to be doing, I was better able to play the role more realistically. They accepted me as one of the team though I was one of the littlest people there. Because of that, they made me feel comfortable, an important part of it all."

Providing the voice for Wendy was only about half of what was required of her and the other cast members. The other, lesser known aspect, is that the actors were also the live-action models for the animators.

"I started out doing the voice and then the animators wanted me to do the live action as well because that was the reference work for the artists to be able to see the way the human figure was moving. So we would record first and then go to the soundstage and it would be filmed but basically just for the animators. Their seeing my movement and the way that I interpreted the character, they would look at that and then that gave them the help that they needed to draw the character."

Wendy and John

Live Action reference shot (Kathryn Beaumont as Wendy Darling, Paul Collins as John Darling). © Disney. All Rights Reserved
With the new 2-disc DVD release from Disney, a whole new generation of viewers will get to enjoy this movie. I asked Ms. Beaumont what has made this such a timeless story.
"It's because it's such a timeless story and it's an adventure. Children obviously love anything that have to do with adventures that they have and the fantasy that goes along with that. Then there's the concept of the little boy who didn't grow up and that concept that's developed through the story. The conflict of growing up and then looking back, being a mature person and thinking back to the time when you were carefree and could have fun and there was no responsibility as opposed to the little boy who wanted to live that way forever. It's that concept we can all relate to in our lives. The story itself has that but it also has these wonderful characters, adventure and lots of humor. Every generation comes by and is intrigued and thoroughly entertained by it from one generation to the next no matter what things have been going on in our lives over the decades."

"The fact that I at such a young age had this opportunity to do something so very special and it's even more special because these films have come back again and again. I never suspected that would happen and how fortunate I am that I am part of it and can still be part of the legacy that was Disney. I am proud to be part of what he created."

This article was originally published at Blogcritics.

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