Emma Watson thought long and hard about whether or not to star in Beauty and the Beast.
An ardent feminist, the 26-year-old actress wrestled with the idea that she'd be portraying a victim in Disney's live-action musical (in theaters March 17). "It's something I really grappled with at the beginning: the Stockholm-syndrome question. That's where a prisoner will take on the characteristics of and fall in love with the captor," Watson confesses in Entertainment Weekly's Feb. 24/March 3 issue. Belle actively argues and disagrees with [Beast] constantly."
"She has none of the characteristics of someone with Stockholm syndrome because she keeps her independence; she keeps that freedom of thought," Watson adds. "I also think there is a very intentional switch where, in my mind, Belle decides to stay. She's giving him hell. There is no sense of 'I need to kill this guy with kindness.' Or any sense that she deserves this. In fact, she gives as good as she gets. He bangs on the door, she bangs back. There's this defiance that 'You think I'm going to come and eat dinner with you and I'm your prisoner—absolutely not.'"
Watson—who made several changes to her character with director Bill Condon in the pre-production phase—hopes fans will respond to her take on the beloved princess. "The other beautiful thing about the love story is that they form a friendship first. There is this genuine sharing, and the love builds out of that, which in many ways is more meaningful than a lot of love stories, where it was love at first sight. They are having no illusions about who the other one is," she says. "They have seen the worst of one another, and they also bring out the best."
It's that kind of careful consideration that made Watson a shoo-in for the titular role. "With actors who get to choose their roles, you look at their résumés and you start to see a kind of autobiography emerge," Condon tells the magazine. "From what I'd seen of Emma, she seemed to be the person, both on screen and off, who best reflected the qualities that Belle embodied."
The director—who cast Dan Stevens as Beast—saw a lot of Belle in Watson, and Watson in Belle. As the actress herself explains, "What's so beautiful about this story as a whole is this idea that Belle is able to see past these extraneous, external, superficial qualities of Beast. She is able to see deeper, and that's one of her special powers. It is her superpower: empathy."
While Belle can see past Beast's flaws, it's not as easy to do with Gaston (Luke Evans).
"I think she can see in Beast that there's someone who has been fundamentally good who has been damaged and who just needs rehabilitating. He is just in need of love, whereas Gaston is someone who has had nothing but love and admiration and easiness, and because he's never suffered, he doesn't have any empathy. He's essentially a narcissist, and it's very difficult to intervene in that. He's about building himself up while pushing others down," the actress says of Evans' character. "With Beast, you can tell he's being unkind because he's unkind to himself."
For more on Watson, pick up Entertainment Weekly's Feb. 24/March 3 issue, on sale Friday.