A tale as old as time requires timeless actors to tell it. And Beauty and the Beast, Disney’s latest live-action remake, has a high bar to reach. The original was the first animated film ever to get nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. That feat wasn’t matched until Up and hasn’t been repeated since Toy Story 3. So if Beauty and the Beast already broke the mold as a cartoon, what is there to gain from a remake? Does the presence of real people automatically make a movie better?
The answer to that last question is definitely no. What’s important is which people you choose, and Disney has gotten the best talent to work on their recent surplus of non-animated fare. Artists who enter the House of Mouse these days find a place where they flourish creatively. So it stands to reason the stars of Beauty and the Beast will flourish as well. This list shows they deserve nothing less.
Here are the Best Performances From Each Actor In Beauty and the Beast.
13. Emma Watson (Belle) – The Harry Potter Franchise
Including Hermione on this list does not mean to suggest Emma Watson is forever bound to her debut performance. There’s no doubt that Watson, like her fellow Potter alum Daniel Radcliffe, has shown (re: Perks of Being a Wallflower) and will continue to show (re: The Circle) that the young witch prodigy cannot limit her persona. But her genuine, empowering interpretation of J.K. Rowling’s beloved character can never be over-praised.
Hermione Granger was always the glue that held the Harry Potter trio together. Harry and Ron would not have progressed past year one at Hogwarts (academically or otherwise) if not for Hermione. A strong-willed character like Hermione needed a strong-willed actress to play her, and even from an early age Watson pulled through. She understood from the jump Hermione’s ambitions, insecurities, and kindness towards others. Her casting could not have been more perfect.
When the first Potter flick came out, it was no mystery to audiences who was going to shed the child-star descriptor (though fortunately she was not the only one). Watson started out on the right foot, and never stumbled once in eight films.
12. Dan Stevens (The Beast) – Legion
Legion is still early in its run, so it might be too early to tell if it represents Dan Stevens’ best. Admittedly, three seasons of Downton Abbey provides a larger sample of his work. One could also cite The Guest, where Stevens convincingly plays off-type. But its FX’s pseudo super hero show that brings out Dan Stevens’ greatest skills. Skills nobody expected from Matthew Crawley.
Stevens plays David Haller, a mutant who isn’t sure if his visions are caused by superpowers or by his psychosis (or both). Soon he’s beset on all sides by people who want something from him. Even those with good intentions exacerbate David’s confusion. Which is tough for someone who deserves better, even considering his morally checkered past.
Twitchy throughout, Stevens shows off David’s mentally unstable side without making him a caricature. Witnessing him in this disheveled state (and hearing his spot on American accent), fans of Downton Abbey might have to blink several times to confirm they’re watching Stevens. But anyone watching can see the innocence in David’s eyes, and will soon root for him to get the help he needs.
11. Ewan McGregor (Lumiere) – I Love You Phillip Morris
A Jim Carrey movie is probably the last place you’d expect to find Ewan McGregor. Known for Star Wars and Moulin Rouge!, McGregor must have a decent amount of sway in choosing his projects. So choosing to star in a black comedy from the writers of Bad Santa seems puzzling. But I Love You Phillip Morris, which is driven by a ludicrous yet sweet love story, provided McGregor a chance to give his most intimate performance.
I Love You Phillip Morris chronicles the true story of Steven Russell (Carrey), from his days as a small town cop to his life of crime. Along the way, Russell falls for Phillip Morris (McGregor), a poor soul who’s been kicked around by love his entire life. Through high profile cons and elaborate prison escapes, Phillip ultimately has to decide if his love for Steven is worth all the trouble Steven invites.
This movie makes a lot of people uncomfortable. There are frequent homophobic slurs and some deeply depressing elements. But it’s somehow endearing at the same time, thanks largely to McGregor. He melts into this role, and carries Phillip’s heartbreaks, fears, and joys as if they were his very own.
10. Ian McKellen (Cogsworth) – Gods and Monsters
Beauty and the Beast marks the third collaboration between Ian McKellen and director Bill Condon. Gods and Monsters, their first film together, earned McKellen a nomination for Best Actor at the Academy Awards. From there he went on to do X-Men and Lord of the Rings and the rest is geek history. But McKellen’s best work comes from his portrayal of James Whale, the legendary director of Frankenstein.
In his twilight years, Whale is plagued by his PTSD, picked up during WWI, and longs for his glory days. Though his circumstances are unfortunate, Whale certainly doesn’t fall into them gracefully. Prone to playing sexual mind games with young men, Whale lures his handsome, simple-minded gardener, Boon (Brendan Fraser), into his home. What starts as Whale’s simple request for Boon to pose in his painting becomes a disturbing, homo-erotic version of Sunset Boulevard.
Whale is complex to say the least. With his career long dead, he has no way to vent the horrors he’s seen in the war. McKellen’s acting enforces Whale’s already tragic story, elevating Condon’s film to tear-jerking heights. Though he’ll always be Gandalf the Grey, Gods and Monsters highlights the pinnacle of McKellen’s long career.
9. Josh Gad (LeFou) – Frozen
Josh Gad demonstrated his musical theater skills while starring in Book of Mormon on Broadway. In 2013 he took a more family-oriented role in a different musical. Frozen not only gave Gad an in with Disney (a gift that apparently keeps on giving), it also gave him a lovable underdog who would become America’s sweetheart. With Olaf, Gad called on his musical and comedic talents to make the intrepid snowman a favorite of kids everywhere.
Olaf is fairly standard as comic-relief characters in Disney films go. He’s a snowman who longs to witness summer, and his friends are too polite (and, honestly, charmed by his determination) to point out the glaring issue with his dream. The scrappy sidekick with his head in the clouds is a fairly common archetype. If you’re playing one of them, you have to bring something extra to the table.
Luckily, Gad voices Olaf with loads of unembarrassed earnestness, and keeps viewers of all ages oddly inspired. While Olaf’s popularity is largely thanks Disney’s marketing prowess, Gad’s performance played an important part in Olaf’s trending. And clearly it kept Gad in Disney’s favor.
8. Luke Evans (Gaston) – High-Rise
If you only saw Luke Evans in his less-than-successful blockbusters, Dracula Untold and The Raven specifically, anyone would forgive your low expectations of him. Even supporting parts in big franchises like Fast and the Furious and The Hobbit would do little to raise those expectations. But once you see High-Rise, where Evans outshines a cast with Tom Hiddleston, Elisabeth Moss, and Jeremy Irons, your expectations will skyrocket accordingly.
Set in the 1970s, High-Rise takes place in an apartment complex that relegates lower income families to the bottom floors while the wealthy rest comfortably on the top floors. The status quo boils the blood of many less fortunate inhabitants, including Evans’ Richard Wilder, a socialist documentary filmmaker. Wilder resents his lot in life and the rich people who live (literally and figuratively) above him. He intrudes on their parties whenever he can, opening the floodgates for frivolity and mayhem.
Wilder is piggish, loud, and ultimately dangerous. It’s a marvel Evans can maintain our interest in him. But he does just that. As Wilder, Evans barrels through every scene like a wrecking ball. It’s no wonder Disney called on him to play Gaston.
7. Kevin Kline (Maurice) – A Fish Called Wanda
With this Oscar winning performance, Kevin Kline proved that great comedy and great acting are not mutually exclusive. Kline’s antics in A Fish Called Wanda are nothing short of a totally committed, unpretentious performance in a whip smart caper film. Comedy or no, Kline would find eternal praise for bringing the skeevy, rude, intellectually insecure Otto to life.
When a diamond heist goes awry, Otto and Wanda must infiltrate the life of a stuck up, British lawyer to set things right. Wanda plans to seduce the lawyer, turning Otto into unbridled fireball of jealousy. Making his stupidity known at every turn, Otto is a macho buffoon who lashes out every time his self esteem is at risk (to the point where he insists America’s loss in Vietnam was a tie).
It takes a smart actor to make a dumb character work, and a serious actor to make him so funny. Kline’s rendition of Otto is hall-of-fame-worthy. And even though he’s an American actor, he shows in this movie he could fit snuggly into a Monty Python sketch.
6. Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts) – Much Ado About Nothing
Once nominated for two acting Oscars in the same year, picking Emma Thompson’s best performance is the IMDb equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack. A prolific actress in all genres, choosing one performance as Thompson’s best seems sacrilegious. So it felt best to choose a Thompson outing that is not only great but also tough to pull off. Such is the case with Shakespeare’s much adored Beatrice.
Much Ado About Nothing is a classic story of love lost and found through a series of whimsical misunderstandings. At Much Ado’s core is the love hate dynamic between Beatrice and Benedick (played by Thompson’s then husband and future Cinderella director, Kenneth Branagh). They spar verbally to mask their true feelings for each other. But finally they have to swallow their pride, which is hard to do for two people bursting with pride.
Vulnerability is not the enemy of strength. Thompson brought this principle to the table when taking on Beatrice. Thompson imbues each monologue with a sharp tongue, and conveys the thrill Beatrice gets from a good tête–à–tête. But Thompson also allows Beatrice to remain strong even after dropping her defenses. Shakespeare would be proud.
5. Audra McDonald (Madame Garderobe) – A Raisin in the Sun
A role that once belonged to acting heavyweight Rube Dee is not a role to take lightly. Fortunately, Audra McDonald takes on nothing lightly. A renowned talent in film, television, theater, and music, McDonald should never be underestimated. All things considered, McDonald seemed destined for an iconic part like Ruth Younger.
Based on Lorraine Hansberry’s acclaimed play, A Raisin in the Sun centers on a poor African American family living in Chicago’s South Side. With their patriarch’s recent death, the family eagerly awaits a life insurance check. Everyone harbors their own plans for how to spend the money. McDonald’s Ruth gets stuck a hurricane swirling with family drama and newfound grudges. All the while she tries to ensure a future for her son, and deal with an unexpected pregnancy. No pressure.
Ruth’s exhaustion onscreen would make the liveliest audience member feel tired. McDonald carries the burdens of her character so convincingly she makes you want to lend Ruth a hand. She plays Ruth as steadfast even in the most trying circumstances. She also makes up for the sometimes iffy acting talents of Sean Combs (aka P. Diddy).
4. Stanley Tucci (Maestro Cadenza) – The Devil Wears Prada
Meryl Streep makes every actor’s job harder, especially actors in movies with Meryl Streep. Stanley Tucci has done two, The Devil Wears Prada and Julie and Julia. Tucci certainly doesn’t need to prove himself. He’s an Oscar nominee with a place in The Hunger Games saga and the MCU. But even giants quiver when their names are on a movie poster alongside Meryl’s.
Tucci plays Nigel in The Devil Wears Prada, art director at Runway magazine. He’s a long time colleague of the editor in chief, Miranda Priestly (Streep). Miranda commands every room she enters. People scurry to please her before she’s even there. Only Nigel seems unintimidated by Miranda. While not her equal, Nigel knows Miranda and never tries to prove himself to her. He might even believe they’re friends, until Miranda offers his dream job to someone else.
Stanley Tucci embodies Nigel’s flamboyance with ease, stealing scenes even when Miranda’s in them. He’s as appealing to watch as Miranda, which makes it tough to see him get betrayed. Nigel is loyal to a fault, and never predicted he’d be at fault for his loyalty to Miranda. Tucci tackles the role with a balanced mix of humor and humanity.
3. Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Plumette) – Beyond the Lights
Somebody please give Gugu Mbatha-Raw a franchise. Make her a superhero, a Jedi, whatever. Movie star Gugu Mbatha-Raw should be a thing. It should have been a thing after her stellar performance in Beyond the Lights. Granted, Mbatha-Raw has done well recently. She played opposite Will Smith in Concussion, and starred in a memorable episode of Black Mirror. Still, Hollywood owes her a meteoric, Chris Pratt-esque rise to fame.
From an early age, Mbatha-Raw’s Noni was primed for the spotlight. She was blessed with a beautiful singing voice, and cursed with a mother who exploited it. As an adult pop sensation, Noni feels hollow from years of unwanted publicity and being treated like a sex object. At her lowest point, she attempts suicide but is saved by a dreamboat cop. The two start seeing each other in what is basically a dramatic remake of Notting Hill.
As the movie progresses, Noni slowly breaks free from the heavy makeup and scantily clad outfits, and seeks out a more emotionally fulfilling life. She triumphs, and starts writing music that actually means something to her. Mbatha-Raw’s star-power sells Noni the celebrity, while her organic performance sells Noni the human being.
2. Hattie Morahan (Agathe/The Enchantress) – The Bank Job
Hattie Morahan is one of the less familiar faces in Beauty‘s cast. Her most notable films are Mr. Holmes (another Bill Condon/Ian McKellen team-up), and The Bank Job, a heist movie set in 1970s London. At first, The Bank Job seems like a Guy Ritchie knock off. But it still has it’s merits: a propulsive narrative, visual panache, and a likeable ensemble led by Jason Statham (in a surprisingly grounded turn). Morahan’s screen time is brief, but she makes the most of it.
The Bank Job follows Statham’s crew of thieves as they plan to rob a bank. Thinking this is a simple operation, they unwittingly stumble into a conspiracy with ties to high ranking officials in British government. Morahan plays Gale, a British spy. She infiltrates a group suspected of having compromising photos of the aforementioned officials.
Morahan’s Gale is a savvy woman who delights in her job, even when it gets dangerous. She relishes her clandestine predicament, but underestimates the perils that come with it. Sadly, this comes at the cost of her life. It’s a pity to watch Gale die, and Morahan deserves commendation for making us like her in the little time she’s on screen.
1. Nathan Mack (Chip) – Babylon
In all fairness, this is Nathan Mack’s sole performance outside of Beauty and the Beast. Before nabbing the role of Chip, a spritely teacup, Mack scored a guest role in Channel 4’s cop dramedy, Babylon. Created by Danny Boyle (known best for directing Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours), Babylon tells the story of an American PR specialist (Brit Marling) hired by Scotland Yard to spruce up the police force’s public image. Mack showed up in two episodes of the show’s first season.
With Mack’s name associated with an Oscar-winning director like Danny Boyle, his career is off to a pretty great start. And going straight from this project to Disney, aligning himself with the roster of unparalleled talent above, his status as a child star can only improve from here. Hopefully he has a bright future ahead of him in show business. He’s certainly set his aspirations high enough.
Beauty and the Beast opens in theaters on March 17th.