Audra McDonald has won more Tony Awards than any other Broadway performer (six) and also has a very successful TV and movie career. We had the opportunity to talk to this multi-talent by phone from New York about her career and about playing the role of an Italian opera singer who turns into Madame De Garderobe in the big screen musical Beauty and the Beast. ~Alexandra Heilbron
What’s the secret to your success?
I don’t know that I have a secret to success, I’ve just been very lucky. I very much believe that. I’ve wanted to be a Broadway performer my entire life since I was nine years old. I have a lot of passion for it but I’ve just had some very lucky breaks in my career.
What was the first musical you saw that inspired you to want to be a performer yourself?
I was in a musical before I actually saw one, if that makes sense, but one that solidified it for me was when I saw a professional touring company do Cats in Los Angeles and I was very excited by that and knew that I wanted to be on Broadway someday.
How did you get the role of Madame De Garderobe in Beauty and the Beast?
I heard they were making the film and I was excited about that because I couldn’t wait to see it and then about three months or so after I heard them announce it, my agent called me and said they wanted me to be a part of it. I was just shocked. Thrilled, but shocked.
The film is so magical. What was it like to be on that beautiful set?
It was incredible. As gorgeous and as amazing as the set looks on the big screen, it’s even more amazing in person. Usually when you walk onto a set you can see the smoke and the mirrors, you can see the bones of how it was put together. You couldn’t see any of that with this. It was just perfect. It was just so magical and beautiful. We had people in the scenes that I did who’ve been doing film for a very long time — big stars like Stanley Tucci and Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson. All of us were all just completely blown away by the set.
This is Emma Watson’s first musical, what was it like to work with her?
She was magnificent. She’s an absolute angel of a person and very sweet, very conscientious and a hard, hard worker. She takes her work very seriously. You would think with someone who has that kind of celebrity that they could have a bit of an ego but not at all with her. She was just lovely.
How long did filming take for your role?
Well, the stuff that I shot on set took about a week and then I did voice work for a couple of days and then I did more about a year later (laughs). It takes a long time in total, you come back to it a few different times.
You sing several songs in this movie, including the beginning of the iconic song “Beauty and the Beast.” Do you have a favorite song from the musical?
Everybody loves the song “Beauty and the Beast,” and I do as well, but one of my favorite songs from this particular incarnation is “Days in the Sun,” just because it provides such a lovely backstory for the prince and all of his household objects, his former servants and workers that have become these household objects and you get to know a little bit about them and their hopes and their dreams, so I think that’s my favorite.
Do you have a favorite character?
The Beast. I’m Team Beast (laughs). I think he’s a wonderful character. He has the biggest arc and the incredible journey that he has to take emotionally and obviously physically. The journey towards being worthy of being loved and recognizing his own worth and starting to love himself. It’s a beautiful thing.
You’re doing a North American concert tour this year – do you have any Canadian dates scheduled?
Not this time around. I was in Toronto a year or two ago but not this time around with this tour, unfortunately. I do love it, I haven’t played a ton of cities in Canada but I’ve played Vancouver and Toronto.
Make sure to come back, you have many, many fans here who would love to see you in concert.
I’d love to come back.
Thank you so much for talking to me today!
Thank you. Take care!