The Lion King has taken many forms through the years. It launched as an instant-classic animated film in 1994 before going on to spawn a hit soundtrack which would see several remixes through the years. It became a stage play, performed in theaters around the world. Now, it is becoming a photo-realistic animated remake with a star-studded cast. Among that cast is Black Panther and Wonder Woman star Florence Kasumba, whose history with The Lion King runs much deeper than the upcoming remake.
Kasumba, who voices hyena leader Shenzi in 2019's The Lion King, can still recall her original experience of watching The Lion King. "The older version was already amazing because I remember, I was very entertained," Kasumba said. "I liked the songs. I thought it was very colorful. But I was at a different time of my life. I was in my early 20's and my vision was I want to become a performer so a lot of things that I love in the new version, they were already there back then but I just didn't get it. I'm talking about the life advice."
Kasuma took some of that life advice and applied it to her own career. After loving the original film, she went on to become the performer she had been dreaming of and landed a role in the German stage play of The Lion King. She
"I remember in '99, I think, I saw the movie or I saw the show in London and I was so impressed by it and I think that's when I already prepped myself for the show," Kasumba recalled. "So when I then, later, did audition, because I wanted to know, 'Okay, who are the hyenas?' and they were funny, they were stupid, and that's something I wanted to do because I think it's great to work in a team and I loved working on stage."
Getting a part in The Lion King on stage was not the only challenge for actress. "The show was really hard, physically, if you're on the the hyenas because the costume is very heavy but when it comes to the physical part, I loved playing big," she explains. "You work with a puppet when you do The Lion King. I loved getting extra legs because they have four legs and we are on two legs so I had to learn to walk like an animal and to behave like one and that was fun."
As it turns out, performing for the remake under the direction of Jon Favreau offered Kasumba an opportunity to play the part in a similar fashion. The film built a room often referred to by its stars as the "black box" in which they could move and get themselves into their character as a means too deliver their lines with appropriate intensity. "Everything helps because when I'm on stage, a lot of things I have to imagine because the audience in front of me," Kasumba explained. "But, they still need to be able to read in my face what I'm seeing. When we started working on The Lion King, I was working in the black box, meaning I was working in a black room, surrounded by cameras and I was able to move around and act with my colleagues like how I would act on stage so I prefer working like that because I can be big and I can just move around."
Kasumba's journey is undoubtedly an impressive one. The actress set her mind to something and has now achieved it on the biggest stage possible as Disney gears up to release The Lion King in theaters this weekend. Next up, she may have more Black Panther, but Kasumba is ready for whatever awaits.
"I can't say anything because I don't know anything which is good but, like, what I love about all these projects, you know, they are so big and you can only start speaking about something," Kasumba said of a potential future with Marvel. "When it's really like, 'Okay, we're going to tell you what you should know,' and sometimes, I think, everyone, we all need to learn to have more patience, you know? We can of course, say, 'Oh my gosh, I want to watch the next movie,' but why don't you just sit back and understand what just happened and just digest it, you know?"
The Lion King hits theaters on July 18.