Why this Lion King star felt no pressure to imitate the Disney original

Alicia Vrajlal
Entertainment Editor
The star-studded cast of The Lion King. Photo: Disney

As Hollywood is abuzz ahead of the release of The Lion King remake, there’s a lot at stake for the cast and crew who have the 1994 original to live up to.

But this is of little concern to actress Florence Kasumba, who follows in Whoopi Goldberg’s footsteps as the voice of fierce hyena, Chenzi.

“I didn’t feel that [pressure] at all,” the 42-year-old tells Yahoo Lifestyle Australia.

“When I started working on this project in 2017, I felt very welcomed. I felt that I was supposed to play this, that I was chosen to play [Chenzi].

“The people trusted me, so of course you get insecure because you think, ‘Ok we’ve never worked with each other, how is the work going to be’, but because John [Favreau] is so warm and my colleagues were very supportive, I felt immediately comfortable.

“I would’ve been distracted if I’d thought, ‘Oh Whoopi Goldberg played Chenzi, she’s an amazing actress, how am I going to do it’, because I think the point was that I just play a different version. [It’s] how I interpret her.”

Florence Kasumba voices hyena, Chenzi in 2019's The Lion King film. Photo: Getty

The Black Panther actress had experience with the Disney classic before signing up for the star-studded movie that also features Beyonce, Donald Glover and Seth Rogen.

She played Chenzi in the German stage production of The Lion King in 2007 and 2008, but promises viewers will be in for a fresh treat with this 2019 cinematic version.

“There are changes,” she explains. “The way the hyenas are now in the new version, that’s very, very different and I took that out of the dialogue.

“People have to take them serious, that’s different to the old version. It was a challenge but it was also something that was interesting to play because then it didn’t become boring as I’d done it before.”

While Disney lovers will remember the heartfelt bond of Mufasa and Simba in the classic cartoon 25 years ago, director John Favreau and his team pursued a ‘real-life’ viewer experience in the live-action remake, using CGI and virtual reality technology.

Director John Favreau and his team pursued a ‘real-life’ viewer experience in the live-action remake, using CGI and virtual reality technology. Photo: Disney

Even Florence admits how ‘scary’ the lions and hyenas look in the new flick, thanks to their immense similarities to the real-life creatures.

“There’s a new technique... with the animals, you feel like you have the real animals there. You feel like you’re in their real surroundings,” she says.

With the new cast, filming techniques and some small changes to the music, it’s now just a matter of seeing if the remake pays off and is a truly roaring success at the box office.

The Lion King releases in Australian cinemas on July 17.

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