The Little Mermaid director Rob Marshall on wanting to cast "a woman of size" for Ursula

Melissa McCarthy as Ursula in The Little Mermaid
(Image credit: Disney)

Remaking The Little Mermaid in live-action was never going to be an easy task, but director Rob Marshall found one element particularly challenging: who would he pick to play Ursula, Ariel the mermaid's tentacled, voice-stealing adversary?

"It was really daunting to think about who was going to play this part," Marshall tells SFX magazine in the new issue, which features Star Trek: Picard on the cover. "I love that she was originally inspired by Divine [Harris Glenn Milstead], the wonderful drag actor, who was so original and so funny. I thought, 'Well, who’s going to be able to bring the humor and the depth?' Because this is now a live-action piece, it can’t just be a funny character, it has to have a great deal of depth. Who can do that and sing – really sing – and bring originality? I wanted a woman of size, too, as I thought that was important."

Of course, the actor that Marshall ultimately chose for the role was Melissa McCarthy.  In their initial meeting about her potential involvement with the movie, the director recalls that she told him about her early-career drag act. 

"She’s a wonderful actress, people forget that," he adds. "They say, 'Oh, she’s funny.' This character is an injured character, and she was able to find all that depth and emotion, in addition to all the other colors. We really used Divine as our inspiration, because that’s where it started. But the thing about Divine is that she's bigger than life, and this character is bigger than life, but at the same time, Melissa was able to bring humanity to it."

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That's just a snippet of our interview, available in the latest issue of SFX Magazine, which features Star Trek: Picard on the cover and is available on newsstands this Thursday, April 20! For even more from SFX, sign up to the newsletter, sending all the latest exclusives straight to your inbox.

Jack Shepherd
Freelance Journalist

Jack Shepherd is the former Senior Entertainment Editor of GamesRadar. Jack used to work at The Independent as a general culture writer before specializing in TV and film for the likes of GR+, Total Film, SFX, and others. You can now find Jack working as a freelance journalist and editor.