DeBose, who voices Asha in the studio’s latest animated feature, wasn’t able to make the film premiere Wednesday night, as the strike officially ended at 12:01 a.m. PT on Thursday.
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The joy in the room was palpable as she joined songwriter Julia Michaels, directors Chris Buck and Fawn Verasunthorn, and producers Juan Pablo Reyes Lancaster-Jones and Peter Veccho for the Q&A to talk publicly for the first time about playing the role.
“I got a phone call. They told me that I had this job and that I’d be playing Asha, and then they played ‘This Wish’ for me, and I began to panic because it was one of the most beautiful songs I had ever heard,” DeBose said.
In the film, out Nov. 22, Asha is a 17-year-old who lives in the magical kingdom of Rosas — a fantastical kingdom ruled by Disney’s newest villain, Chris Pine’s King Magnifico. Rosas is built on people’s wishes and hopes. When Asha makes a wish one night, she accidentally summons Star, an energetic character from the sky.
“This Wish” is Asha’s “I Want” song, written by the Grammy-nominated Michaels and her songwriting partner Benjamin Rice.
DeBose revealed, “I don’t necessarily enjoy the sound of my singing voice. I was like, ‘This is so beautiful. I can’t mess this up.'”
Michaels, who has written for Pink, Britney Spears and Justin Bieber, explained that the initial pitch was a song about a young activist woman who was selfless and wanted to do right by the people of her town.
When it came time to record, DeBose told the audience she believed every word of the song and called the recording process “one of the most beautiful experiences of my life thus far.” She added, “What I love about this music is we’re working with a gorgeous score that lifts everything up to just allow these lyrics to shine.” Turning to Michaels, she said, “You have written the best lyrics, my queen, which is part of what makes this film so fresh. I haven’t done a ton of voice acting, I’m used to being able to support my acting with my face. It took me out of my comfort zone and required me to find a different sound.”
She described her character, Asha, as a simple, ordinary girl who loves her community. Like her predecessors, she’s a true Disney heroine whom DeBose called “motivated and quirky.” “She takes it upon herself to try to do something about a problem that she has identified. She asks questions,” DeBose added.
Lancaster-Jones noted that DeBose took time to come in and meet the animators, collaborating with them on how Asha should move. “She’s very physical. She’s a tour guide. But there’s a freedom to this girl, and movement to me is inherently freeing,” DeBose said of Asha. “She’s not afraid of her hips, and she’s not afraid of her movement. She embraces it. It is how she expresses herself.”
As for Pine, DeBose called his performance “so delicious.” She described the king as someone who believes he is protecting Rosas. “He thinks, ‘I am a hero.'”
In writing his song, “This Is the Thanks I Get,” Michaels said, “We were talking about narcissism and how this king is very charming and beautiful, but underneath he is very controlling and manipulative.”
Following the conversation, the panelists and DeBose spent plenty of time to meet the attendees and take selfies at the post-screening reception.
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