CS interview: Alfre Woodard, JD McCrary on playing mother and cub in Lion King
At the Los Angeles press day for Jon Favreau’s The Lion King, we sat down with Alfre Woodard (Sarabi) and JD McCrary (Young Simba) to chat about the making of the film, what it’s like to see the photoreal takes on the characters come to life as they recorded their lines and making music for the film.
Alfre, Jon Favreau’s aim with this Lion King was to be true to the nature of the animals. Did seeing how the lions were going to look and reflect that change your approach to playing Sarabi?
Alfre Woodard: It informed it. I started off when there were sketches and looking at a sketch at how would be positioned. It gave me a place to find how I would put my body and imagine myself being a feline. What that feels like and what it is. And as they started to computer generate it, much more layers were added in. It was so cool that’s why I love doing this work.
What I really liked about the film is that the lionesses are more powerful in this, the lead the pack which is true to nature. It added stakes with Sarabi’s resistance to Scar.
Alfre Woodard: They are the leaders of the Pride, yes. It’s worth it finding out the specifics of a particular character so that you bring a particular authenticity to it. Just saying that a Lioness of all animals needs a King. It’s like, “I had a King, it’s like I had a King and that King was my partner. He was not my King. He had a role to play and I had a much bigger load to carry as the lioness.
Women lead by moving everybody forward. You can tell a female leader in the group because she’s checking on everybody and she understands that the pride, the team. You’re only as strong as the weakest person you have moving forward believing in themselves.
So when Scar assumes Sarabi will be his Queen, she says she will never be his Queen. It’s like it’s an impossibility. Even when young Nala, a girl might wild out and have fun but was also able to pull back and take a turn like in the Elephant Graveyard. We got peripheral vision and we also understand consequence. It’s cause and effect. She’s the one who says, ‘Okay we had fun, let’s go back home’ to Simba who gets in trouble.
The original animated film is such a classic, was there anything from your experience as a moviegoer having seen that film that you wanted to honor in your performance?
Alfre Woodard: As an actor what you always want to do, is always be absolutely honest in everything you do. every moment, every word. They got hundreds of things of us going through lines. We go in say lines and magic happens. in everything they got there, I wanted to make all the notes as varied as possible so Jon could make the music to score the story he wants to tell. I didn’t think of anything other than what I would if I was playing. You make sure every take you do is absolutely honest. Just finding the pure note of that character’s voice. I didn’t know it felt so cinematic till we saw it for the first time.
JD, what was it like to go from growing up on the Lion King to being in the Lion King as Young Simba?
JD McCrary: It was special to me because it was a bonding time with my parents which was dope. Loved those times, best times ever. Watching it is completely different than going in and being in it and knowing the process. Doing both of those things in the span of two years is awesome.
What was it like in the room getting to record “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” with Jon, Pharrell and Hans Zimmer?
JD McCrary: Working on the music was cool. It was so cool! Working with them was the dopest thing ever. Just thinking of it was awesome being there, being with Mr. Williams–Pharrell. I call him by his last name. Being with him was super cool. He’s one of the best songwriters and makes a bunch of hits. I would love to work with him again would be nice. Just being with him and meeting him was dope. Recording iconic songs with Hans Zimmer was the best.
Did you get to record dialogue with your fellow cast members like Shahadi Wright Joseph?
JD McCrary: I recorded with her, everyone in my scenes except James Earl Jones. He wasn’t there. He’s James Earl Jones he doesn’t need to be there. He can do what he wants. He can fly to Africa and live there for 20 years and no one would say anything about it. I did get to hear his lines playing from the speakers in the room hearing the bass of his voice all around me was like “WHOA!”
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