Jon Favreau and Cast on Re-Imagining the Lion King

Jon Favreau and Cast on Re-Imagining The Lion King

Can’t wait to see The Lion King? Read what the film’s director and the ensemble had to say about being a part of the photo real cinematic remake of the Disney animated classic. Recently the film’s cast and creative talked about being a part of the film at the LA press day!

Director Jon Favreau on why The Lion King was the best choice to expand upon the technology he used in The Jungle Book:

Jon Favreau: 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. 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.

Chiwetel Ejiofor on the inspirations behind his performance of the Lion King’s throne usurper Scar, tackling it from an empathetic view of a tragic villain: 

Chiwetel Ejiofor: It was just really interesting to go into that psychology, to really sort of try and uncover that and to look at it. 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.

Timon and Pumbaa are an Iconic duo, Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen talked about how they created a new relationship for the ages, improv-ing together and if they came up with one of the most surprising Easter Eggs in a Disney movie (No Spoilers).

Seth Rogen: We were actually together every time that we recorded, which is a very rare gift to have as someone who is trying to be funny in an animated film, of which I’ve done a lot, and you’re often just alone in there. And I think you can really tell that we’re playing off of each other. It’s an incredibly naturalistic feeling. And they really captured Billy. That is what is amazing.

Billy Eichner:  Yeah. I wish I was as cute in real life as I am in the movie. The Timon they designed is so adorable. And I think the juxtaposition of my personality in that little Timon body really works. I had not seen the finished movie until last night and I was shocked by how much of the riffing actually ended up in the movie.

Jon Favreau:  There’s a gag that references another Disney property in there. And I drew inspiration. They do that in the stage show. They threw in the joke about Frozen in there. That must have happened after Frozen came on Broadway. And so we kind of tip the cap to another live-action adaptation of a Disney animated classic in the film.

Legendary actor John Kani on how the film pays respect to its African story roots, setting and culture:

John Kani: It is an African story. And he was generous enough to allow me to be an African primate called Rafiki. 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. 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 on the play on the screen, we read, we take serious. 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.

Florence Kasumba and Shahadi Wright Joseph talk going from playing Shenzi and Nala on the theater stage to crafting new takes on the characters for the feature film. 

Florence Kasumba: I was lucky that I got to play the part already in Germany for more than a year. And we played like eight shows a week. So when you tell me, who is Shenzi, it’s like muscle memory, because I got to play her every day. But this Shenzi is so different. I remember in the musical, we had sometimes shows where I was embarrassed because the hyenas are so dumb and funny. And they are entertaining. But this is so different, this experience. Because when I listen to the dialogue, when I read them, I realized that this is way more dangerous and more serious. I was lucky that my first day that I was in a black box and I was working with Andre, Eric Andre, and with JD. And we were very physical because the guys were so strong, it was easy for me to just be big. Because everybody is very confident, we could just really try out things. We could walk around each other. We could scare each other. We could scream, be loud, be big, be small. It’s like working in the theater, which I love. So having that freedom just made me, I was allowed to do whatever I wanted to.

Shahadi Wright Joseph:  It was amazing doing both. It was such an honor doing the stage play on Broadway and also doing it in the all-new Lion King. And one thing that I really saw the difference was was that on Broadway, everything is a little bit more structured. I feel like maybe Florence, you probably felt that as well. And you kind of just have to like follow direction, which is cool, too. But also, in the all-new Lion King, I loved how Jon gave JD and I just a bunch of freedom and especially Farrell and Hans, we also had a lot of freedom in the booth. He was like you can riff or do whatever. Just make it fun. And it was awesome. And I wasn’t used to that, but it was still amazing, so I loved that.

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