At the world premiere of “The Lion King,” Donald Glover talks about voicing Simba and his duet with Beyonce of a new version of Oscar-winning song “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.” (July 10)
LOS ANGELES – It may seem odd to find common ground with an animated lion.
But for Donald Glover, his connection to Simba runs deep.
The actor, also known as musician Childish Gambino, is sitting with director Jon Favreau (“The Jungle Book,” “Iron Man,” “Chef”) on a sunny day, reminiscing about the journey of re-creating “The Lion King,” which hits theaters Friday. The remake boasts the voices of Glover as Simba, Beyoncé as Nala, Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa, and James Earl Jones returning as King Mufasa.
Late last year, Glover, 35, was technically done with “The Lion King”: His vocals for Simba were recorded. The first trailer was about to come out.
And then life took a turn.
“I lost my father,” Glover says. “The trailer came out the day my father passed. And I called (Jon) and I was like, ‘Can I come back and redo some of the (lines)?’ I had to because I was like, I understand this in such a different way.”
Glover found a new kinship with Simba, who grapples with who he is after Mufasa is killed by a stampede: “I went through the exact thing: When somebody’s like, ‘You know your father’s always with you, you know that, right?’ And you don’t want to hear that.”
And then one day, Glover caught a glimpse of himself holding one of his young sons in his arms.
There it was. The circle of life.
“You’re walking past the mirror and you’re like, I’m him. I look just like (him) – the way I’m even doing this,” Glover says, mimicking carrying his child. The moment “wasn’t lost on me.”
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So Glover asked to return to the recording booth, to give a renewed emotional depth to Simba.
“It was important to me,” he says.
Such moments are part of what ingrain Disney movies in us, says Favreau, noting that the family-friendly films are often a child’s first lesson in how to navigate life’s bigger turns: love, death and personal ethics.
“Storytelling is wonderful for people our age but, really, storytelling is to pass on lessons to the next generation,” the director says.
The two men first met when Glover’s public profile was lower. It was prior to Glover earning raves in the Star Wars franchise as Lando Calrissian, before his FX show “Atlanta” started collecting Emmys, before he released his arresting music video for “This is America” and, more personally, before he welcomed two sons with his partner, Michelle White.
In the years it took “The Lion King” to make it to the screen with all its dazzling, hyper-realistic computer-generated animals, Glover “grew just like Simba grew,” says Favreau, recalling how the laidback star would drop by in his off-hours and play ping-pong with animators.
Though Glover tends to shield his personal life, he brought his eldest to “The Lion King” premiere, and the pair just happened to sit in front of Beyoncé and 7-year-old Blue Ivy Carter – the latter of whom knew exactly what was up with Mufasa’s scheming brother, Scar.
“It was funny because when Scar’s talking to Simba in the gorge, Blue Ivy was like, ‘He doesn’t mean that! Ugh, Scar’s so bad.’ My son literally (turned his head and) was like, ‘There’s another kid here? She really knows what she’s talking about,’” Glover chuckles. “So I would say my son looks up to Blue Ivy.”
Though Glover and Beyonce recorded their new version of Elton John’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” separately, “we’ve hung out more and talked more,” since making the film, the star says.
“I’ve seen her perform in Atlanta and then I’ve seen her backstage with a glass of red wine, just talking about art and schools and stuff like that,” he says. “She’s just a brilliant person and has helped me form a relationship with my audience in the way that I think she’s really figured out.”
Glover, a prolific figure who spans music, TV and film, made headlines last year announcing he was retiring his Childish Gambino alter ego. Ask him if music is really a done deal and he answers broadly, noting his commitment to creating thought-provoking art that affects culture.
“I’m at an age now where it’s not important to me to do everything,” he says. “I’m not going to be a great architect someday anymore, I’m not going to be a great chef, I’m not going to write a novel.
“I know culture,” he says, signaling interest in endeavors like “The Lion King” that pack a variety of cultural real estate, including a new Beyoncé compilation album, into one project. “And I’m going to make culture that’s going to affect people. So what do people need to be affected by right now? What’s going to change how they think and to make things better for us?”
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