In celebration of its 60th anniversary, Disney is bringing its much beloved classic, Peter Pan, to the High Definition world with a wonderful Blu-ray package. In anticipation of this upcoming February 5th release, I was extremely fortunate enough to chat with Kathryn Beaumont, the voice of Wendy Darling (as well as Alice in Alice in Wonderland) and Paul Collins, the voice of John Darling. Check out the interviews after the jump…
Kathryn Beaumont began acting at an incredibly early age. It wasn’t long before she was noticed by Walt Disney himself, leading to her roles in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. Not long after her work in Peter Pan, Kathryn returned to her schooling, leaving behind the showbiz life and following her true passion; becoming a teacher. She was honored in 1998 as a Disney Legend, and has over the years lent her voice talents to various rides and, in recent years, video games.
You had done a fair amount of acting before being handpicked by Walt Disney for the role of Alice in Alice in Wonderland. What led you to pursue acting in the first place?
Well, I was very, very young so I don’t have much of a memory of personally going for acting. I found myself going for a role in England in a British movie. From that point, MGM was putting me under contract to come to America because they had productions that they were planning for some British classic types of films. Then, a lot of it got shelved while I was there but they still kept me under contract, so I did a couple of small roles while I was there. It was just about that time that Walt Disney was looking for his “Alice”. I tested for that and the rest is history! [Laughing]
I can only imagine that everyone involved was impressed by your work as Alice, most notably as you ended up having another leading voice as the character of Wendy in Disney’s follow up animated feature, Peter Pan. How did that role come about?
I ended up working with Disney for about four years. With Peter Pan being the next film coming into production, that was going to be their next animated feature, then it was almost a given. Walt Disney had been pleased with my work with Alice in Wonderland and the character of Wendy was about my age. Again, it was a British classic so it called for a British accent again. He had been very impressed with the live action parts that I had been involved in with Alice. So, there I was! As soon as we finished Alice in Wonderland I started immediately doing the part of Wendy in Peter Pan.
Wow! I knew they were created very close together, but I didn’t realize it was that immediate into Peter Pan for you. Was working on Peter Pan similar to your experiences working on Alice in Wonderland or did it bring anything different to the table?
Well, yes, there are certain things, certain procedures involved in that. Naturally, that’s something I had become very familiar with so it was a very easy transition to go from one role to the other. My part wasn’t as involved because I was a more supportive person rather than the main character. Where Alice was in every scene, that meant that I was busy all the time, you know? Almost every day with one thing or another with that role but with Peter Pan, it wasn’t quite the same way. It was really a lot of fun because with the Peter Pan role, you’re dealing with other humans! Therefore, you’re recording…of course that was the same as recording with the other people. When we went to do the live action portion, though, then you are working with other human beings. With Alice, I was alone on the stage all the time and I had to imagine, “Oh, there’s the Cheshire Cat and it’s up there where that light is” and that’s who you play to. But it’s nice to get to play to another human being as you’re doing the role so that was a big difference.
That’s funny to think about. Nowadays, with the prevalence of CGI in most movies, they just put a person in a scene and tell them, “Pretend everything is here and we’ll put it in later!”
The characters of both Alice and Wendy were designed after your appearance. Did that affect your approach to the characters?
Basically, you’re doing a role for a character and you want to portray that character in its truest light, so that becomes the focus. Working with either one of the characters, it was a different character. You definitely wanted to put something different into them.
I would imagine that, as you mentioned earlier, getting to interact with your fellow cast members during Peter Pan helped you find the character as well.
Yes. With the Peter Pan role, you were off with another human being so it was actually a little simpler because you had someone to react to. They would have their reaction and you, in turn, would react accordingly. That made it more fun since we were able to play off of each other. It made it a little more dynamic than Alice where very often there wasn’t anything else. You had to imagine the whole thing.
I have often read that, unlike other studio heads, Walt Disney was always around during every step of the movie making line. Do you have any memories of Walt being around or his involvement in the process?
In general, I found that he was very easy to be around. I got this strong sense that he didn’t view himself as the leader or the head of the studio. He was part of a creative team. It was all that teamwork which you could feel very strongly, at least for me when I was working with them. They did a lot of discussions together. They’d have these conferences together before they wrote an actual script and they would invite me to that.
That must have been quite an exceptional experience! Not only were you in the films, but you also got to be a part of the creative process.
I was thrilled to sit there! Even at a very young age, I was watching how it went and thinking, “Oh! This is how the story and all the little pieces of business, a sight joke, a subtle something or other, come together”. They were all sitting there and they would listen to the writer and director go through the storyboard and say, “Well, how about if we put a little sight joke here?” or “What if we added this other, little subtle piece?” and, as they sat there, would very quickly draw. Here I am, sitting here watching them draw these little figures on this 4×8 piece of paper and then they’d put it up on the board and say, “Ok. Instead of this, that? What do you think?” It was always “What do you think about that?” or “Can you add a bit more?” or “Do you think this is a good idea?” It was always what they thought as a group.
Walt wasn’t there all the time, but he would pop in and sit in on some of them. Sometimes he would say something, sometimes he didn’t. Sometimes he’d have an idea, saying “Well, what if we did this? Why don’t you kick it around.” which would leave it up to the others to come up with that and present it back to him. So there was always this work ethic that they had. They were all very creative and they were allowed, each one, to be creative.
With your characters of Alice and Wendy, your work has entertained families for generations and, with Peter Pan’s upcoming Blu-ray release, both films shall continue to do so. What does being an integral part of the Disney Legacy mean to you?
Well, it makes me feel very proud to have been fortunate to be a part of it! At the time, you don’t realize, you know? You’re just doing a job. It’s something that’s really fascinating and wonderful, but you don’t have a sense of what’s going to happen in the future but as time kept going and going, the popularity kept growing on through the generations. People still love those stories. They are timeless. I think that’s what I feel very fortunate about; that I was a part of something that’s become that way.
Paul Collins also got into acting very early in his life. Unlike his Peter Pan co-star, Paul stuck with the acting gig and has maintained an impressive body of work over the years, portraying characters in JAG and, more recently,a stint on Sons of Anarchy.
Your acting career started at a fairly young age. Was acting something you were eager to do or did it just happen to come along?
Well, I did my first film when I was five, which was The Courtneys of Curzon Street. I went to a school close by home, which just happened to be a theatrical and professional school. It had hot lunches and it was also close to home. While I was there somebody said, “Oh, do you want to be in this movie?” and I did. It ended up being The Courtneys of Curzon Street with Anna Neagle and Michael Wilding. I did about three films in England. Then in 1947 when I was ten my parents came to the United States with me. We went to LA and I did a couple more films like Rogues of Sherwood Forest with John Derek and Lorna Doone and Challenge to Lassie, with, of course, Lassie!
How did landing the voice of John Darling come about?
By that point I had an agent and got to audition for the voice of John Darling in Peter Pan and I booked that. It was wonderful. It was the best thing I had done up to that date.
I just recently spoke with your Peter Pan co-star Kathryn Beaumont and she mentioned some of the process that went on during the creation of the film. What do you recall about working on the film?
It was a fascinating process. We got to do the voice part in the studio with the other actors and we’re all getting the voiced story together. Since they didn’t have computer animation and they needed to make the movements smooth, after it was recorded we went onto a soundstage and lip synced to the recorded voices. We were in costume and acted a great deal of it out. Anything that they thought they’d have trouble with like the flying and sword fighting with the Indians; anything like that. It was really wonderful getting to “play” Peter Pan out physically. It was just really nice.
That sounds incredible! It must have really been an amazing experience. Kathryn was just as enthused about the process as you seem to be, being able to act those scenes out and be amongst your cast mates.
Yeah, it was really nice. Kathryn’s wonderful. I hadn’t seen her for many years and then we did some publicity for the last release of Peter Pan about five or six years ago, maybe a bit longer. It was like meeting her again for the first time and she’s really a lovely woman.
She very much seems so! Kathryn had quite a recollection of Walt Disney being involved in the various creative processes of the film. Do you have any personal memories of Walt?
When we were starting he came in and talked to everybody in the recording studio. He was very friendly. He said, “If you have any problems or issues, let me know.” Later, during the shooting of the film, he had a party for the kids. He was always very good, with the Mickey Mouse Club and things like that, in furthering the enjoyment and education of children. And so I was invited to that party and we got to talk more. He wanted to make sure I was still having a good time working on the film. He was just a nice, unassuming man that everybody called Walt. You didn’t know that he was the head of the studio.
You’ve gone on to have quite an impressive and consistent acting career. In recent years you’ve also returned to voice acting by contributing voice work to various video games. Has the process of voice acting changed much from your early days?
Oh yes, it’s very different. I’ve also done a lot of commercials, which are not on my résumé; voice-over commercials. The video games, they’re…well, they’re less realistic. At least the ones that I’ve done, they tend to be more caricature. Quite honestly, I’ve never seen one!
You know, Metal Gear Solid: Subsistence… I have no idea what it looks like. That was originally done in Japanese, so you have to keep the same vocal quality as the other actor.
Oh, wow! I had never thought about that; having to mimic what’s already there.
It was interesting! I’ve done some other looping. There are a couple films that were recorded locally with the accents, so you’ve got someone saying, “Here comes Jesus (Latin pronunciation)!” and you just make that into “Here comes Jesus (English pronunciation)!”
Also, I did Cleopatra; a voice over in Cleopatra over the length of the film. The actor started out with a kind of an English accent and gradually, as he became friendly with these stars, morphed into an American accent. So they needed that all straightened out.
Peter Pan has long been one of Disney’s most cherished films. What does it mean to you to be a part of that beloved film and its legacy?
At the time I didn’t realize it was a legacy! [Laughing] Oh, it’s wonderful. My daughter, who is now 26; her favorite movie was The Little Mermaid. She loved it. Of course, she liked me in Peter Pan but she wasn’t aware or hadn’t realized that it was me at that time. There was a bit of disconnect for her between me as a child and me as an adult. Of course now she knows. But yeah, it’s just wonderful. I’m very proud that I got to be a part of it, kind of early on, this extraordinary empire and the pleasure that it has given so many children and adults. There’s never any talking down in the Disney films. I think they are enjoyable at all ages.
Peter Pan: Diamond Edition will be released February 5th, 2013 on: 3-Disc Blu-ray Combo Pack (BD, DVD, Digital Copy & Storybook App), 2-Disc Blu-ray Combo Pack (BD & DVD), HD Digital, and On-Demand