The Lion King Press Conference Recap: Unique Animation, Remaking a Classic, and More

On Wednesday afternoon, the cast and crew of Disney's The Lion King gathered in Los Angeles, [...]

(Photo: Brandon Davis/

On Wednesday afternoon, the cast and crew of Disney's The Lion King gathered in Los Angeles, California for a press conference centered around the upcoming film. Director Jon Favreau, along with stars Donald Glover, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Seth Rogen, JD McCrary, Shahadi Wright Joseph, John Kani, Hans Zimmer, Lebo M, Keegan-Michael Key, Florence Kasumba, Eric Andre, and Billy Eichner.

The press conference first opened with Lebo M and a choir performing "The Circle of Life."

"All the new technology that was available, I had finally learned how to use it by the end of The Jungle Book," Favreau said. "Every environment that you see in the film, other than one shot that's a real photographic shot, everything else is built from scratch by artists...This isn't one of those things where I've been toiling away alone, it's been a huge raft of artists."

What attracted Donald Glover to voicing Simba? "Jon was really good about the circle of life having a major hand in it," Glover said. "I really feel that it's good to make movies that are global and metropolitan in a sense of citizens of the world and making sure we talk about how connected we are right now. It's the first time we've really been able to talk to everybody at the same time...He was really good about talking about that very of front in the beginning." He took his son to the premiere on Tuesday night and didn't tell him anything. He knew Beyonce was in it but didn't know Glover was in it. "During the movie, he was like, 'Oh, dad's in it, too! This is great!'"

Scar is closer to the stage version. Was that the plan? "I thought that it's just really interesting to go into that psychology," Ejiofor said. "I' ma huge fan or what was done before, like everybody else. Jeremy Irons...It's such an incredible part to play and so complex and having empathy and not sympathy and empathizing with the character. Trying to understand that and get underneath that, such a rich character to play."

What excited Woodard about her role? It is called The Lion King but everybody knows the lionesses are the rulers, the protectors of the pride," Woodard said. "Jon was able to give us the space to be that."

Favreau created a VR system for the actors. "We started experimenting with [VR] at the end of Jungle Book," Favreau said. "WE essentially were writing code as we were going for a multiplayer VR filmmaking game. That was, we could bring in people who have a background in visual effects, we could design the backgrounds...the crew would be able to go in, scout, and set cameras within VR."

McCrary in particular enjoyed the VR system. "We could fly," he said. "We saw everything. We saw the Pridelands. WE saw Pride Rock. We saw the elephant graveyard...It was so cool!"

Favreau had the cameras in the VR space driven by a crew with dollies and cranes and a full film crew. "We kept the same film culture and planted into this VR realm," Favreau explained. "It's nice to look at technology as an invitation for things to progress and not always something that is going to change the things that came before."

How did Ejoifor approach Scar after Jeremy Irons was so memorable in the original animated film? "It's exciting to even get the opportunity to begin a journey like this and go into any of these characters," Ejoiofor said. The part of Scar is an extraordinary part to play. You approach it the same way you approach any other part, in a way...So, in a way, as much as I personally, absolutely, with everybody else love the original, you kind of make it your own."

How did Zimmer land on the sound and nuance for the score? "We ended up dragging an orchestra and a choir out to Coachella and doing Lion King live. There was an energy about the performance that moved Jon and really honestly it moved me to. It was really amazing seeing musicians playing it as a piece of music as opposed to being specific about a film cue. So, I said to Jon, why don't we do it like this?" They got an orchestra in Los Angeles. "We invited all the filmmakers that never get to go to the scoring sessions, got them into the room, sat them in front of the orchestra," Zimmer explained. "We just went for it." He wanted to make a Disney movie with a voice from Africa in the back, which he attributes to Lebo M. "Everything shifted over to this continent with this voice. I would invite you on this journey. Come along and feel this other continent and don't ever forget this other continent."

Kani was immediately attracted to the role because of its representation of Africa. "I always try to find myself within what I do. I felt last night like a kid from a very long time ago to sit there and just be taken by the story. I'm very grateful to you, Jon, he doesn't look like me but [Rafiki] is like me!...We are not at the level of entertainment that the western world is. Everything that we see on the play, on the screen, we take seriously...We say, 'What does it say to me? What does it make me feel? Why are we celebrating it?'"

Lebo M is asked about returning to the music. "It's very hard for me to say I came back," he says. "I never left. The greatest gift is to be able to re-enter a journey that has been in your life for 25 years and eb able to be part of something that I initially thought was a setup that Hans won't talk about!...This is like a family reunion for me...When this movie came out, we were busy trying to shut down the South African embassy in Beverly Hills...The transition between the old South Africa and new South Africa was in progress..." The film helped him through the enntire process which he was very involved in. When he watched the original film's edit, he decided to add one thing, which is the first sound heard in the opening of the film. They tried to recapture it but ended up using the first take in both the original film and in this film.

Kasumba came from the stage play and played a very different version of Shenzi. "I was lucky that my first day that I was in a black box and I was working with Eric Andre and JD," Kasumba said. "Because everybody was so confident, we could walk around each other, we could scare each other."

McCrary interjected that Kasumba was actually a bit scary inn her intensity, prompting quite a life.