It has been over 20 years since Disney’s Beauty and the Beast became a blockbuster and made a best-picture breakthrough at the Oscars by scoring the first-ever nomination for an animated film. In addition to playing the snarling title role, Robby Benson has had a lot of other hairy experiences. The Broadway actor/singer, who also starred in Ice Castles and The Chosen, has had four open heart surgeries due to a congenital valve defect, and recently wrote the autobiography I’m Not Dead … Yet! as a way to tell his own story while encouraging others who face health problems.
He designed it himself as an iPad-friendly, multimedia book, available now for download. And to help spread the word, he agreed to share an excerpt with EW’s The Family Room, focusing not on his health struggles, but on one of the happiest times in his career — giving voice to the fearsome, frightening Beast. It starts with a script, and ends with him on the Oscar stage … sort of.
I read the pages of dialogue and my immediate take on Beast was to treat him as a three-dimensional character, not a cartoon character. To me, Beast was as real as any part I had played in a live-action film or a Broadway show.
My first audition was recorded on, of all things, a Sony Walkman. As a musician, I had branched out into recording engineer and loved to play with sound. When I saw the Sony Walkman I knew it had a little condenser microphone in it, and if I were to get too loud, the automatic compressor and built-in limiter would ‘squash’ the voice— and there would be very little dynamic range to the performance. I did a quick assessment and wondered how many people who had come in to audition for the part were making that error: playing the Beast with overwhelming decibels, compressing the vocal waveforms. I decided to give the Beast ‘range.’ Because of my microphone technique, and an understanding of who I wanted Beast to be, they kept asking me to come back and read different dialogue. After my fifth audition, Jeffrey Katzenberg the hands-on guardian of the film, said the part was mine …