Josh Gad on playing LeFou with a conscience, Beauty And The Beast and musical theatre (EXCLUSIVE)

It’s not often that a TV star gets to bounce from the small screen to the Broadway theatre stage and then leap from there over to the silver screen, but so has been the career of Josh Gad. From stints on New Girl and Gigi: Almost American on television. To then landing a part in the Tony award winning musical The Book Of Mormon. Followed by starring as the lovable snowman Olaf in Disney’s hugely successful animated feature Frozen.

Gad has added yet another Disney film to his belt with the live action version of Beauty And The Beast, playing LeFou the sidekick to Luke Evans’ Gaston. The film, directed by Bill Condon is another in the catalogue of live action remakes of classic Disney films that have been translated to the big screen for modern audiences.

As with all these live action remakes that Disney has been embarking on there are certain elements of the film that would require adjustments. One of these is taking into consideration the real life physical aspects of a human character and translating that into a three dimensional real world environment.

“I think that one of the tricky parts and benefits of getting to play a character like LeFou is, you can’t really play the character as he’s played in the animated film because so much of that character is based on cartoon conceits, and he’s such a physical character.”

Interestingly one of the biggest changes that viewers may notice with LeFou is that in this new live action version he’s not quite as dim as he was before. He’s distinctly the smarter one in the pair and this definitely gives rise to some laugh out loud moments.

“So Bill (Condon) and I sat down and we said, “All right, well maybe let’s make this the jumping off point. If LeFou in the original is dumb as a box, what if we make him dumb as a fox?” Meaning, he’s actually much wiser than he lets on and if we give him sort of a conscience, what does that do to the equation? How does it change his relationship with Gaston so that it’s not just one of simple, blind worship and devotion?”
“Luke likes to say, and I think it’s a really smart way of putting it, that LeFou, he’s sort of wonderfully mean about certain things that he says towards Gaston. Which Gaston isn’t bright enough to pick up on, but he does have a lot of these backwards compliments, let’s call them.”

As with the original film the relationship between Gaston and LeFou is quite hilarious. The new live action version is even more so thanks to a wonderfully comedic relationship between Gad and Evans. Something that not so surprisingly came quite naturally between the two actors and much of it what we see on screen was improvised.

“Well, a lot of it was us playing around. There’s a sequence in particular, that I just think is so much fun, where Luke and I are in the back of a carriage with Maurice, played by the brilliant Kevin Kline; where Gaston and Maurice have a confrontation that doesn’t end well.
What I thought would be really fun was to in the midst of that confrontation try to diffuse the situation by recalling these great memories of the war. You have this really weird moment where LeFou, he plays on Gaston’s PTSD to sort of bring him back down to not erupt with anger.”
“Luke was game for everything. Especially at the end of “Gaston”, the number, that moment at the end of it which I don’t want to ruin, but I did like 23 different versions of that where I kept improving different endings.”

In the past week or so many reports have popped up surrounding the controversy over LeFou’s sexuality in the film. Gad himself has even stated it’s become blown out of proportion. Steering clear of that subject and examining one of the more fascinating aspects of the changes they made to his character was the fact that they opted to give him a redemptive arc.

“Again, that came out of an early conversation with Bill. I wanted LeFou to have surprises in the same way that I think a lot of the characters and story elements, and even new songs, offer new dimension to that which the audience already knows.”
“With Beauty and The Beast it’s a very tricky model. The original is so perfect that you have to honour everybody’s expectations, right? There are certain things that would be sacrilege not to include, but you also have to give them new experiences. You have to give them new moments. You have to give them new twists and turns along the way. I think that LeFou, like many of the character moments, offers those opportunities.”

For those that remember the animated Beauty And The Beast, the song “Gaston” famously written by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman was a fan favourite. The new live action version of the film has an interesting twist on that song. Lyrics originally written by the late Ashman that were considered a little risque back in the 90’s have resurfaced and been used in the new version. These lyrics surprisingly add some new depth and dynamic to the relationship between Gaston and LeFou.

“I think that the Ashman lyrics that were lost really do serve that purpose. Putting all that aside. As a performer who grew up with this original movie, to unearth Howard Ashman lyrics that have never been heard before is sort of the Holy Grail. To be able to include them was a real gift.”

Beauty And The Beast isn’t Gad’s first foray into musicals though, having previously starred in the enormously successful Frozen and also being part of the cast of Broadway’s Tony Award winning run of The Book Of Mormon. And yet even before either of those, Gad reveals that it was a role in a lesser known musical that actually got him his big break into theatre.

“Well, my first big break ever was on Broadway in a show called “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”. Musical theatre has always been a very, very, very big part of my life. The Book of Mormon was sort of the turning point of my career where it somehow catapulted me to the next level, which is unusual for theatre. Being able to now marry those skills to film projects, whether it’s Frozen or now Beauty and The Beast, is a dream come true.
Let’s face it, there aren’t many musical films. They’re few and far between. I think with the success of La La Land, and hopefully with the success of Beauty and The Beast, there will be more opportunities. I would certainly, as a fan of these kinds of films, embrace that with open arms.”

Of course this being Disney we couldn’t help ourselves and ask him, given the opportunity to sing any Disney song, and considering how large a catalogue that is, that’s by no means an easy question, we quiz him over which song that would be. Surprisingly for us, he already has a song in mind.

“That’s easy, Robin Williams’ performance as the Genie in Aladdin was a monumental moment in my own path as an entertainer. I remember seeing that movie in the theatre and just being electrified by what I watched in a way that stayed with me and in many ways defined my approach to Olaf. It would have to be “You Ain’t Never Had A Friend Like Me”.”

Perhaps one day Gad will have the opportunity to step into the enormous void left behind by Williams’ untimely departure. We can only hope that there will be more musicals made into films and that Gad’s singing prowess will result in more roles that get to show off his skills.

Beauty And The Beast opens in Australian cinemas from 23 March 2017 through Walt Disney Pictures Australia.