In a film like
, it would be easy to assume the main characters would be the main focus, but not this time.
Josh Gad's LeFou became the accidental star character of Disney's latest live-action reboot before anyone had even seen the film, thanks to the controversy around director Bill Condon's announcement that LeFou would deliver Disney's first "gay moment".
But having seen the film, LeFou's hilarious comedic asides, subtle interactions with the film's minor characters and unique relationship with Gaston makes him the character to watch.
It's little surprise, given Gad's previous credits, which include comedy acting and writing, starring in and gaining a Tony nomination for Broadway musical
, and of course voicing Olaf in Disney's
- another side-character who gained a massive fan following.
"It was sort of the perfect marriage of everything that I've wanted to do," he says.
And he got to put a lot of himself into the character - giving him more depth and adjusting the slapstick, physical humour of the animated character to a more "nuanced" comedy.
"I sat down with our amazing director and I said to him: 'If LeFou in the movie is as dumb as a box, what if we came from a place where he's dumb as a fox?' Meaning he's a certain way, but in reality he's much smarter than he lets on," says Gad.
"And we gave him something that he doesn't really have in the original, which is a conscience. He doesn't have the blind faith and he starts to ask himself - without giving away too much - is the beast the one with the fur or is it the one that looks like everyone else?"
But with the film releasing in New Zealand today, the biggest thing Kiwi fans know about LeFou right now is he's Disney's first openly gay character.
In March, director Bill Condon told
magazine: "LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston."
"It's somebody who's just realising that he has these feelings ... and that's what has its payoff at the end ... a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie."
The story went viral, becoming the major talking point of the film until Condon and Gad tired of the subject, insisting it had been "blown out of proportion".
So when it came time to sit face to face with Gad, it was no surprise Disney explicitly asked me not to bring it up. But it was an issue too big to be ignored.
"I know we're not trying to blow it out of proportion ... but representation is still important," I say, leading into my question.
But Gad interrupts: "I have to agree with you; I think the story has gotten very blown out of proportion."
He then goes on to speak more generally on the film instead, ignoring the subject. It's frustrating, but having seen the film, I get it.
LeFou's sexuality is not a plot point, a laughing point or a personality point. It simply is. And Gad plays it in such an understated and non-stereotypical way that it instantly assumes acceptance.
And that - however poorly worded - is I think what they meant when they said they didn't want it "blown out of proportion".
Besides, there are thousands of fan comments online praising Beauty and the Beast for representing the LGBT community on one of the world's biggest platforms.
And while some were upset Disney's first LGBT character was a villain and the "village idiot" - LeFou literally translates to "the fool" - Gad's take on the character does a lot to combat those issues.
For Gad, being a part of something which "moves" people, in whatever way, was the aim.
"You have these moments where you're like, 'man I hope that audiences are moved' and then you're hearing and seeing people cry and I think that our movie is one of those great experiences I've ever been a part of because it runs the gambit and it does so by going full on and embracing this musical that I hope gives people an opportunity to escape to think and to be moved."