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Interview: The Lion King Cast Roars!

Donald Glover, Shahadi Wright Joseph, JD McCrary play Simba, Young Simba and Young Nala.

Jul 15, 2019

By: Lynn Barker

The new The Lion King film is a combo of motion capture, CGI and Virtual Reality. There are no “real” animals in the movie although all of them look very lifelike. Director Jon Favreau (The Jungle Book), picked actors who could really sing as well as voice the characters.  

The Lion King Trailer


You might know Donald Glover (Simba) from playing young Lando Calrissian in Solo: A Star Wars Story. As “Childish Gambino”, he has won Grammys. JD McCrary (Young Simba) from Tyler Perry’s “The Paynes”, is the youngest artist ever to sign with Hollywood Records and Shahadi Wright Joseph (Young Nala) played her part in the Broadway “Lion King” production. She hopes to inspire young girls to take chances and embrace their greatness. She also recently played Lupita Nyong’o’s teen daughter in the popular movie thriller Us.

Voice Cast (Donald up front, JD and Shahadi on left)Voice Cast (Donald up front, JD and Shahadi on left)Courtesy of Disney

Storywise, in case you don’t remember the animated version of The Lion King film, Simba is the inheritor of the animal throne in the African pridelands when his dad Mufasa dies. His uncle Scar wants the throne and does whatever he can to get rid of Simba. When a cub, Simba couldn’t wait to be king but discovers he has a lot to learn first. Bold playmate and pal Nala is always backing him up. When she and Simba are adults, they fall in love.

Young Simba and Nala enter scary badlandsYoung Simba and Nala enter scary badlandsCourtesy of Disney

Q: Donald, I heard you say that this version of the film was different. How?

  • Donald Glover: I guess Jon was really good about the Circle of Life being a major hand in it. I feel that it’s really good to make believe that our global and metropolitan citizens of the world talk about how connected we are because it’s the first time we’ve really been able to talk to everybody at the same time. It’s a necessary thing. Jon kind of did that in The Jungle Book too where the story is the same but the idea that humans’ tricks are their power but they can help everybody.  I think the same thing happens in this in such a great way. My son saw it last night and was freaking out. Jon did an amazing job.

Adult SimbaAdult SimbaCourtesy of Disney

Q: Did you tell him that daddy is Simba?

  • Donald: I didn’t tell him anything. It’s his favorite movie. Somehow he found out about it but still didn’t know I was in it. He was like ‘Oh, the one with Beyoncé’. (Laughter) then in the middle of the movie ‘Oh, dad’s in it too. This is great. Bonus’.

Donald Glover with adult SimbaDonald with adult SimbaCourtesy of Disney

Q: What is the story trying to tell all of us?  

  • Donald: I feel very connected to Simba’s journey. The Lion King is a very human and honest story of what all of us go through. I think that the story is such a beautiful way of showing how permanence is not the point. The point is to be here and to be responsible for each other and love each other. Traumatic things will happen but the point is not to allow that to consume your entire life. You can grow and learn from that experience.

JD and Shahadi with Young Simba and NalaJD and Shahadi with Young Simba and NalaCourtesy of Disney

Q: Great advice! Shahadi, what is young Nala like?

  • Shahadi: She is super enthusiastic. She’s so smart and really, really selfless. I think that she just wants to share all of her amazing qualities with the rest of the world. I definitely love that about her. She’s so inspirational.

Young Simba and Nala meet ZazuYoung Simba and Nala meet ZazuCourtesy of Disney

Q: Director Jon Favreau created a Virtual Reality landscape for everyone to play around with. Did you all play in it?

  • JD: Yes! Awesome. It’s so cool. It’s like watching your favorite movie but you’re in it. You’re in the movie. That’s exactly what it was. He did an amazing job. Me and Shahadi and Mr. Favreau would put on the headsets. We had these little controller things on our heads, and we would just fly. We could fly. It’s like we were Zazu. We were birds. We were whatever we wanted to be. We saw everything. We saw the Pridelands. We saw Pride Rock. We saw the watering hole. We saw the elephant graveyard. Aww, man it was so cool.

Young Simba with ZazuYoung Simba with ZazuCourtesy of Disney

Q: Sounds like fun! Shahadi you played Young Nala in the stage play. You have every young black girl’s dream of being able to share a credit with Beyonce (voicing adult Nala). What was it like doing both versions; stage and film?

  • Shahadi: It was amazing doing both and such an honor doing the stage play on Broadway and also doing an all new “Lion King”. One thing where I really saw the difference was that on Broadway everything’s a little bit more structured. You have to just have to follow directions. In the new “Lion King” I loved the way Jon gave JD and I a bunch of freedom. We had a lot of freedom in the booth. He was like ‘You can (ad-lib) do whatever. Just make it fun’. I was awesome and I wasn’t used to that. It was amazing so I love that.

The Lion King Movie PosterCourtesy of Disney

See The Lion King in theaters July 19th

What’s Your Opinion?

Are you a fan of the animated Lion King film? Are you looking forward to this more “real”-looking movie? Who is your fave character? Let everyone know. Comment below and/or write all about it on the site!