The singer turned actress discusses her latest role in the new animated Disney film based on the classic "Rapunzel" fairy tale
Singer Mandy Moore first gained attention as a teenager in the '90s for her successful musical career, but since then has slowly made the transition into the world of acting. She first appeared in the film The Princess Diaries starring Anne Hathaway, but it was her breakout role in the movie A Walk to Remember that cemented her as one of the most popular actresses of her generation. Since then, Moore has appeared in a string of successful projects including Chasing Liberty, Saved!, American Dreamz, Because I Said So, License to Wed and most recently the TV series Grey's Anatomy.
Now the actress is combining her two loves, singing and acting, for her latest role in Walt Disney Pictures' 50th animated feature film, Tangled, which opens in theaters on November 24th. In the movie, Moore stars as Rapunzel, a girl with magic hair who has been kidnapped and kept in a tower by the evil Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) since birth. She eventually encounters Flynn (Zachary Levi), a thief who, along with a horse named Maximus and a chameleon named Pascal, help her escape from the tower and embark on a journey to find out the truth about where she came from. We recently had a chance to sit down with the multi-talented Mandy Moore to discuss the new movie, her classic character, playing a Disney princess, retuning to music and collaborating with legendary Disney composer Alan Menken. Here is what she had to say:
To begin with, is it a dream come true for you to be playing a Disney princess?
Mandy Moore: Yeah it's the ultimate fantasy, especially thinking back to when I was a little girl. I grew up watching The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. That was like a huge part of my childhood. It shaped me in many ways. I can remember watching The Little Mermaid as a little girl and thinking, "I want to sing. I want to be like her." So it was a big part of my childhood and it sort of doesn't get any bigger than that, to join in this lineage of Disney icons.
You began your career as a singer and now here you are singing again in a Disney film, is that incredibly exciting for you as an artist?
Mandy Moore: Absolutely! But also the fact that, you know, it's been awhile since an animated Disney film has had music like this and it sort of really felt like a throwback to those films that I grew up watching. You know with all of the best mixes of contemporary animated films, with the CGI and whatnot. I felt like they found a good middle ground between capturing the classic quality that we all love about animated Disney films and then bringing in the edge of the contemporary stuff as well.
The film, of course, is based on the classic "Rapunzel" fairy tale, are you surprised that Disney has never tried to adapt this beloved story before?
Mandy Moore: I know, I know, I know! It was funny that it hadn't been told yet. I think they told me, but it might not be true, that this is the last princess story that Disney has to tell, unless they bring something back. But I was think that's pretty cool, ending it on a high note.
Is that a lot of pressure to know that you are going to be the last Disney princess?
Mandy Moore: No, no, no. No extra pressure! But just again, it's great company to be included in.
Legendary Disney composer Alan Menken has said publicly that you were a delight to work with on this film because your musical background made it really easy for him to collaborate with you. Can you talk about working with him on the movie and what it was like for you to return to world of music in this way?
Mandy Moore: Oh, that's really nice of him to say. Yeah, that's like a huge compliment. He's incredible to actually be in the studio with. You know, you would probably be ok with someone as accomplished as him writing these incredible songs and then just being present in the studio, but not really involved in the intricacies and technicalities of what words need the emphasis, but he's so hands on! He knows exactly what he is looking for. He's listening intently to the score and he's listening intently to the phrasing. It's really magnificent and I guess it's a testament to him, and all of his accomplishments, how he got to where he is because he is just so on the ball. He was really good at sort of helping me get, you know, some of what he was looking for specifically. Because the challenge I found in doing this music, and how I found it different from say my own music is, that you go into the studio, you've written the songs and so the idea of making sure of what you're talking about, what you're singing about or what you mean isn't something that's at the top of your mind. You're just being yourself, so it's not like you have to be in character or anything but there was an element of acting that I didn't really think about before I got into the studio with him. It was like, "Oh yeah, I'm a character!" I can't just be like Mandy and sing something the way that I want to necessarily, because you know, you sort of have to stick to certain guidelines.
So did you find that the character of Rapunzel actually guided your musical performance as much as it guided your acting performance?
Mandy Moore: Yeah! Absolutely! Because there were some things that I wanted sing full voice, and they were like, "No. You need to convey the emotion of what she's singing about. That she's longing to, you know, that there's something more out there, maybe it needs to be a little bit quieter and voiced differently. But even the emphasis on certain words like the opening song I found really difficult because it was so fast. There was so much to say, and you know, you sort of had to throw singing out the window because you just had to get through so much in such a short amount of time. Alan was really good at coaching me like, "Okay, make sure this is the word that you punch and you can fall off that one a little bit quicker." But because he really knew what he was looking for and how he wanted it to sound, it made it so much easier as the singer.
Menken has also said that his inspiration for the music that Rapunzel sings in the film was based on the music of singer-songwriters from the '70s like Joni Mitchell and Cat Stevens. Was that another aspect of this role that really excited you?
Mandy Moore: Yes, of course. I was very excited about that, which I loved too. That it's managed to retain that classic quality that we all love about these films. But yeah, he kind of threw in a little bit of a different edge to music then maybe what people would expect.
What's the process like recording for a movie like this? Are you separated from the other actors or are you all in the studio together when you are recording?
Mandy Moore: Everything is separate and I never met Donna (Murphy). The only time that I met Zach (Levi) was when we were in the studio doing the song, but even then we were separated. We were isolated for sound purposes. But it was surprising to me. When I first got the film, I was like, "Oh my god, we're all going to be chummy, hanging out at the studio laughing and going out to dinner together!" But I love Nathan (Greno) and Byron (Howard) (the directors). I just hung out with them on the stage because there's nothing to really go off of in terms of the visual, I mean not even storyboards and they were more like sketches and sometimes not even that fully formed.
Do they show you a little bit of what your character is going to look like, so that you can get an idea for how she moves while you are recording it?
Mandy Moore: Sure, and sometimes they would have some mock sketches so you know what the talent looked like, but everything else had to be explained. You know, they would explain the story or say "Okay, we just have to get a line for this scene. Now in this scene, you and Flynn have just fled the guards and..." So you have to sort of conjure up all these images in your mind, and you're like, "Okay, okay, but like how out of breathe am I when I'm pounding the frying pan on the rocks?" It can be tough because you have nothing to sort of look at.
Can you talk about the importance of having the directors in the studio with you while you are recording? I would imagine it would be easy to get lost in the material without them, right?
Mandy Moore: Oh, I would have been completely lost without them. They were absolutely the guiding force in telling me what the hell I was doing. Because they had done the sessions with Zach, or with Donna, they knew what they had sort of got out of those sessions that would help them indicate "Okay, well Flynn is really like this in this scene or he really wants to go back and get rid of you", or whatever. So I could kind of gauge it. Well, you know you trust them, they've been in those sessions so they know how to guide you and tell you, "Okay, so go about it this way". I have to take it from them and sometimes I would rope them into reading with me. Which was fun to have Nathan play Mother Gothel. He would make his voice a little bit higher. I'm sure he would kill me for saying that but it was actually fun. It helped a lot too.
Obviously, "Tangled" is the Rapunzel story, but she's a little different, there's some Disney tweaks and some differences between the classic fairy tale and this version. Can you talk about those differences and were they all in the script or was there stuff that you added as well?
Mandy Moore: I think they were intent on making her, her own individual, sort of fleshing her out and not just the story, necessarily. I think she definitely has a bit of a bohemian vibe to her. She's a very independent girl. I also think that she's very brave. She's brave for wanting to go on this adventure. Even in her fear, kind of embracing the unknown. So I don't necessarily get all those ideas about her in the classic fairy tale but I love who she is. I think she's a very inspiring character for young women and even for me. There's something that you take away from it even doing the voice of a character. It's like, Okay, I like that approach to life.
Finally, the other big difference in this film, compared to other Disney movies is that the lead male character is not a prince, he is a thief. Can you talk about that change and how those slight differences make this film standout from other Disney animated movies?
Mandy Moore: Yeah! He is a little bit different. He's a little bit like, there's more than meets the eye. They're not just sort of these cookie-cutter stereotypes. Which is interesting because really in all honesty, she's a normal girl. She doesn't know she's a princess until the very end of the film. So she's not treated or regarded differently. She doesn't see herself any differently. She's just a normal, average young woman who's sort of striving to see what else is out there and where she fits in the grand scheme of things.
Tangled was released November 24th, 2010 and stars Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, Donna Murphy, Ronny Pearlman, M.C. Gainey, Jeffrey Tambor, Brad Garrett, Paul F. Tompkins. The film is directed by Nathan Greno, Byron Howard.