The Lion King Cast Describe Working in Virtual Reality World

The live-action remake of The Lion King finally hit theaters this week, which means much of the cast have been promoting the latest Disney flick.’s Brandon Davis had the opportunity to meet up with some of the cast during the film’s press junket and ask what it was like to work in the world of virtual reality. Florence Kasumba (Shenzi), Keegan-Michael Key (Kamari), Billy Eichner (Timon), and John Kani (Rafiki) all shared their thoughts on working in the computer-generated medium.

“We did the VR thing. I have some really embarrassing photos of myself in a VR helmet, but we didn't record in that way. That was just sort of something to give us an idea of how the movie was going to look overall,” Eichner explained.

“It's daunting, and it's a bit frightening 'cause we know we've got the experience,” Kani shared. “We know we created good work. We are Oscar Award winners, Tony Award winners. But the problem? All of those things only prepare you just to get past casting. Once the room is empty, and on the other side is the director, you’re just like virgin. You're a little kid who wants to learn, who wants to understand, who knows the value of listening, and hearing, and interpreting. And Jon [Favreau] is so good just in staying with you, and treating you like you've never been on Hollywood before like simply a storyteller. And when it works, when it doesn't respect who you are or treat you as a diva or somebody with all these awards, but simply an artist that helps him to tell the story he wants to tell, and the reason why he wanted you to play Rafiki is very important and critical to me. Why did he choose me? What does he want from me? Why does he think I can do it? By the way, if he thinks I can do it therefor I can do it, which then releases the creative energy in you. And you even have the kind of bravery to suggest, ‘What do you think? How do you feel about that?’ And he says, ‘Yes. Yes. Yes.’ And in the end, when I sat last night, as I said, I looked at that and I thought, ’80% of the things I suggested he did.’”

“Jon's really adept at being ... He's very versatile,” Key added. “Jon's very versatile and is very adept at being an actor's director. So even though I'm aware of the fact that he's dealing with all the technical stuff, he comes into a recording session with a type of exuberant nurturance. He really wants you to feel what you're feeling, but he keeps you on a thread though, which is good. He goes, "I need A from you, and I need G from you. You can do anything you want with B, C, D, E, and F, but just get me to G. I trust you."

“Well, everything helps because, again, when I'm on stage, a lot of things I have to imagine because I have this, 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. It's different than when you just do a normal synchronization job where you're just standing behind the microphone and you can't move around because you need to look into the direction of the mic in order to get your voice. So, with this one, I had different experiences. I would work with my colleagues. Sometimes I would only work with one colleague or I would have been ... or I was alone in the studio.”


In addition to the above cast, the new version of The Lion King stars Donald Glover, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Seth Rogen, John Oliver, Eric Andre, Alfre Woodard, and James Earl Jones.

The Lion King is now playing in theaters everywhere.