Meet The Voices Behind Young Simba and Nala in The Lion King

What would you get if you packed talent, brains, personality, and a little bit of spunk into two young actors?  You'd get JD McCrary and Shahadi Wright Joseph of course!  These two are rising stars and are the voices behind Young Simba and Young Nala in Disney's The Lion King opening everywhere July 19th.  I recently had an opportunity to sit down with these two when their press trip brought them to Washington, D.C. for an interview to get to know them better.  It's probably wrong to actually call this a true interview though.  I was joined by two other bloggers and the actors - that's it. It was an easy conversation in a suite at The Ritz-Carlton in Washington, D.C. instead of the feel of a big media event.  Because of this atmosphere, we had a nice chat with the two young stars about making The Lion King, what it's like to be a star on the rise in the music and movie world, and what's next for them!  So let's check it out!

On Making The Lion King - Several of the questions we asked JD and Shahadi were about their experience making the film.  Both of them talked about the influence the 1994 animated classic had on their performance.  Like most everyone else, they've grown up watching the animated version of The Lion King and certainly thought back on it as they dove into their roles.  Shahadi shared that they wanted to stay "as authentic as possible while adding our own personalities to it."  JD agreed and described the opportunity to play Simba as a "dream come true."  When asked about their favorite scenes to record, Shahadi shared that her favorite was "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" as she has been "loving that song for a long time," while JD enjoyed recording the stampede scene.  Sharing a bit of the emotions that can take over when creating movies, JD told us that he really cried when recording that particular heartbreaking scene.  Along the same lines, each of the actors found ways that they connected with their characters.  JD talked about really looking up to his dad, just like Simba does with Mufasa, and also being brave adding "I used to get scared of stuff a lot easier than I do now."  On the other side of the table, Shahadi felt that she can relate to Nala's spunk, wit, and confidence.  I then posed a question about the new technology that Director Jon Favreau used in this film.  To create the world of The Lion King with a "live action" feel, Favreau used virtual reality to allow actors to actually be transported to Pride Rock, the Elephant Graveyard and throughout Africa. On using the new VR headsets, JD shared, "We put it on, we had these controllers in our hands, and just looked around.  You can see Pride Rock, the savannah, the watering hole.  We saw the elephant graveyard and everything was so real. It was crazy."  Helping to add to the realistic feel, Favreau had young Simba and Nala work with some of the other actors in the film as well when recording.  The two young stars had a chance to record with the hyenas, Seth Rogen (Pumbaa), and Billy Eichner (Timon).  The hyenas were apparently as scary to record with as they come across in the film!

JD McCrary and Shahadi Wright Joseph voice Simba
and Nala in Disney's The Lion King. Photo from
Walt Disney Studios.
What Their Lives Are Like Now - Both young stars are incredibly down-to-earth and humble, especially given the fact that their careers are literally exploding right now.  As musicians and actors these two keep themselves busy.  When we talked about balancing the entertainment industry with being a kid, both JD and Shahadi made it all sound easy!  Shahadi continues to attend regular school in New York and finds time to hang out with her friends when she's not working.  Likewise, JD enjoys playing video games just like many other 12 year old kids and is homeschooled in Los Angeles.  Both also talked about getting some rest and relaxation following this whirlwind press tour that ends shortly after the release of the film.  Shahadi couldn't hold back a smile when she talked about ending the press tour just a short subway ride away from home and looking forward to a family cruise later this summer.  My daily work with middle school students lead me to ask this 12 and 14 year old what advice they would have for kids their age about pursuing their dreams.  Shahadi, showing a maturity well beyond her years, began "I think that you should find something that you are really passionate about and just keep striving for it, keep working for it."  JD then added "The people that kept going for it and never gave up, always made it to where they wanted to go."

What's Next For Shahadi and JD? - Speaking of following their dreams, these two are certainly doing that! Shahadi has already starred on Broadway, coincidentally playing the role of Young Nala, and on screen.   Now, she's tackling the music world and was excited to share that she just released a new single, "Skin I'm In" that was debuted by Billboard just a few days before our interview.  JD has been busy making waves in the music industry himself, as the youngest male solo artist ever signed to Hollywood Records.  He released an EP, "Shine" that features 4 songs and was also beaming as he talked about his singles "Keep in Touch" and "My Name." One thing is certain - we are only beginning to hear from these bright young stars!

These two certainly shine on the big screen as Simba and Nala and I'm sure you'll join me in falling in love with them when The Lion King opens in theaters on July 19.  In the meantime, don't miss my thoughts on this film.  You can also download a FREE family activity packet courtesy of Walt Disney Studios.  You can follow all of The Lion King fun on social media below! Hakuna Matata!

Hashtag:  #TheLionKing


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