The Lion King has been a household name since 1994, and now the Disney classic has been reimagined with stunning CGI technology in a live-action remake. Boston Common Magazine had a chance to sit down with the young stars of the summer’s biggest blockbuster as JD McCrary and Shahadi Wright Joseph discussed taking on the iconic roles of Young Simba and Young Nala during a recent press tour stop in Boston.
Although these up-and-coming actors weren't even born when the original film came out, they still know and love the animated version. Joseph even played Young Nala before on Broadway a few years back, however, she wanted to bring something new to the character for the film.
“I grew up watching The Lion King like 100 times,” she told reporters during a roundtable discussion. “I think that I wanted to make the characters just a little bit different so that we can differentiate between the original Lion King and the new one.”
They had some big shoes (or paws) to fill playing the younger versions of characters portrayed by Beyoncé and Donald Glover. Unfortunately, they didn’t work with the superstars during the filming process, in fact, they weren’t even told who was playing their older versions until much later. McCrary actually got the news while performing with Glover. Joseph, on the other hand, didn’t get to meet Queen B until the premiere.
“It was awesome meeting Beyoncé at the premiere," says Joseph. "She’s just so sweet and she inspires me all the time."
“And I met Beyoncé before she met Beyoncé,” McCrary jokes. “Imet her first.”
McCrary and Joseph have been working on the film since 2017, so it was rewarding for them finally get to see the final product and audiences’ reactions. It was, however, a little jarring when they first saw themselves as lions on the big screen.
“It was kind of weird at first to hear my voice coming out of a lion that looks like an actual lion,” Joseph told Boston Common Magazine. “It was kind of crazy. I was a little bit shocked.”
“I didn’t think it was odd, I thought it was cool because that’s me, I’m on the screen,” McCrary adds. “That huge audience just reacting to everything I said, that was cool.”
While The Lion King is poised for a big box office return, the young stars don’t seem to be worried about numbers since they know fans will love it.
“I know everyone’s gonna love it,” says McCrary. “Because everyone loves The Lion King, I’m not gonna lie.”