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Audra McDonald on Disney's first interracial kiss: 'Our characters are in love, that's all that mattered'

By Liz Braun, Postmedia Network

Describing Audra McDonald as a singer and actor doesn’t really cover it.

A star of stage, screen, television and concert hall, McDonald has more performance Tony Awards — six — than any other actor; the mother of two is also the only person ever to have won in all four acting categories.

The Grammy and Emmy-Award winning McDonald, 46, returns to movies this week with Disney’s live action Beauty and The Beast.

The tale of a spirited young woman (Emma Watson) who helps a prince (Dan Stevens) break free of the magic spell that has turned him into a beast has an all-star cast; McDonald, Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Ian McKellen and Gugu Mbatha-Raw play the beast’s household staff, all of them transformed into singing and dancing furniture by that magic spell.

We spoke to Audra McDonald by phone earlier this week.

In the current political climate, it must be great to be part of a project as diverse as Beauty and The Beast.

“Yes, incredibly diverse! And with an incredibly strong young heroine at the centre, who is self-sufficient. She’s not a damsel in distress — she’s the one rescuing everybody.”

There’s been a lot of talk about the movie including Disney’s first gay character and first interracial kisses.

“It was very exciting, playing the part and spending all that time with Stanley Tucci, but it didn’t even dawn on me until we started the press tour and people were saying, ‘Do you realize you have the first interracial kisses in a Disney film?'

I was just playing opposite Stanley and that was it, just playing the characters. And our characters are in love, that’s all that mattered. For me, it didn’t even enter my head until I was told. And I was, ‘Great! Fantastic that it happened!’

But it didn’t really dawn on me.”

 

The British finally get to see your Tony Award winning performance as Billie Holiday when you make your West End debut this summer. [In Lady Day At Emerson’s Bar and Grill.] Do you have a work preference among theatre, TV and film?

“For me it’s like saying, ‘Who’s your favourite kid?’ [Laughs].

I will say I’m most comfortable on the stage. It’s the first thing I did so I think of the stage as my first language. But I like all the other languages I speak, too.”

How did your stage career start?

“I was a hyperactive child and they weren’t sure what to do with me. Instead of medicating me they put me into dinner theatre that had a kids’ group, to help channel my energy. And it did.

“They basically put me on my path.”

And how old were you when you realized you had a serious singing voice?

“Oh, I knew I could sing, because everybody in my family sings. My mom, my dad and all my dad’s sisters, my cousins and my grandmothers. In my family, it would have been odd if I didn’t sing. Or couldn’t sing. As far as my family is concerned, I don’t have the best voice by a long shot. It’s more that I went into that career professionally. The whole discovery that you can sing? It would have been more like, ‘Oh, wow, she cannot sing!’ — that would have been the bigger revelation in my family. [Laughs]

 

“It’s a very musical family.”