Interview: Anika Noni Rose is Royalty in ‘The Princess and the Frog’

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CHICAGO – Once the Walt Disney company confers the title of “Princess” upon one of their characters, in pop culture they live forever. Tiana is the latest title holder, and she is voiced by Anika Noni Rose in “The Princess and the Frog,” now on DVD.

Princess Tiana is an breakthrough, of course, because she is the first African-American princess in Disney animation history. The story is the classic girl meets frog, girl kisses frog, frog turns into a prince but with a spicy twist. Tiana is a girl growing up in early 20th century New Orleans, a town with a melting pot of Cajun, French, Creole, European and African American.

Her family is poor but proud, and Tiana is working several jobs to save for her dream of opening a New Orleans restaurant. Her fate changes with visiting Prince Naveen (voice of Bruno Campos), who gets mixed up with the voodoo culture and is turned into a frog. Encountering Tiana, the prince asks for the magic kiss, but the transformation doesn’t make him human, it turns Tiana into a frog like him. Their adventures to find their human form – and their connection – fuels the narrative in the animated film.

The Princess (Voice of Anika Noni Rose) Gets the 411 from The Froggy Prince in ‘The Princess and the Frog,’ now on DVD
The Princess (Voice of Anika Noni Rose) Gets the 411 from The Froggy Prince in ‘The Princess and the Frog,’ now on DVD
Photo credit: © Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

HollywoodChicago.com got the opportunity to interview the voice of Princess Tiana, the Broadway and film veteran Anika Noni Rose. She spoke of the her working relationship with Disney studios and their long tradition of bestowing the princess honor.

HollywoodChicago.com: This film represents the overcoming of obstacles to achieve a dream. What Disney movie did you like as a child that best symbolized these points?

Anika Noni Rose: Sleeping Beauty had a serious obstacle. She was knocked out [laughs]. My first favorite Disney film was ‘Fantasia.’ It was the first one I saw and I remember it vividly. My favorite princess was ‘Cinderella.’ She handled herself with grace and dignity, which is nice. Especially when the people around you are acting like complete and utter fools.

HC: It was pointed out that this was Disney’s first African American princess. In being part of a race whose very culture is defined by ‘firsts,’ what are your feelings in regard to representing this first?

ANR: That’s very interesting because that is not what I was thinking about when I went out for the role. The most wonderful thing is that she will be the first princess for every child of this particular generation. She will never have to be a trailblazer again. For these babies, she is their princess. They’re not thinking, ‘oh she’s brown,’ they’re just thinking she’s smart, she’s Tiana, she’s a princess.

I’ve seen black children in their Tiana gowns, tiaras and slippers just glowing, feeling every bit the princess. I saw an Asian child in the airport in Florida with her gown and her book. I saw these kids in Ireland when I went to the U.K. premiere with their gowns on and they loved Tiana. It says something about the times we live in, and it says something about us as adults. Because child, they don’t care, they love her for who she is. We teach them later to be constricted.

HC: How about being the first green princess?

ANR: [Laughs] I wasn’t, that was Princess Fiona in ‘Shrek.’

HC: [Laughs] You got me there. What is the most difficult aspect of doing voice work in animation. When a day came along when you were not ‘feeling the character,’ what adjustments would you make to overcome that feeling?

ANR: Sometimes we’d be going through the script and there would be an intimate scene that would come up from nowhere. And I would just say why don’t we put this aside for a minute and finish up with the pages we have, and just come back to it. I think that is the best thing to do. If we’ve tried it a few times and feel like we’re still not clicking in that moment. If you can, and you usually can with voiceover work, just hold off on that for a little bit. Come back when you’re not thinking about it so much, and just ease in. If that wasn’t the way, I would suggest starting a few pages ahead, so we can move our way into it.

Anika Noni Rose and Her Princess Cartoon Alter Ego as Portrayed in The Princess and the Frog
Anika Noni Rose and Her Princess Cartoon Alter Ego as Portrayed in The Princess and the Frog
Photo credit: © Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

HC: You beat out several high profile celebrities to win the part of Tiana. At what point in the audition process did you feel you put your stamp on the role, and what element of the audition do you think won the role for you?

ANR: I don’t know [laughs]. I put my stamp on it in the beginning, because it was very clear to me who she was. And I would guess what got me the role was me. I think that when anyone goes into an audition there is something that they bring which is particular and special about them. And hopefully, that is what gets them the role.

HC: The film is a celebration of the glory of old New Orleans in jazz, culture and food. It is in a background way also about the segregation and place in society of the black vs. white struggle. What do you think the Katrina situation represents in that struggle?

ANR: I think it was time for us to see New Orleans in its glory. We watched New Orleans in such a state of devastation for so long. I think we should, because it happened. It is really dangerous to forget that there are people who still don’t have homes, that there were people who were never really taken care of there and people whose land was stolen, because they don’t have their deeds anymore. It is very important that we don’t stop looking at that. But I also think it’s important for them, as survivors, to remember that where they came from is something beautiful and vibrant. It is a place of creation, the birthplace of jazz and many culinary arts. It is a major melting pot in America.

Anika Noni Rose and Patrick McDonald, March 9th, 2010
Anika Noni Rose and Patrick McDonald, March 9th, 2010
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald for HollywoodChicago.com

HC: In your three major roles, you’ve played strong and historical African American women. What has Tiana taught you about the 1920s, and what has Caroline [Broadway play ‘Caroline, or Change’] and Lorrell [’Dreamgirls’] taught you about the 1960s?

ANR: I listened to a lot of different music to get ready for The Princess and the Frog. I love jazz and I listened to a lot of really early jazz. There were a lot of female pioneers, and a lot of people I’d never heard of. And it was really cool to be able to do that. I also read up on the history of New Orleans, how it was formed and how jazz came to life.

As far as the 1960s, I didn’t feel that it was too far from where we are now. It still touches us and is a major part of pop culture. On television, there are documentaries on JFK that are so insightful, that it didn’t feel so absolutely foreign. Because of my characters, I may have more information about the era. When I was doing the play, we got copies of the ‘Test of Literacy’ that African Americans had to take to be able to vote in that time and place. It was like ‘are you joking?’ They were specifically made so no one could pass. And that is reminiscent of events surrounding the elections in 2000 and 2004, that disenfranchising is nothing new under the sun, unfortunately.

HC: How do you think Tiana will aid in the image circumstance of African American girls struggling to find their own identity? How does that relate to what you went through as a child?

ANR: I had really good parents in regards to who I am, what I looked like and what life was. I felt really good as me, I was comfortable in my person. My parents were very clear about giving me images that were just like me. As I said earlier, I’ve already seen what Tiana has done. It changes things because it gives an image of beauty that is familiar.

HC: In all of your show business adventures, what was the one moment where you stepped back and thought, ‘how did I get here?’

ANR: I am a Disney princess.

”The Princess and the Frog” is being released on Blu-Ray™ and standard DVD on Tuesday, March 16th. Featuring the voices of Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, Jennifer Cody, Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard and John Goodman. Rated “G”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

By PATRICK McDONALD
Senior Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
pat@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2010 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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