FILM: An interview with Beauty and the Beast star Josh Gad
JOSH Gad is Disney's new go-to man when it comes to comedy, and Australia gets some of the credit for his big-screen success.
The actor is best known for playing lovable snowman Olaf in the worldwide smash hit Frozen, but has also starred in Pixels, The Wedding Ringer, Angry Birds and The Internship.
But long before that he spent six months training at Sydney's National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in 2003 before graduating later that year from Carnegie Mellon's College of Fine Arts.
"I had the opportunity to go to England, Russia or to Australia," he tells Weekend.
"So many great Aussies were coming to America working on film and I'm like 'I want to know what's in the water over there'. I'm such a fan of the likes of Cate Blanchett, Hugh Jackman and Geoffrey Rush.
"There was a practicality to the approach of the NIDA training. I feel blessed to have gone to Carnegie Mellon, but something interesting happened when I came to NIDA. It put into context everything I'd learned in a way that finally made sense to me."
Gad puts that training to good use as LeFou, the comic foil to chief villain Gaston, in Disney's live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast.
Gad transforms the dumb brute from the 1991 animated film into a fully fledged character whose conscience is tested by Gaston's selfish behaviour and relentless pursuit of Belle's hand in marriage.
"My fear when I originally got offered the role from Bill (Condon, the director) was that the character in the original, while iconic and wonderful and hilarious, is a character truly defined by cartoon conceits. He gets his teeth knocked out; he gets thrown around the room by Gaston. That's not something I really wanted to play," he says.
"LeFou in the original movie was dumb as a box, but what if we made him dumb as a fox so he's not quite as foolish as you think he is?
"He calls into question this blind faith he has in his partner in crime (Gaston), and asks the question the audience asks themselves - is the beast the one who lives in the castle or the one who pretends to be like everyone else?"
Considering he's a supporting character to the likes of Emma Watson (Harry Potter), Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) and Luke Evans (Dracula Untold), Gad has had more than his fair share of attention for the role.
Cinemas in Russia and the US have banned the film after Condon confirmed LeFou has a 'gay moment'.
It's a storm in a teacup as far as Gad is concerned, and he's clearly tired of the subject dominating his interviews on the worldwide press tour.
"Sadly we live in an age of sensationalism now," he says.
"But now that the movie is finally being seen, I'm going to let them judge it for themselves and they are judging it for themselves. The most important thing people can leave this movie with is this idea of never judging a book by its cover.
"You've got this character Gaston, who whips an entire village into a frenzy to attack someone who's different to them. That's as relevant today as it was 300 years ago when Beauty and The Beast was first written. What we've set out to do, and I think we've achieved, is to create a movie about inclusiveness."
It's a film Gad's happy to watch with his two young daughters, Isabelle and Ava, who visited the larger-than-life set while he was filming.
"I think that this in conjunction with Frozen has hopefully given me enough brownie points for a lifetime," he laughs. "I don't know how many of these I can do before I turn into a Disney character."
Beauty and the Beast opens on Thursday.
Stars: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson.
Director: Bill Condon
Reviewer's last word: Fear not, Disney's live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast doesn't trample on the animated classic you remember so fondly. Director Bill Condon has lovingly updated the fairy tale.