Why Hamilton’s Daveed Diggs Was Nervous About Playing The Little Mermaid’s New Sebastian

Ever since the release of Maleficent in 2014 (or, if you want to go back a little earlier, 2010’s Alice in Wonderland), Disney’s been on a roll with live-action remakes/adaptations of its classic animated movies. Considering that it launched the Disney Renaissance in 1989, it’s unsurprising that The Little Mermaid is part of this lineup, and among the actors starring in the upcoming live-action movie is Hamilton star Daveed Diggs as Sebastian the crab. While Diggs is no stranger to voice work, he recently admitted that he was especially nervous to take on the Little Mermaid role.

While plugging the second season of his TNT series Snowpiercer, Daveed Diggs’ conversation with Collider turned to The Little Mermaid, with the actor saying it’s “pretty cool” to work on this project and the animation space in general (Diggs’ other Disney vocal work includes Zootopia and Pixar’s Soul). When asked how cool it is getting to bring his “own thing” to Sebastian, Diggs responded:

I worked harder on Sebastian probably, than I have for any role in my life. It’s tricky. I wasn’t sure, and this is also true of Layton. I tend to say yes to things when I feel like I can do it, but I’m actually not sure I’m the smart choice or the person naturally who should be doing it. That’s true of Sebastian, for a lot of ways that are uncomfortable. I’m not of Caribbean descent, doing that kind of work and trying to immerse myself. I’ve spent a lot of time in Trinidad and I went to Jamaica to research, and I did a lot of voice work with Chris Walker and with the late Tony Hall, to try to get the voice right. But more than the voice, the thing about a dialect is that everybody’s voice is actually very different, so consistency is really more important than accuracy. Your speech pattern is based on culture, and that was the thing I didn’t wanna let down.

Daveed Diggs clearly didn’t skimp on the research when preparing to play Sebastian, who was voiced in the original Little Mermaid by Samuel E. Wright. It would have been easy enough for Diggs to just put a simple twist on what Wright did over three decades ago, but he was determined to bring authenticity and make sure that his version of Sebastian sounded like someone actually from Jamaica rather than just a caricature or stereotype. Diggs continued:

I want somebody who is from Trinidad or from Jamaica, depending on where we landed with the role, to be able to see themselves in this, in some way. Even though maybe my voice doesn’t sound exactly right, I wanted to feel like somebody connected to it. I had so many friends growing up for whom Sebastian was the first time they had seen themselves represented in mainstream American culture. As flawed as that is, that’s still important. So, that role stressed me out quite a bit, but also is incredibly fun. Like I said, I did more research for that role, than I have for any part, ever, and I’m literally a crab. It seems crazy maybe, in hindsight. And the amount of lifting I’m doing in that is nothing compared to Halle [Bailey], or any of the like incredible performers who are really carrying that. I just sing a couple of cool songs and call it a day.

So when the day comes that you watch the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, whether it be in a theater or when it arrives on home media and Disney+, remember how much work Daveed Diggs poured into voicing an anthropomorphic crab who advises the king of Atlantica. I’ll be curious to hear the final product when it’s paired with the realistic-looking Sebastian… which, as I think about it, could look rather frightening if Disney is taking a Lion King-like approach with designing its creatures. On the other hand, maybe Digg’s Sebastian will still have a cartoonish quality about him.

In any case, along with Daveed Diggs, The Little Mermaid’s voice cast includes Jacob Tremblay as Flounder and Awkwafina as Scuttle, while the live-action performers include Halle Bailey as Ariel, Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric, Melissa McCarthy as Ursula and Javier Bardem as King Triton, along with Noma Dumezweni and Emily Coates in undisclosed roles. Mary Poppins Returns’ Rob Marshall is directing the Little Mermaid remake off a script by Jane Goldman and David Magee. Filming was initially supposed to begin in April 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, cameras didn’t start rolling until towards the end of the year.

Disney hasn’t announced yet when The Little Mermaid remake will swim into theaters, so keep checking back for that information and more updates on the movie’s development. You can also plan what movies you’ll hopefully get to watch on the big screen later this year with our 2021 release schedule.

Adam Holmes
Senior Content Producer

Connoisseur of Marvel, DC, Star Wars, John Wick, MonsterVerse and Doctor Who lore. He's aware he looks like Harry Potter and Clark Kent.