1 of 6 | Halle Bailey attends the 37th annual Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards in Los Angeles on March 4, 2023. Bailey appeared on "Good Morning America" to talk about her starring role as Ariel in "The Little Mermaid." File Photo by Greg Grudt/UPI | License Photo
May 18 (UPI) -- Halle Bailey makes her debut as Ariel in The Little Mermaid when it enters theaters next Friday. Ahead of the film's release, she stopped by Good Morning America to discuss the role with Robin Roberts, Michael Strahan and George Stephanopolous.
Bailey, 23, was once trolled online for being cast in the live-action role. The original version 1989 animated movie The Little Mermaid was animated but featured Jodi Benson in the lead role, who is White.
But as social media posters in defense of Bailey pointed out, mermaids can come in any color. Bailey met Benson on the movie's set as she makes a cameo in the new film.
"She has been the soundtrack of a lot of our childhood and a lot of our lives because the work she did as the original Ariel is so special," Bailey told GMA. "So to have her blessing, and her stamp of approval is so beautiful and validating, and I'm just honored to meet her because she's a legend."
Bailey was joined on set by little girls of color from a New York City arts program who got to see the movie immediately after their appearance on GMA. Bailey's live-action Ariel Barbie is already on sale, and GMA showed a clip of a little girl gazing at the doll in wonder after getting it as a gift.
"I'm just in a constant state of awe and so grateful that they're able to see themselves in a character like Ariel," Bailey said. "We deserve to have representation where we can look and be like, 'Wow, I'm worthy, too. She looks like me. I have a doll that looks like me.' Like, it's so special, and I'm grateful to even be a part of this."
The Little Mermaid co-stars Javier Bardem as Ariel's father, King Triton, Melissa McCarthy as Ursula, Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric, Awkwafina as Scuttle, Jacob Tremblay as Flounder, Daveed Diggs as Sebastian and Noma Dumezweni as King Eric's mother, making it one of the most racially diverse Disney classic adaptations ever. But director Rob Marshall says casting Bailey as Ariel wasn't planned as a diversity move.
"I first saw Halle on the Grammys, when we had just started casting," Marshall told Deadline. "We were looking everywhere, and there was no agenda to cast a woman of color. Just, let's find the best Ariel. And then I saw this beautiful creature, singing like an angel on the Grammys."
Marshall says he had no idea if she could act, but after bringing her in to audition for the role, he knew she was right for the part. They did look at other actresses but Bailey was the first choice.
" The thing about Ariel that's so tricky is that you're asking for so many things. You're asking for innocence and vulnerability, but strength at the same time. Strong-willed, almost bullheaded kind of character who sees what they want and goes to get it."
He added, "But there had to be joy from her, and Halle had all of that. She was the first actor we saw for the film, the first one. And then we saw everybody else. She set the bar so high, and nobody surpassed that bar."
The Little Mermaid opens in theaters on May 26.
Halle Bailey (L) and Chloe Bailey, of Chloe x Halle, arrive for the 45th NAACP Image Awards at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, Calif., on February 22, 2014. The sisters are almost two years apart in age. Chloe's birthday is July 1, 1998 and Halle's is March 27, 2000. Photo by Ken Matsui/UPI | License Photo