Even musical theatre icons or Broadway stars get cold feet sometimes and experience self-doubt, and the fan-favorite Disney actress Susan Egan just shared one of her pivotal moments of self-consciousness during an interview on the D23 Podcast!
Many Disney fans already know that Susan Egan originated the role of Belle in Disney’s first-ever Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast, but back when she was 23 years old and had barely gotten started in musical theatre (aside from a Mary Poppins performance that was “so illegal”), the Hercules actress almost skipped auditioning for the role because she didn’t feel pretty enough to play Belle.
“I almost didn’t go to the audition because I’m like a goofy girl next door type,” The original Belle Susan Egan said on the D23 podcast. “And so even just the description of the character as ‘the most beautiful girl in the village’ — I’m like, I’ve never felt like that! Most women never feel like that! So I didn’t think that I could go to that audition. I thought, I’m not right for that role”.
Susan looks back on that moment now with gratitude for the team around her; “thank goodness my agent said ‘you’re new to New York, you’ve never met this casting director, [so] just go [and] you’ll meet people'”, she said. “And what if I hadn’t gone? It’s the job that is continuing to change my life almost 30 years later”. Susan also took a life lesson from that experience, since playing Belle catapulted her into a ‘Disney World’ that she has inhabited ever since then.
“It’s such a testament to not edit yourself,” she said. “That you don’t know how your life is gonna unfold. You don’t know what the opportunities [will be]”. Susan also mentioned sage advice from Syndee Winters, the actress who played Nala in Disney on Broadway’s Lion King and who performs alongside Egan in the touring Disney Princess concert. Apparently Syndee’s “best advice is to say a slow yes instead of a fast no with every opportunity and every question that comes up in your life. Like, consider and try as hard as you can to say yes. Don’t do a quick no. So that was my first lesson with Beauty and the Beast“.
Susan’s confidence while playing Belle was also bolstered by the involvement of Disney CEO Michael Eisner and Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, a duo who Egan says she was “starstruck by”. Whenever the show got a bad review or someone labeled the Beauty and the Beast play “as confection and not serious Broadway”, Susan says that she remembered Jeffrey’s advice: “nobody wants to knock you off a pedestal unless you’re on a pedestal”. “It softened the blow of anything negative,” Susan remembers, saying that she passes that lesson on to her daughter now.
The original Belle Susan Egan mentioned another lesson she gleaned from Beauty and the Beast as well, saying that she learned “what a beautiful family Disney is and how embracing they were of every person onstage and offstage. Disney understands their audience better than anybody…they care deeply about their audience. And I’m now executive producer of this [Disney princess] concert, so I’m getting to work hand in hand with all these amazing artists and business minds at Disney, and every meeting starts with ‘what is the audience experience’…That is where the focus should be and I love that, and I think that’s why there’s a consistency to the quality of work and what Disney delivers”.
If you dream of playing Belle, Susan also has some advice for you! According to the original Broadway Belle, “the best way to honor anybody — Paige O’Hara, Emma Watson, myself, whoever’s played the role before – is to be your own authentic Belle and to find those qualities in you that align with her”. The next step is apparently “letting those [qualities] explode into the performance, because an audience can sense that authenticity and that’s what makes them connect to the heart of the story.”
Susan Egan is currently touring with Disney Princess – the Concert alongside other musical theatre performers or Broadway stars (including Courtney Reed, Annelise van der Pol, and Syndee Winters) who have played Disney heroines or Disney princesses!