Former Disney Performer Says Characters Are Only Allowed to Speak English in Viral Video

A former Walt Disney World character actor has gone viral on TikTok for revealing a rule she said she was "shocked" people were not already aware of.

Jessica Tremmel, who posts on TikTok from the account @tremainetok, told Newsweek she worked at the park for three years and played dozens of costume characters (think, Mickey Mouse) and as a "face actor" (characters whose faces show and in turn interact with guests).

It was her experience as a face actor, playing Lady Tremaine, Cinderella's stepmother, that this rule came into play.

In a now-viral video viewed over 1.2 million times, Tremmel explained that while in character, actors are not allowed to speak languages other than English. In the video—which she captioned "Things I could have been fired for..."—she confessed that she would sometimes break this rule, having knowledge of both French and Spanish, to communicate with guests who were non-English speakers.

"I loved just going up to tables where people didn't speak English and surprising them with the fact that I spoke their language," she said in the video.

Tremmel said in a follow-up video that this rule was due to "character integrity" meaning it is important that every actor playing Lady Tremaine, for example, speaks similarly. If one actor speaks Spanish and the other does not—the consistency is lost.

She told Newsweek that while on the surface the rule makes sense, the rule is not consistent across parks worldwide. In fact, Tremmel said, performers are encouraged to be multilingual in parks like those in Hong Kong and Paris.

Disney World
In a now-viral video, a formal Disney World performer says she was told she was not allowed to speak any language other than English while in character. Walt Disney World Resort marked its 45th anniversary on October 1, 2016 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Jacqueline Nell/Disneyland Resort/Getty Images

If the rule is "going to be justified as character integrity," she told Newsweek, then there should be interpreters available to non-English speaking guests to ensure they are able to have the same experience as those who speak English. Or, she said, character performers should be able to go through the same language testing that is available to other non-costume-wearing Disney World staff in order to be approved as multilingual.

She said at the time of her employment at the park in the early 2010s it was made very clear to her during training that performers were not allowed to communicate in anything other than English. Now, though, she said some characters are approved to be bilingual such as Princess Elena, a relatively new addition to the Disney Princess family. Tremmel said when the park was initially casting for this role, it was a requirement that the actor spoke Spanish.

Newsweek reached out to Walt Disney World for comment.

One commenter addressed that Lady Tremaine could have spoken french given that the story of Cinderella takes place in France.

Disney World Character
Jessica Tremmel dressed as Lady Tremaine during her time working as a performer at Disney World in the early 2010s. Tremmel explained in her viral TikTok that she would sometimes break the park's "English only" rule when interacting with guests. Courtesy of Jessica Tremmel

"[T]he Cinderella story takes place in France so it would only make sense for those characters to at least understand French," she said responding to the comment. "That being said it's very hard to cast actors in the U.S. who speak French."

While she was never caught breaking this rule while working at Disney, Tremmel said she does know other performers who have been caught, particularly those who use American Sign Language (ASL.) This can happen, she said, either because someone reports it or if a video goes viral of the performer having the interaction with a guest.

"[W]hich is another reason why I am very verbal about not filming characters for viral videos," Tremmel told Newsweek.

She said that a large reason for sharing her story online is to "give a voice to the voiceless"—the real people playing the characters. Tremmel told Newsweek that working at Disney World was some of the "hardest" and "most traumatic" work of her career.

"[Performers] are often treated like they are cartoon characters rather than real people," Tremmel said.