Casting Ariel in ‘The Little Mermaid’ Was Much Easier Than Casting Eric

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Jonah Hauer-King and Halle Bailey at The Little Mermaid press event

Credit: Disney, @jallethinker on Twitter

With only a week to go until its big worldwide premiere, everyone is talking about Disney’s live-action version of The Little Mermaid, starring Halle Bailey and Jonah Hauer-King – and we’re a long way away from those early discussions about casting Ariel, Eric, and all the rest.

So far, what advance reviews there have been of the film are overwhelmingly positive, praising Halle Bailey as a perfect fit and saying the chemistry between her and Hauer-King is unmatched.

While they may be experiencing the same praise now, at the end of the process, some may be interested to know that their experiences in the casting process were as different as can be – and director Rob Marshall stressed to Deadline that he didn’t really “pick” either of them.

Rob Marshall first saw Halle performing “Where is the Love” with her sister as Chloe x Halle at the Grammys 2019.

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. I thought, who is this?

Related: Halle Bailey Blows Everyone Out of the Water With Her Disneyland Performance

We brought her in. I had no idea if she could act, but thought, she’s so kind of ethereal and otherworldly about her. And when she sang Part of Your World, by the end of the song, I was in tears. I wasn’t even aware that I was in tears.

Marshall described casting Ariel as a complex balancing act; She has to be innocent and vulnerable but also headstrong and stubborn – and, most importantly, possess a deep inner joy.

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.

Halle Bailey as Ariel in 'The Little Mermaid' live-action remake
Credit: Disney

Related: Halle Bailey Loved Working on Songs With “Living Legend” Alan Menken

The bar for Eric, in the meantime, was never set. Once they had cast Halle Bailey, they had a new challenge: Finding an actor who could add depth to the originally “wooden” Prince Eric and who had great chemistry with Ariel.

It was, to hear Marshall describe it; it was quite a search.

We looked at everybody, American actors, British actors, every ethnicity too, just looking for that right combination. We boiled it down to three guys. Jonah was such a good actor, and so likable. You like him immediately.

Once they had those three guys, though, casting Eric was more up to Halle than it was to them – whoever they picked would have to be someone who had natural chemistry with their lead actress. Luckily, Ariel didn’t seem to have much trouble with the decision.

Ariel and Eric "Kiss the Girl" scene, leaning in on boat, from The Little Mermaid 2023 remake
Credit: Disney

Related: Real-Life Actors for Ariel and Eric Spark Dating Rumors

I didn’t have to make the choice. It was made for me. It was so obvious. They had immediate chemistry. They just liked each other. When we were filming the screen test, they were laughing and having a great time off camera. You could just see there was an ease about them. He seemed like a gentleman, a throwback to another time.

Their chemistry is so good that many fans wonder if they’re a couple – especially in the wake of Bailey’s recent breakup with rapper DDG. Even if they aren’t, it is quite a testament to Rob Marshall’s casting abilities – or, according to him, Bailey’s.

You can see just how good the chemistry between Halle Bailey and Jonah Hauer-King is when The Little Mermaid finally comes to theaters on May 26.

What do you think about how they did casting Ariel and Eric – are Halle and Jonah a perfect match? Let us know in the comments.

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