Made in Aus­tralia

NIDA clar­i­fied ev­ery­thing Josh Gad had learnt about act­ing

The Coffs Coast Advocate - - LIFE - Beauty and the Beast opens on Thurs­day. with Seanna Cronin

JOSH Gad is Disney’s new go-to man when it comes to com­edy, and Aus­tralia gets some of the credit for his big-screen suc­cess.

The ac­tor is best known for play­ing lov­able snow­man Olaf in the world­wide smash hit Frozen, but has also starred in Pix­els, The Wed­ding Ringer, An­gry Birds and The In­tern­ship.

But long be­fore that he spent six months train­ing at Syd­ney’s Na­tional In­sti­tute of Dra­matic Art (NIDA) in 2003 be­fore grad­u­at­ing later that year from Carnegie Mel­lon’s Col­lege of Fine Arts.

“I had the op­por­tu­nity to go to Eng­land, Rus­sia or to Aus­tralia,” he tells Week­end.

“So many great Aussies were com­ing to Amer­ica work­ing on film and I’m like ‘I want to know what’s in the wa­ter over there’. I’m such a fan of the likes of Cate Blanchett, Hugh Jack­man and Ge­of­frey Rush.

“There was a prac­ti­cal­ity to the ap­proach of the NIDA train­ing. I feel blessed to have gone to Carnegie Mel­lon, but some­thing in­ter­est­ing hap­pened when I came to NIDA. It put into con­text ev­ery­thing I’d learned in a way that fi­nally made sense to me.”

Gad puts that train­ing to good use as LeFou, the comic foil to chief vil­lain Gas­ton, in Disney’s live-ac­tion re­make of Beauty and the Beast.

Gad trans­forms the dumb brute from the 1991 an­i­mated film into a fully fledged char­ac­ter whose con­science is tested by Gas­ton’s self­ish be­hav­iour and re­lent­less pur­suit of Belle’s hand in mar­riage.

“My fear when I orig­i­nally got of­fered the role from Bill (Con­don, the di­rec­tor) was that the char­ac­ter in the orig­i­nal, while iconic and won­der­ful and hi­lar­i­ous, is a char­ac­ter truly de­fined by car­toon con­ceits. He gets his teeth knocked out; he gets thrown around the room by Gas­ton. That’s not some­thing I re­ally wanted to play,” he says.

“LeFou in the orig­i­nal movie was dumb as a box, but what if we made him dumb as a fox so he’s not quite as foolish as you think he is?

“He calls into ques­tion this blind faith he has in his part­ner in crime (Gas­ton), and asks the ques­tion the au­di­ence asks them­selves – is the beast the one who lives in the cas­tle or the one who pre­tends to be like ev­ery­one else?”

Con­sid­er­ing he’s a sup­port­ing char­ac­ter to the likes of Emma Wat­son (Harry Pot­ter), Dan Stevens (Down­ton Abbey) and Luke Evans (Drac­ula Untold), Gad has had more than his fair share of at­ten­tion for the role.

Cin­e­mas in Rus­sia and the US have banned the film af­ter Con­don con­firmed LeFou has a ‘gay mo­ment’.

It’s a storm in a teacup as far as Gad is con­cerned, and he’s clearly tired of the sub­ject dom­i­nat­ing his in­ter­views on the world­wide press tour. “Sadly we live in an age of sen­sa­tion­al­ism now,” he says. “But now that the movie is fi­nally be­ing seen, I’m go­ing to let them judge it for them­selves and they are judg­ing it for them­selves. The most im­por­tant thing peo­ple can leave this movie with is this idea of never judg­ing a book by its cover.

“You’ve got this char­ac­ter Gas­ton, who whips an en­tire vil­lage into a frenzy to at­tack some­one who’s dif­fer­ent to them. That’s as rel­e­vant to­day as it was 300 years ago when Beauty and The Beast was first writ­ten. What we’ve set out to do, and I think we’ve achieved, is to cre­ate a movie about in­clu­sive­ness.”

It’s a film Gad’s happy to watch with his two young daugh­ters, Is­abelle and Ava, who vis­ited the larger-than-life set while he was film­ing.

“I think that this in con­junc­tion with Frozen has hope­fully given me enough brownie points for a life­time,” he laughs. “I don’t know how many of these I can do be­fore I turn into a Disney char­ac­ter.”

PHOTO: LAURIE SPARHAM

Luke Evans and Josh Gad in a scene from the movie Beauty and the Beast.

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