Q&A with the Cast and Crew of The Lion King
Jon Favreau created a visual world of wonder when he brought to life the live-action adaptation of Disney’s The Jungle Book back in 2016. Now, three short years later, Favreau’s “live-action” remake of The Lion King is about to hit theaters this weekend and many are excited to see if lightning can strike twice.
In anticipation for The Lion King, I was invited to participate in the Global press conference for the film. At the press conference, Rotten Tomatoes’ Jacqueline Coley was joined by Donald Glover (voice of “Simba”), Seth Rogen (voice of “Pumbaa”), Billy Eichner (voice of “Timon”), Chiwetel Ejiofor (voice of “Scar”), Alfre Woodard (voice of “Sarabi”), Keegan-Michael Key (voice of “Kamari”), Florence Kasumba (voice of “Shenzi”), Eric Andre (voice of “Azizi”), John Kani (voice of “Rafiki”), JD McCrary (voice of “Young Simba”), Shahadi Wright Joseph (voice of “Young Nala”), Director Jon Favreau, Composer Hans Zimmer, and Lebo M (African Music Consultant / Performer) for a lively discussion about being part of this highly anticipated remake.
Jon Favreau on why he came back to do The Lion King after remaking The Jungle Book:
I’ve been working on both these movies back to back for about six years. And all the new technology that was available, I had finally learned how to use it by the end of Jungle Book. And at that point, with the team that we had assembled for it, all the artists because a lot of attention is paid to the technology. But really, these are handmade films. There are animators working on every shot, every environment that you see in the film other than actually, there’s one shot that’s a real photographic shot but everything else is built from scratch by artists. And we had a great team assembled. And then the idea of using what we learned on that and the new technologies that were available to make a story like Lion King with its great music, great characters, and a great story, it seemed like a wonderful, logical conclusion. And so that was something we set out to do.
Donald Glover on bringing his own take to the character of Simba:
Jon was really good about the circle of life having a major hand in the film. I really feel that it’s good to make movies that are global and metropolitan in the sense of like the citizens of the world. Like making sure that we talk about how connected we are right now because it’s the first time we’ve really been able to talk to everybody at the same time so it was just like a necessary thing. I felt like he was really good about talking about that and was very upfront at the beginning of it. And he’s like, this is what I want because he kind of did it in the Jungle Book, too. Where the Jungle Book story is the same but the idea that the humans and their tricks are their power, and they can help everybody. Switching that and making the story the same, I think the same thing happens in this in such a great way. Like my son saw it last night and was like freaking out. Jon did an amazing job.
Chiwetel Ejiofor on this version of Scar:
I’m a huge fan of what was done before obviously like everybody else. Jeremy Irons and just sort of really going back in and exploring that character again from a slightly different perspective and seeing what was there. And it’s such an incredible part to play. And so complex and all of that. And having empathy, not sympathy, but empathizing with the character and trying to understand them and trying to get underneath that. And such a rich, villainous character to play. So a wonderful experience for me.
Lebo B on coming bck to the Lion King and working with Hans Zimmer again:
It’s very hard to say that I came back because I’ve never left. And the greatest gift is to be able to re-enter a journey that’s been in your life for 25 years and be able to be part of something that I initially thought was a setup that Hans won’t talk about. I first met this man. We did a project called Power Of One. This is like a family reunion for me. My eldest here, Dr. John Kani, and I saw my sister Alfre. When this movie came out, we were busy trying to shut down the South African embassy in Beverly Hills. I was one of the rebels with Artists for a New South Africa with Afre. And this movie came out after we did another movie called Power Of One and then transition between the old South African and new was literally in progress. And everything that Hans says is actually true. That we were now recording this thing, there was unrest and all kinds of things happening in South Africa. So when Hans and them called me for this, I came in and this is the first time since I left exile in South Africa at age 16, I came in, there are nine white people. And he’s one of them. Because of Power Of One and everything else, I thought I was going to be arrested. But it turns out I’m sitting in a room and we talk as we have worked with Hans and the energy and the brotherhood here is beyond normal. We did this movie Power Of One which then set the tone for how I only just rely on, I look at Hans and he tells me a little bit about the movie. And I’m always bringing a couple of singers because I know when I get a call about something that’s creative that I’m going to do with Hans, we have a way of working. Then I see this and little drawings and I’ll go into it and prepare to leave. And I’ll go back because something is missing. We created. [SINGING BRIEFLY]. Because I’m just looking at this. Then I keep seeing this image of Mufasa coming out. And just as I was about to leave, I turned back. I said let me do one more thing. And I went [SINGING BRIEFLY] Nants ingonyama. And that was it. It was a demo. Then I went to South Africa to be part of the new democracy. And came back. And we tried a couple of times to redo that. It just never wanted to be redone. What you hear is actually one take. There’s been one take 25 years later. And how blessed can one be that in the movie last night, I’m sitting and watching this thing. That one take that we did because it was so natural, now it’s going to outlive previous 25 years. It’s unbelievable.
John Kani on reprising the role of Rafiki
Thank you. Well, I first thought when Jon said about to play Rafiki. And I thought to myself, it happens in Africa. It’s somewhere along the trek of the wildebeest millions moving from Kenya to Serengeti to Kruger National Park to [PH] Zodongwa and then down in the cay [INDISCERNIBLE]. Therefore, it is an African story. And he was generous enough to allow me to be an African primate called Rafiki. And the wonderful thing about it is that we are almost the same age. We are both over 75. So we both lived. We both walked through that forest. We both created those footpaths and intertwines with the little rabbits and the animals go through. And we’ve seen experience live. But watching it last night, I kept praying, please God, not another Scar in Africa. We’ve gone through terrible times. Let other people have Scar. Not us now. It’s enough for us. So that for me was the kind of resonance and relevance in everything I do. I always try to find myself in what I do. And I felt last night like a kid for a very long time ago, to see then just be taken by the story and look at these animals. And I’m very grateful to you Jon, it doesn’t look like me. [LAUGHS]. But he is like me which is fantastic. And it’s a story that I’m looking forward to our premiere in Johannesburg where it will be full of all African people who are looking for something that is about them. We are sort of not at the level of entertainment that the western world is. Everything we see in the play, on the screen, we read, we take seriously. We take that it speaks to me. And so wonderful to see how the Johannesburg South African audiences will say what does it say to me? What does it make me feel? Why am I celebrating it? Is it humanity? Is it us? Is it our dignity? Is it our future? And is it what we want to tell our children? Because we’re only 25 years in our democracy. I went to the American embassy in South Africa and understood you guys were celebrating 243 years of democracy and they ain’t got it right yet.
The Lion King opens in theaters everywhere on Friday, July 19, 2019