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Crash test hippos & feminist heroines: Stars turn out for "Beauty and the Beast" NYC premiere

Disney - 2017(NEW YORK) -- It was all princesses and beasts on Manhattan's Upper West Side Monday night as the stars turned out for the New York City premiere of the live-action remake of Disney's Beauty and the Beast.

Inside Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall, actor Ian McKellan, who plays Cogsworth, joked about the controversy surrounding director Bill Condon's assertion that the movie has Disney's first gay character. McKellan told the audience that Condon had made "another gay extravaganza," reports Variety -- back in 1998, Condon directed McKellen in Gods & Monsters, a movie about gay director James Whale.

But outside on the red carpet, Condon was talking about girl power. "Belle...was really a meaningful character in 1991 because she cared more about books than boys," Condon told ABC News. But he noted that women have advanced a lot in 25 years. "That's why it was so great to have Emma Watson as part of it, because she is a contemporary feminist heroine."

He also talked about what guided him as he translated an animated classic that an entire generation grew up with into a live-action movie.

"It's something people feel a real, like, intimate connection with, you know. So I was very careful about every decision I made," he said. "It was really about, 'Does this help translate this into the real world?. That was the question always."

Of course the movie isn't entirely "live-action," featuring prodigious amounts of CGI, which was quite a challenge for Downton Abbey actor and Legion star Dan Stevens who played the part of the Beast largely on stilts before his CGI transformation.

"I was on set, you know, 40-pound gray Lycra muscle suit, on stilts, looking nothing like The Beast and everything sort of like a crash test hippo," said Stevens. "And, you know, the first cut of this film I saw was in that form -- this gray Lycra on stilts looking angry and sweaty."

Beauty and the Beast opens Friday, March 17.

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