‘The Little Mermaid’ Jonah Hauer-King Talks Playing Prince Eric

Last Monday night, Jonah Hauer-King was praised at the premiere of The Little Mermaid in his native London, posing for cameras in his bespoke Ralph Lauren suit, embracing his new role as Disney’s latest live-action heartthrob. But at that moment, his mother showed up to bring him back to earth with a reminder of his past (as mothers are wont to do). “She reminded me of when I used to sit on the couch with my two older sisters, watching The Little Mermaid”, says Hauer-King W days after the premiere. “It was one of the only times we all shut up.”

The anecdote illuminates the surreal, full-circle moment the actor finds himself in — while also reminding Hauer-King of his early days. But in fact, the actor really does not need to be humiliated. Despite the immense attention it received before The Little Mermaid’Released this weekend, the British actor maintains a relaxed air. He’s not pompous and ready to brag about his recent successes, nor is he overly confident, although he could easily be all of those things. Instead, he looks modest and grateful – as a true prince should.

On Friday, when the live-action remake of Disney’s classic hits theaters around the world and Hauer-King officially becomes synonymous with Prince Eric, her life will likely change forever. Until then, the actor was dedicated to smaller projects, playing Laurie in a little women miniseries for PBS and starring in BBC World War II drama world on fire. Perhaps it’s because of this low profile that, when Hauer-King was asked to self-record the role of Eric, he didn’t give it much thought. “It was a long shot and I was realistic about my chances, so it didn’t seem like a big deal,” he says. Hauer-King has heard the rumors of A-list stars allegedly up for the role (Harry Styles’ name has been heavily publicized), but he has remained stoic throughout the process. “I just thought, ‘Well, yeah, that makes sense,’” he says of the Styles rumors. “Perhaps if I had gone to a screen test and been around pop stars and famous actors I would have felt nervous, but luckily I didn’t.”

The film’s director, Rob Marshall, was likely impressed by Hauer-King’s calm demeanor, along with his resilience, as he went through the seven-month audition process filled with countless tapes of himself, which required the actor to present the Prince Eric in different accents and sing a variety of songs (“Everything from west side history It is Rent for Amy Winehouse,” he says). An in-person meeting with Marshall and a screen test with Halle Bailey sealed the deal for Hauer-King, and in November 2019, he was offered the role. Even after all that work, though, Hauer-King still couldn’t believe it ended in his favor. After getting off the phone with Marshall, the actor recalls sitting alone with the news and slowly becoming convinced it was all a dream. “I texted the number that called me and wrote, ‘Hi, this is Jonah. Is this Rob Marshall? Did I go crazy? Did that just happen?’” Fortunately, Marshall responded immediately, solidifying the reality of the situation. “He was probably wondering if he had just cast an insane person,” says Hauer-King with a laugh. “But I was very happy.”

Growing up, Hauer-King – the son of an actress turned therapist and restorer – knew he wanted to be an artist. Initially, he was drawn to music; in his teens he formed the indie rock band Rova with his friends. Immediately, Hauer-King was drawn into the spotlight. “I didn’t let anyone else sing,” he recalls. “I had to be the front man.” When he was 16, he helped his friend stage a play at a theater festival, and suddenly his interests shifted from the stage to a more theatrical one. “I loved being an actor, but I also loved being part of a company,” he says. “It gave me a real sense of creative belonging.” Hauer-King brought that drive home, got an agent, and put her dreams of going to university on hold. After a stagnant year, however, he rethought his plan and enrolled at Cambridge University to study theology and religion.

Hauer-King is hesitant to call his decision to get a degree a “plan B”. “Had I done medicine or law, I think it would have been an obvious booster,” he says. “But I would never be a priest or a rabbi.” Still, it’s possible that his religious studies helped him with his acting ventures. The actor recently finished work on adapting the book by Heather Morris. The tattoo artist from Auschwitz, in which he plays Lale Sokolov, a Jewish prisoner at Auschwitz who is forced to tattoo identification numbers on his fellow prisoners. “It was a surreal experience to have your head shaved every day, put on the prison uniform and go to an Auschwitz set,” he says. Of course, he feels a responsibility to tell the story in a respectful way. Hauer-King’s Jewish grandfather fled Poland in the 1930s and ended up in Canada, where he served in the Air Force during World War II. The actor worked hard to create distance between himself and the role, but admitted to struggling at times. “Because of my own personal connections to that era, it felt impossible not to be extremely impactful and draining.”

For now, though, Hauer-King is in Prince Eric’s more upbeat frame of mind, eager to talk about The Little Mermaid and her costar Bailey. He’s not shy when it comes to praising her, speaking of “her elegance and grace” as well as the connection they formed while filming in London. “She was my closest friend during filming,” he says. The two bonded over their journey as young actors and dealing with the pressure of a well-watched movie. “We both had feelings of insecurity and overwhelm,” he says. “We could try to communicate them to other people, but we knew that the two of us had the best understanding of it. We lean on each other a lot.”

He’s also focused on the future which, unsurprisingly, looks bright. In addition to the tattoo artistthe actor has several projects on the horizon, including the development of beyond the wire, a film based on a screenplay he wrote during the blockade about World War II POWs starting a theater company. Speaking of theater: Hauer-King is “very, very interested” in returning to the stage, where he originally fell in love with acting as a teenager. As of now, he has no plans to return to the West End, but he has promised to keep me posted. “Actually, I just submitted a piece and I’m going to read it tomorrow,” he says with some emotion in his voice. “I’ll give you a shout out if it’s good.”

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