The makeup artist behind Melissa McCarthy's version of Ursula responds to criticism that Disney should've hired a queer artist for the job

Melissa McCarthy as Ursula in Disney's live action remake of "The Little Mermaid" (L), Divine performing at the Red Parrot nightclub in New York City in 1983 (R).Courtesy of Disney, Tom Gates/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
  • Melissa McCarthy plays Ursula in the new Disney live-action remake of "The Little Mermaid."

  • Peter Swords King, who has worked in the industry for 42 years, is the MUA behind McCarthy's Ursula.

  • Speaking to Insider, King responded to criticism Disney should've hired a queer artist for the job.

The makeup designer who transformed Melissa McCarthy into Ursula for Disney's remake of "The Little Mermaid" has responded to criticism that a queer makeup artist should've been hired in his place.

Peter Smith King, the British hair and makeup designer who transformed McCarthy into Ursula, has 42 years' worth of career experience doing makeup for films, theatre, and opera. From "The Lord of the Rings" to "Mary Poppins," King told Insider he couldn't possibly pick a favorite among his past projects, but did say there was something special about "The Little Mermaid," which premiered on Friday.

"It was lovely. A lovely crew, lovely cast," King said. And with regards to working McCarthy, King said she was incredibly involved in the process of creating their version of Ursula. "We discussed everything," he added.

When asked if he drew inspiration from the 1989 original animated film for his version of Ursula, King said he actually didn't draw on outside influences.

"No, no. It was me. I didn't really draw on anything. I played around quite a lot with different colors, different shapes, and stuff," he said. "It just was sort of Melissa and I talking and creating. So I didn't really draw on anything at all."

He also responded to criticism that because the animated villain took inspiration from a legendary drag performer that the makeup artist for the remake should have been from that world.

The original 1989 Disney animator said he sought inspiration for Ursula in the late drag queen performer, Divine

Drag queen Divine at the premiere of "Female Trouble" on February 12, 1975 in New York City.
Drag queen Divine at the premiere of "Female Trouble" on February 12, 1975, in New York City.Tim Boxer/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As Time reported, Harris Glenn Milstead, better known by their drag queen stage name Divine, was active in the 1970s and 1980s but died in 1988. Divine had several visible resemblances to Ursula, including a high hairline, exaggerated eyebrows, and shimmery extravagant eyeshadow.

Animator Rob Minkoff, who worked on the design for 1989 "The Little Mermaid" also told Vogue he sought inspiration from Divine for Ursula. "Divine seemed like such a great, larger than life character, and it just seemed like a funny and quirky idea to take [Ursula] and treat her more like a drag queen," he said.

Ursula's animation origin story recently led drag queens such as Sierra La Puerta to take issue with McCarthy's sea witch transformation on Twitter after Disney shared a behind-the-scenes clip of King doing her makeup.

"We said Ursula was inspired by a drag queen we didn't mean one who had only been doing it for 3 months bc-," La Puerta tweeted on May 17.

"RuPaul's Drag Race Down Under" star Art Simone also levied criticism at McCarthy's Ursula makeup, tweeting: "When you lie on your resume and end up with the job."

Season 14 "RuPaul's Drag Race" star Kerri Colby responded to a clip on Twitter, writing that it's an example of "absolutely why we should hire up and coming queer artists with a pulse on the present and a vision for the future more often. Yes I agree, this is that."

King told Insider McCarthy's makeup in the remake isn't based on drag performances and that he finds criticism of his work 'offensive'

King told Inider he disagrees with the criticism levied at McCarthy's final makeup look.

"I find that very offensive," he said. "Why can't I do as good a job as a queer makeup artist?"

"That's ridiculous. That's trying to claim it and that's fine, if that's what they wanna do, but don't put people down because they're not what they want it to be," he added.

King also said that his design of Ursula wasn't "based on Divine," who he says he met in person in London before the drag legend's death.

ursula disney
Ursula in the original Disney animated film, released in 1989.Disney/ YouTube

"I personally don't get it. Yes, I'm very old now, so that's fine, I get that too, but, you know, a makeup artist or makeup designer could design makeup, they don't have to have an attachment to the nature of what they're doing," he added.

King also said that he and McCarthy spoke together about Ursula's makeup for the remake.

"We discussed everything. I mean, we both laughed about how much we love drag queens and drag makeup and stuff. But it wasn't based on any drag acts at all," he said.

King's comments came after McCarthy previously spoke to Deadline about Ursula's links to Divine at a premiere of the film in early May.

Speaking from the red carpet, she said that she'd watched "The Little Mermaid" more "times than any other movie."

"I was a nanny, and we used to watch it every night. And I always was like, I know for a fact — but I couldn't prove it —that she had to be based on Divine," McCarthy said. "She just had to be. I was like, 'the makeup, the look, the attitude.' And now we know that yes, she was of course based on Divine."

Representatives for Melissa McCarthy did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

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