HomeEntertainment News'The Little Mermaid' Director Explains Casting an Unknown as Vanessa

‘The Little Mermaid’ Director Explains Casting an Unknown as Vanessa

In the original, animated version of The Little Mermaid, Ursula knows that leaving Ariel on her own in the human world might turn out to be more problematic than she originally thought. Even without her beautiful singing voice, it could still be possible for her to make Prince Eric fall in love with her. That doesn’t sit right with the main antagonist, who wants to use Ariel as a way of taking the throne away from her brother, King Triton, so the witch comes up with a different solution for her problem. Disguised as a human named Vanessa, Ursula infiltrates the kingdom and places a spell on the young man, making him believe he loves her and not Ariel.

Rob Marshall, the director of this year’s live-action version of the story, had a very special reason for casting Jessica Alexander as Vanessa. As he explained in a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, Ursula was already played by Melissa McCarthy, so brining another major name to play the human version of the witch might have resulted to be distracting for audiences. That way, people would mostly recognize the character for she is instead of thinking about who is behind the role. The result was a fantastic duality to the film’s antagonist, with Alexander portraying McCarthy’s Ursula exactly how she would behave while on the human world:


I really didn’t want to do too many stunt [castings]. We already had Melissa McCarthy playing Ursula, so to have another well-known person playing her as Vanessa just felt weird. The thing is that Jessica is an extraordinary actress. I mean, quite young, but you can see her work. She just gets it, and she’s fearless. That’s what you find in an audition. We saw a lot of people on tape first, and then eventually when you find the people that you think are interesting, you see them in person and work with them.

In this summer’s romantic adventure, Ariel is fascinated with everything she can find that comes the world of the humans, as she constantly collects things that are left behind in the ocean. Her love for the world above places her at odds with her father (Javier Bardem), due to how a man killed her mother. Since humans proved to be dangerous for their species, King Triton strictly forbids Ariel from heading to the surface, even if she was already in love with Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) by that point. These are the circumstances that lead the mermaid to look for a different choice in the first place.

Melissa McCarthy as Ursula in 'The Little Mermaid' 2023
Image via The Walt Disney Company

RELATED: Everything 2023’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ Changes From the Original Disney Classic

A Witch Wants to Rule the Seven Seas

Salvation for Ariel would come in the shape of her Aunt Ursula, who had been banished from the kingdom many years before the events of the movie took place. The sea witch offers Ariel an offer too good to refuse, where she can be given human legs for a limited amount of time. There are some very important rules surrounding the spell, though. If Ariel can’t get Eric to give her a true love’s kiss in three days, the girl would turn back into a mermaid and belong to Ursula forever.

You can check out Collider’s interview with Melissa McCarthy and Javier Bardem below:



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