Interview with Linda Larkin

Linda Larkin is the voice of Jasmine from Disney’s timeless classic “Aladdin”.  Linda has reprised the role of Jasmine numerous times over the years.  Movie Mikes had the chance to chat with Linda about the role and how it has been playing this role over the years.

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Mike Gencarelli: How did you originally get the role of Princess Jasmine in “Aladdin?”
Linda Larkin: The role of Jasmine was really one of many auditions I had that week. I really didn’t know that much about it before my first audition. “The Little Mermaid” was just coming out…this was before “Beauty and the Beast” had come out…these things take years from beginning to end…and I wasn’t really aware of this new chapter of Disney animated features. So I really didn’t know what I was auditioning for, I didn’t know it was going to be this big movie. I thought it was going to be something like “Duck Tales” (laughs). I had no idea. When I went in I only got a few pages of the script. But those few scenes they had me read…I really connected to them. I thought they were beautiful. One was with Abu and the other was a scene that made it in the movie that leads up to the magic carpet ride. I really felt the magic of that movie just from that little audition. I didn’t hear anything for a couple of months and then I got a call saying I had a call back. And this went on for a few months. I’d go in and then I’d get called back. I was living in L.A. at the time and when I’d get my call back, I’d go to the studio and as the process went on the field would keep getting smaller and smaller. The first time I auditioned every girl I knew my age was also auditioning for it. Which wasn’t unusual. We all auditioned for everything. The second time it was a much smaller list and by the end it was just me and a guy they were considering for Aladdin and I ended up getting the part and they didn’t use the guy (Scott Weinger got the part). For my last audition I basically read the whole script, it was like a four hour audition. They animated to our voices and when it was finished they presented it and the studio signed off on me and they began looking for a guy. That’s the long version!

MG: Because of your many years doing the character, have you become attached to her?
LL: Like I said, I connected to the character the very first time I read the script. And I’ve stayed connected to her through out. It feels like she’s a part of me and I’m a part of her. To me it feels like it was meant to be. If I had to choose from all of the Disney princess who I’d want to be, Jasmine is the one I would choose. I think it was kismet…a connection that was meant to be. I think that’s why I got the job because I “got” her right away. And there was some resistance to me because originally the character was like a dumb Lauren Bacall. They were looking for a different kind of voice then what I brought into the room. But I changed their minds. And some people at the studio were still attached to the original idea but eventually everybody came on board.

MG: Do you feel that the character has changed at all over the years?
LL: That’s an interesting question. I don’t think the character has changed. She was a very strong, well defined character from the very beginning. And while we all grow up, Jasmine is still sixteen. We’ve done 100 episodes of a cartoon series. We’ve done toys and games and dolls and other interactive media and she is still sixteen year old Jasmine. And, who I am today is the person I saw inside me as a sixteen year old. My character was pretty much what it has been throughout my life. Everyone matures…they grow up and learn to make better decisions. And I really think that, by the time you’re sixteen, your character has already been pretty defined. Jasmine doesn’t need to change. You can identify with her and you know how she would be were she be allowed to “grow up.” To me she’s already a fleshed out character. She’s very real. She’s been that way from the beginning and she hasn’t lost that. Sometimes change isn’t always the best thing. Sometimes it’s better that things stay the same because they really hit it right the first time with this girl.

MG: Was there a reason why Lea Salonga has the singing role in the film?
LL: I’m not a singer! And this is something that a lot of people don’t know. This was the first time in a Disney movie that they separated the acting voice and the singing voice. Prior to that they had only auditioned singers. They only auditioned people who could do both. They could act and sing. And this movie…it was developed around Robin Williams…and when I was auditioning I already knew Robin Williams was playing the Genie. By my second call back I had the whole script and you could see that it was literally written in his voice. He was singing HIS songs but they felt that Robin was first a great actor and they wanted everyone around him to keep up with him. And when they put out the
notice they made it clear that, above all, they wanted strong actors. Being able to sing was o.k. but it wasn’t necessary. They wanted to see actors. In the original script, Princess Jasmine doesn’t have a song. In the movie she only has one song, the duet with Aladdin. But when I read the original script she didn’t have any songs at all…”A Whole New World” hadn’t been written yet. So all I had to do was focus on the acting. And when they added the song they came to me and asked, “Do you sing?” And I said, “I do…but not like a princess!” And they said, “No problem, we’ll find a singer to match your voice.” And they did. And to me it’s such an amazing match to my voice that it’s almost seamless when they go from dialogue to the song and back to dialogue. And you see what happened…from that point forward that opened up the world of Disney animation to everybody. They no longer needed actors who sang. Robin Williams was the first big celebrity to do an animated film. So from that point up to “Pocahontas.” Irene (Bedard, the speaking voice of Pocahontas) and I are the only ones who were non-singers, non-celebrities in a lead role in a Disney animated movie. I squeezed into that tiny window of opportunity where you didn’t have to be a star and you didn’t have to be a singer.

MG: If you had the chance to voice any other Disney Princess who would it be?
LL: As a little girl I identified the most with Snow White. She was my favorite. And I don’t really think she’s like Jasmine at all, but as a little girl that’s who I would have chosen. But Jasmine is my favorite. I really couldn’t pick any other character that I would want to be more than her. She’s just so fun. It’s really fun for me to do.

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