Disney Legend Jodi Benson recently released her new collection of stories in a new book that attributes her faith as the main reason for her career success. She calls it a “love letter.”
We got to speak with Benson again via video call a few weeks ago about her book, the reluctance she had in sharing her story, how her faith and work as an actor are all intertwined, and some of the life wisdom she found along the way.
Editor’s Note: this interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.
DE: You were initially hesitant in writing a book about yourself. Why was that the case?
JB: That’s true! It’s probably because I felt like I had no wisdom to really share. I know I’ve been seen as a success and all that, but I really feel like I’ve just been fortunate to be a part of a lot of special things that others have invited me into. It’s really them who I thought should be highlighted through a book instead of me!
DE: What was the determining factor that made you want to finally write “Part of Your World” then?
JB: My publisher came back to me and asked if I’d write the book to shine the light on those other people and make it a ‘love letter’ and a thank-you note to them. That was convincing enough for me at first, but three months into writing with my co-writer Carol, it still didn’t feel right. I asked my publisher for some time to think and pray about it, and we ended up coming up with a different idea entirely that became what the final book is today.
DE: And what is that book today? It seems like it’s a lot about your faith journey.
JB: Very much so! The book consists of 24 little vignettes of stories that highlight those other people who impacted my life and then accompany those mini-stories with some life lessons that I learned from them or that situation. Most of those life lessons incorporate some scripture from the Bible or a faith testimony because it’s so much of who I am, but I wanted each story to connect with anyone. I hope my words and how each chapter was intentionally crafted will do that for anyone who decides to read it.
DE: Since it’s a book, there come benefits and potential accolades that could further your career even more!
JB: Those are nice things, but that wasn’t the goal at all when I was writing, and what I hope for it now that it’s available everywhere. If the book can encourage someone or someone walks away with one piece of helpful information, then it would have all been worth it.
DE: Going back to your faith, you’ve never shied away from sharing that- even with us when we interviewed a few years back. Why is that the case? Do you think that might turn off your fans?
JB: My faith in Jesus Christ has always been a part of me, and I’ve never had to hide that. I’ve never been silenced by Disney or DreamWorks or Warner Bros. because they know that it’s a part of my life, and everyone I’ve worked with has honored me by honoring that aspect of me, too. So the people that know my work should know about my faith. That said, I don’t think that people who know me as Ariel or Barbie or any other role I’ve played would be turned off because of this. I’ve been sharing it for 35 years as an actor and will continue to!
DE: You do attribute your faith to bringing you out from some of the lowest moments in your life. The book recounts quite a few of those low moments. Why did you want to be vulnerable and share those stories?
JB: I did include probably the lowest moment in the book where I and my husband were separated, which happened right as The Little Mermaid was released into the world. I ended up living with Disney animator and Disney Legend Glen Keane and his wife for about three months as I was trying to figure things out. Glen and his family are people of faith, and yet there was a moment with them that I was pretty set at ending my life. It was a huge crisis of faith, but I heard God say “I got you. It’s not time.”
DE: Wow, that sounds surreal, and we’re sorry that you went through that and even more glad that you and your husband came out stronger.
JB: And that’s the thing! It wasn’t easy to come to that conclusion. I feel like I had to go through that and realize that there was something more. It was a weird tension coming from the highlight of my entire career with ‘Mermaid,’ and the devastating crash that was the relationship with my husband. But isn’t it true that the divine speaks loudest in those unclear moments? I believe that more than ever after that night.
DE: You mentioned that you wanted the book to appeal to every audience, one of faith and not. How do you straddle the line of sharing something personal like that and not making people excluded in telling your stories?
JB: It’s a great question, and it’s something that we talk about as a family quite a bit. And it really comes down to one thing- I’m one person. I’m Jodi. So whether people meet me while I’m working in the vocal booth or if my neighbor comes and knocks on my door at home, they get to meet this one Jodi. In other words, I want to make sure that my behavior and what I say and do are consistent privately and publicly. The same Jodi that sings “Part of Your World” for thousands at D23 Expo is the same Jodi that goes home after a full day’s work and has dinner with her family and asks them about their day. Yes again, faith is a throughline in each of those aspects of me and helps dictate that, but I’m hoping that people see that it really helps me be that one authentic person I hope to be for God and for others.
DE: Our final question: do you have “Jodi-isms”? Small nuggets of wisdom that can be encapsulated into a fun, trite saying?
JB: One comes to mind! “God can do extraordinary things through ordinary people.” It’s something I often say to myself more than to others because it reminds me of where I’ve been, where I am now, and where I’m going. It really is a piece of wisdom because it’s true!
Our special thanks to Jodi Benson for contributing to this story!