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The Little Mermaid: How Melissa McCarthy Honors Ursula's Drag Queen Roots

Like a number of Disney classics, "The Little Mermaid" is loosely based on the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen. A less well-known inspiration, however, is the rebellious, brazen drag queen Divine, who's best known as John Waters' muse in films like "Pink Flamingos" and "Hairspray."

After channeling other campy icons like Joan Collins for the cephalopodic villain Ursula, animator Rob Minkoff drew a slinky, full-figured vamp that bore semblance to Divine. "The Little Mermaid" producer Howard Ashman, who came up in the same Baltimore queer scene as Divine, laughed that the early sketches looked "like a Miami Beach matron" (via The A.V. Club), and the 1989 version of Ursula stuck.

In the promising live-action adaptation of "The Little Mermaid," Melissa McCarthy is taking up the Ursula mantle, and she's honoring the character's drag queen roots. The actress told Entertainment Weekly that her take on Ursula was purely influenced by drag. "There's a drag queen that lives in me," she continued. "I'm always right on the verge of going full-time with her."

McCarthy has her own history with drag

Of the Disney villains, Ursula in particular — with her sinister glamor and outcast quality — has emerged as a queer icon. For Melissa McCarthy, that's an important distinction to keep intact as she gears up for "The Little Mermaid" ahead of its premiere on May 26. "She's the villain, but there's such an edge to her," McCarthy said in the same Entertainment Weekly interview. "She's been put in this lair. It's like she's had too many martinis alone. Her friends are eels."

"That is a woman who has seen it, been in it, dug her way back out," McCarthy continued. "To keep the humor and the sadness and the edginess to Ursula is everything I want in a character — and frankly, everything I want in a drag queen."

McCarthy knows a thing or two about the drag queen scene. The actress — who spent part of her 20s watching "The Little Mermaid" on repeat with the kids she nannied — also performed in clubs under the drag persona Miss Y. "It was the time of Lady Miss Kier, RuPaul and Lady Bunny, and Miss Y was Missy's great alter ego," her former roommate, the shoe designer Brian Atwood, told Rolling Stone. As Miss Y, McCarthy donned a towering wig, fake eyelashes, and a gold lamé coat.

Years later, McCarthy would revisit her drag roots by dressing up as Divine for an Entertainment Weekly comedy issue cover. Now, she's channeling Divine once again, albeit in a more squid-like form.