Billy Eichner might have been “freaking out” when he met Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at the recent premiere for Disney’s adaptation of The Lion King. But he was well prepared because he already has had plenty of experience being overwhelmed since he was asked to join the film.
When the recent Emmy nominee first got the call to voice the sharp-witted meerkat Timon in director Jon Favreau’s remake, he reacted first with confusion, then shock.
“I didn’t even know they were considering me for the role,” the Billy on the Street star said during a recent promotional visit to Toronto. “I was just overwhelmed and thrilled. I grew up with the film and I grew up loving Nathan Lane, who did the original voice of Timon, so it’s an honour. It’s exciting… It looks so real. It’s bizarre.”
Favreau’s Lion King marries cutting-edge digital technology with the storyline of young lion Simba (voiced by Donald Glover), who is sent into exile after he’s betrayed by his murderous uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Left on his own, he befriends Timon and Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) before eventually coming home to reclaim his rightful throne.
Beyonce voices Nala, Simba’s love interest, and James Earl Jones returns as his wise father Mufasa.
On a brief stopover, Eicher spoke about putting his own stamp on Timon and reflected on Lion King’s enduring popularity.
Nathan Lane’s Timon is one of the great iconic Disney characters. How did you want to do something different?
I just kept thinking that Jon Favreau cast me for a reason. There is some overlap between Nathan Lane’s comedic sensibilities and my own, so I tried to put the original out of my mind and go in there and have fun. You can’t go in and think about the original. We have to bring our own certain something to it. Luckily I knew Seth Rogen a little bit, we’re a comedic duo in this, and we discovered our own chemistry as we went. I grew up singing a lot. I love musical theatre. So I liked making Timon a singer and leaning into that part of it as well. I think what we’ve done is give people a fresh look at it with nods to certain elements of the original that they love.
Visually this looks like nothing we’ve seen before. How did you react when you first saw it?
The visuals are completely different. This is utilizing new forms of technology that barely existed just a few years ago. There’s virtual reality involved. I don’t even understand it myself, I just know that it looks spectacular and like nothing I’ve seen before. I think people are going to be pretty blown away. The designers have done really brilliant work.
The original came out in 1994. Why do you think Lion King has endured the way it has?
I think a lot of it is the music. The score is pretty incredible and these Elton John-Tim Rice songs became standards, really. Can You Feel the Love Tonight … Hakuna Matata is iconic. It’s as if it’s a classic that’s always existed. On top of that, the story itself is really timeless. It’s ultimately a story about parents and children and moving on from your parents and… the circle of life, as they say.
Disney’s The Lion King is now in theatres