Bringing Belle, possibly the most beloved and admired princess in Disney's storied stable, to life would seem to be enough to make anyone nervous.
Even if that someone is Emma Watson.
"It's really remarkable to play someone that I'm almost sure had an influence on the woman that I have become," said Watson, at a recent press conference for the new, live-action Beauty and the Beast film, which hits theaters this week. "I think the first time I saw Paige O'Hara sing Belle, [it was like] I wanted to sing all the songs! I immediately resonated with her.
"I was so young, I didn't even know what I was tapping into," Watson continued. "But there was just something about that spirit, there was something about that energy that I just knew she was my champion -- and I think when I knew I was taking on this role, I wanted to make sure that I was championing that same spirit, those same values and that same young woman that made me [at least] a part of who I am today."
Watson said this was important for her to get this point across to director Bill Condon and screenwriters Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos when she felt scenes didn't reflect the character of Belle the way she saw her.
"I just always had the original DNA of [Belle] in my mind and I had my fists up and I was ready to fight because she was so crucial to me," said Watson. "It was just taking what was already there and expanding it."
"I do love that in our version, Belle is not only awed and doesn't fit in ... and not really part of the community, ... but in our film she's actually an activist within her community," Watson emphasized. "She's teaching other young girls who are part of the village to read [and other] moments like that where you could see her expanding beyond just her own little world and trying to kind of grow it. I loved that! Yeah! That was amazing to get to do."
Watson, who is best known for playing the studious Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films, also made it clear that she found the character of Belle and her love of reading and knowledge to be just as powerful as someone who physically fights a bunch of people onscreen -- if not more so.
"I think that Belle is this ultimate kind of symbol of the fact that books can be rebellious -- they can be incredibly empowering and liberating," Watson said. "They are a means [where you can] travel to places in the world that you would never be able to under other circumstances."
"Again, I was just really proud to play a character that has a certain earnestness about her, honestly -- and she's not in any way ashamed of that."
"It's not easy being an outsider and it's not easy to pick battles," Watson continued. "It's not easy to try to move and work against a system, to work against the grain [or] to move against the status quo. But she does so with this kind of amazing fearlessness ... with the support of her father, ... but it's something that she weathers on her own, really, at the end of the day."
"So, yeah, I'm very grateful that this character exists and I get to bring her to life," Watson concluded. "It's fantastic!"