Interview: Disney Legend Jodi Benson Shares Details About Her New Memoir Part of My World
The actor who gave voice to Ariel has authored a new book of 24 stories.
What is it like to be a literal Disney princess? Jodi Benson could tell you. She was the voice of Ariel in Disney's 1989 hit The Little Mermaid. After that film ushered in a renaissance for Disney animation, the career of the young actress was propelled in a whole new direction.
Her new memoir, Part of My World, came out on September 13. In this collection of stories, Benson reveals the ups and downs of her decades-long career, including some deeply personal experiences and tragedies.
In anticipation of her book, Benson talked to us about her writing process, her advice for aspiring artists, and why she never wanted to write a book in the first place.
This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
You mention in your introduction that you weren't interested in writing a book at all. Can you talk about that hesitation and why you changed your mind?
I never wanted to write a book. Memoir, autobiography, that's just not me. But then in February 2020, the publisher, Tyndale called. And I told them no. And then they called back again, and my answer was still no. And then they called back a third time and Sarah Atkinson, the publisher said, "Well, what if I worded it differently. What if, instead of a book, it's just a collection of some stories that happened in your life. And what if there was one reader who might be encouraged by the mistakes you made and some lessons you've learned. Would you be willing to write it?" I thought, yeah, I think for that one person, that would be great.
How did you choose what parts of your life and career to include?
Carol Traver, my ghost writer, and I spent months and months together on the phone. We initially had 70 stories but then rounded it off to 25 and I think we ended up with 24. It was hard to pick and choose and I really couldn't do that, because I'm too close to it. I let the team narrow it down to a pot of 24 stories that have some good value and some good lessons inside of them.
How did your faith influence your writing?
Tyndale publishes Bibles. When they came to me, I said, "No, I don't want to do a Christian book." They clarified that they didn't want a Christian book. They just wanted me to share my stories. I'd really like it to be a book that somebody can pick up who might be interested in Broadway, interested in Disney, interested in Howard [Ashman]. And my faith just oozes around it. It's not something that I wear on my sleeve, but it's going to be an integral part of my story because it's who I am, and it's been a part of my life for decades.
Was it difficult to write about some of your experiences? Did it open some things back up?
Yeah, it did. Those months of doing it were painful because both my kids were home, and their lives were turned upside down when the world was shut down. We were all here together as a family and I would go lock myself in this room for four or five hours a day on the phone and I'd come up and I was exhausted. It was very difficult to remember things from so long ago and they weren't accurate. Carol and I were digging into territory, and I had to decide what to share and what not to share.
Sadly, Pat Carroll, the voice of Ursula from The Little Mermaid, recently passed away. What was your experience working with her?
She was an amazing woman. So kind and hysterically funny and just a great lady. To be 95 and that iconic with such an amazing friend group and family group is just unbelievable. But it is sad to me that most of our cast is gone now.
Would you talk about the voice work you recently recorded for Disney's new cruise ship, the Disney Wish?
For the Disney Wish, I did two cruises back-to-back. First, to introduce The Little Mermaid show and then to introduce this new scavenger interactive thing that you do on the ship. Pat and I both did it. They recorded me in California, and they recorded Pat at home on the East Coast. She had just recorded that not long ago.
Do you have any interest or plans to go back and do Broadway or regional theater again?
I get that question all the time, including from my agent in New York. I went out with a bang with Crazy for You. Everything about it was just perfect and there's part of me that doesn't want to taint the memory of that final New York experience. Regional theater would be super fun, because it's a short period of time so I can continue to do the other things I do for The Walt Disney Company.
Do you have a word of advice for people who are looking to go into the film, entertainment, or theater industry?
When I work with kids and do master classes, the first thing I ask is, "Why do you want to be in the industry?" Number one, you must have a true, birth talent set. I think you must have the desire, but I think you need to have the right intention. I think the intention to simply be famous is not a purpose. Also, if they have doubts about the stability, go find something else because there is no stability. And ultimately, purpose of happiness doesn't come from what you do. It just comes from who you are and from the quality of life.
What do you hope people take away from the experiences that you talk about in your book?
If they choose to pick it up and read it, I would hope that in one of the 24 stories, they'd find something that might resonate with them in a challenge or difficulty or whatever is going on in their life.