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Since bursting on the scene in the Harry Potter movies and becoming one of the highest earning actors in the world, Watson has mainly starred in smaller or offbeat projects. But this is a role she felt she had to take. "It's really remarkable to play someone that I'm almost sure had an influence on the woman that I have become," Watson says. "The first time I saw Paige O'Hara sing Belle, it's the 'I Want' song of all 'I Want' songs, and I just immediately resonated with her. I was so young that I didn't even know what I was tapping into, but there was something about that spirit and energy that I just knew she was my champion."
Outspoken on women's issues, Watson says it was important for her to maintain that spirit. "Every time we would address a new scene," she says, "I just always had the original DNA of that woman in mind, and I had my fists up! I love that in our version Belle is not only awed and doesn't fit in, you see her reading and she's actually an activist within her own community."
Watson says that seeing Belle's passion for books is a key to the character. "I think that Belle is this ultimate symbol of the fact that books can be rebellious, incredibly empowering and liberating," she says. "You can travel to places in the world that you would never be able to under other circumstances. I was just really proud to play a character that has a certain earnestness about her. She's not, in any way, ashamed of that. It's not easy being an outsider and it's not easy to pick battles. It's not easy to try to move and work against the grain or the status quo. But Belle does so with this amazing fearlessness."
So was she nervous about making her first movie in which she sings and dances? "Once we were in it, the music is so dreamy and it's so special," Watson says. "And I do love a dance! Actually, at the end of the day when we shot the ballroom scene, I made them play Pharrell's Happy, and got everyone to dance a massive Beauty and The Beast cast conga line, which was surreal yet awesome."
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