The Little Mermaid star Melissa McCarthy says her Ursula is ‘100 per cent’ a tribute to drag queens

Ursula Melissa McCarthy

Melissa McCarthy is starring as the slippery sea witch Ursula in the upcoming reboot of The Little Mermaid – and the actor has now revealed that her character has drag queen roots.

One of pop culture’s best-loved and queer-coded villains, Disney’s evil sea witch Ursula will be played by Melissa McCarthy in the upcoming live-action remake of The Little Mermaid – and if the latest glimpse of the film is anything to go by, it looks as though McCarthy’s new incarnation will be living up to the watery wonder of the animated classic.

Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, the Bridesmaids and Nine Perfect Strangers star confirmed that she “100 per cent” took inspiration from drag queens for her turn as the voice-stealing villain, before revealing that her characterisation of Ursula goes even deeper than that.

“There’s a drag queen [who] lives in me. I’m always right on the verge of going full-time with her,” explained the star, whose career began in New York’s nightlife as drag queen Miss Y.

McCarthy also opened up about a twist on Ursula’s origin story: in the film, she will be King Triton’s (Javier Bardem) estranged sister, making her an aunt to Halle Bailey’s Ariel.

“She’s the villain, but there’s such an edge to her,” McCarthy continued. “She’s been put in this lair. It’s like she’s had too many martinis alone. Her friends are eels.

You may like to watch

“That is a woman who has seen it, been in it, dug her way back out. All my references are terrible, but I kept thinking, ‘Many a Pall Mall has this woman had.'”

Melissa McCarthy as Ursula in new The Little Mermaid trailer.
Melissa McCarthy as Ursula in newest The Little Mermaid trailer. (Disney/YouTube)

McCarthy also revealed that she drew upon the sense of isolation she experienced at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic – not that it’s something she’s keen to replicate any time soon.

“To keep the humour and the sadness and the edginess to Ursula is everything I want in a character – and, frankly, everything I want in a drag queen.”

The character of Ursula is widely known to have been inspired by legendary drag artist Divine, who appeared in several films by Jon Waters, who rose to fame in the 1970s for his transgressive cult films such as Multiple Maniacs (1970), Pink Flamingos (1972) and Female Trouble (1974).

Divine the drag queen in Pink Flamingos (1972)

The drag queen’s strongly arched eyebrows are the most obvious feature of the animated character that have made it to the big screen, although a sinister cackle is also a defining feature of Divine’s outings in films such as Pink Flamingos.

A staunch advocate of the LGBTQ+ community, McCarthy, who once emulated Divine on a cover issue of Entertainment Weekly in 2011, recently voiced her support of drag queens as she pointed out the glaringly obvious problem with the wave of oppressive drag bans currently sweeping across the US.

Bailey, who has recently been the subject of a racist backlash from bigots upset at the casting of a Black actor in the iconic role of Ariel, also recently revealed that the live-action film will “update” the animated version in one very important way.

“I’m really excited for my version of the film because we’ve definitely changed that perspective of her wanting to leave the ocean just for a boy,” she explained.

“It’s way bigger than that. It’s about herself, her purpose, her freedom, her life and what she wants.

The Little Mermaid is due for release in cinemas on 26 May 2023.