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In March, Emma Watson will bring one of Disney's most popular princesses to life in Beauty and the Beast. It's her second bite at the apple playing one of those iconic roles, but the actress felt that playing Belle was the much better role for her than the other one she could have played. Watson was previously in talks to take the lead in Disney's live-action Cinderella. She turned that role down, but when Disney came back to her with Beauty and the Beast, she saw a character that she connected with a great deal more.
I didn't know they were going to make Beauty and the Beast at the time I turned down Cinderella. But when they offered me Belle, I just felt the character resonated with me so much more than Cinderella did. ... There's this kind of outsider quality that Belle had, and the fact she had this really empowering defiance of what was expected of her. In a strange way, she challenges the status quo of the place she lives in, and I found that really inspiring. She manages to keep her integrity and have a completely independent point of view. She's not easily swayed by other people's perspective --- not swayed by fear-mongering or scapegoating.
As popular as Disney's classic era princesses are, it's not surprising that they might not be as exciting to play for a modern actress. In many ways, characters like Snow White and Cinderella spend most of their time reacting to the story, rather than having an impact on it. Emma Watson tells Total Film (via Vulture) that Belle just had more interesting aspects to her than the girl with the glass slipper.
To be fair, Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella, who was eventually played by Lily James, did its part to try and make the title character a stronger woman. However, since the live-action version needed to balance the classic Disney tale with the new aspects of the live-action story, it still had to start with the more passive version of the character. Beauty and Beast starts with a princess who is significantly more empowered, and according to Total Film, Emma Watson worked with director Bill Condon to make Belle even more dynamic.
It's not clear whether the fact that Emma Watson would need to sing in Beauty and the Beast was something that appealed to her as well. Cinderella only included classic Disney music over the closing credits. Beauty and the Beast will be a full musical, just as the original animated version was.
Since we still know Emma Watson as Hermione Granger, we have to say that seeing her as Belle certainly feels more like her kind of role than Cinderella would have. We'll know for sure when Beauty and the Beast comes out March 17.