Interview…’The Lion King’ Star Moira Kelly

For those of you who grew up loving and living Disney films in the 80s/90s The Lion King probably holds a special place in your memory. Then it should warm your heart that one of Disney’s most mammothly  successful hand drawn films is getting a theatrical re-release, only this time in 3D this Friday on September 16th. Following the brief run in theaters Disney will be releasing The Lion King Diamond Edition in 3D for the first time on Blu Ray a few weeks later on October 4th.

To help promote the upcoming release, Go,See,Talk got to speak with star Moira Kelly (who played the adult Nala) about her experience with such an impacting and well loved film. The following is a transcription of our interview earlier this week. A fan of Ms. Kelly’s work from not only the Lion King but also With Honors and The Cutting Edge (other films I love and grew up with) I was overjoyed to speak with her about her craft, her 3 Disney films and her career in film/TV and more. Enjoy!!

Good Morning Ms. Kelly, or should I call you Mrs. Hewitt?

Ms. Kelly, Mrs. Hewitt, either works. 

Forgive me if I fumble through this, I’ve been a big fan of yours growing up with “The Cutting Edge” and I loved you in “With Honors”. I’m kind of geeking out here.

*Laughs*

So what brought you to the Lion King and how early did you become involved?

Well my agent gave me a call and said they were auditioning girls for the role of Nala and they asked to see me. I went in a couple of times and read the lines and I think it came down to myself and someone else and after a few readings they finally gave my agent a call and said that they gave me the job. So it was your basic auditioning and waiting to find out and I believe the rest of the cast was set but there might have been one other character they hadn’t quite cast yet but I think I came toward the end.

With everything already in progress were you able to bring anything creatively to the script or were your lines set and locked?

For my character I think everything was basically set and locked. It wasn’t like Robin Williams doing the Genie you know where he’s just wonderful with ad-libs and I think with the character of Nala, she was very sensible, very nurturing and for them I think it was more the quality of voice that they were looking for; a sort of authoritative voice but with a lot of warmth. My children will definitly say I have the authoritative side *laughs* I don’t know about the warmth.

But basically it was set and locked. We played around a little bit but there wasn’t too much expected of me to kind of go outside the box.

As far as casting and reading the script, what was it like in the recording booth and how is being cast for this different from being cast for a live action film?

[In the booth], you’re by yourself which takes a little getting used to because usually when you’re on set you have your fellow actors to play off of. In this situation, if they had another actor already recorded they’d play their lines back for you or you would read opposite one of the directors or someone else. But it took a couple of days to kind of get used to the idea that it was just going to be me in the booth and then I loved it. You had a lot of freedom to just take your time with it. You didn’t have to worry about going through hair and make-up, which I love hair and make-up but I can’t sit still for very long for hair and make-up, so it was kind of nice I didn’t have to do that and you could jut go in your day clothes.

 It was just a lovely experience and every time you went it they had the film animated a little further along so you got to see more and more of it coming together which was nice. I remember seeing the “Circle of Life” for the first time. It was a black and white sketch and they had the song already for it. They played it for me and I remember just bursting into tears in the booth, I thought, how moving and it wasn’t even colored or completed yet but I got a sense it was just going to be wonderful. But acting in the booth or on set are night and day experiences but you still have to perform so you have to be sure to keep your energy level up and you rely basically on yourself for that because like I said you don’t have your fellow actors to kick your energy up if you need it but it’s a great experience.

Did you generally get your lines on the first couple takes or does it take a while to really nail the character all by yourself and in the booth?

It takes a few takes to warm up and its so nice that they let you play around with and try it all different ways. Its not, at least for me, a very long process again because Nala is this very straight character. It’s not like I had to do some animated voice for it or come up with an accent or anything so especially in those scenes where you have to have the excitement in your voice and build up to that. But they let me try it a few different ways and let me know “that sounded good, now give us a bit more of a whisper” or “a little more excitement in that line”. For that the directors were wonderful and they have a great ear for hearing the purpose behind the lines.

I bet it must be a thrill for your children to see their mom on the screen but how do they react when they see you versus seeing an animated character? Do they love the Lion King?

For a long time I would say “I’m the voice of the lion”. Most children would say “but you’re not a lion” they don’t make that connection of it just being your voice. My son had a hard time with it especially getting past the death of Mufasa so it wasn’t until a year ago that he actually got to see the whole thing through. But they’re both very excited. My son had me talk to his 1st grade class on career day about doing the voice of Nala so he thought it was very cool. My daughter thought it was very cool. It’s one of the films where they’re at that age where I can share with them. There’s not much I can share with them now, just because of appropriateness. To them I’m still Mom but I think my cool meter with that one.

Out of the three Lion King films, do they have a favorite?

They’ve only seen the first one. 

As an actress you’ve made great transitions from live action, to animation to TV work. What’s your favorite form of acting?

I love the animation and would love an opportunity of really going out there with different voices but like I said I do love the freedom of being in the booth, playing around with something and having that sense of time and liberty to do so. But if I had to pick an all time favorite I would have to say it doesn’t include any of those three, it would have to be stage. I think back to my theater days and truly there’s nothing that keeps you on your toes as an actor or feeds you more than a live audience and that would have to be my all time favorite experience when it comes to performance.

Then is that a possibility in the future or are you perusing theater work again?

I hope so, at the moment I’m a stay-at-home Mom, just trying to get the kids raised. When they become a little more independent I think I’ll delve into to possibly directing some projects I’m working on now. Linda Lavin has a theater here in Willmington that I’m looking forward to getting involved with and we’ll see what happens in the future.

We spoke about the tough Texas heat and your husband is actually from Irving. But now you live in North Carolina, right?

Yes, love it. The Carolinas are really quite beautiful, they remind me in a sense of California where you have this beautiful coast but then you have the mountains as well and they’re very accessible. But we just enjoy living here, the quality of life is great, it’s great for raising the kids and the weather is usually perfect. For me, I like a bit of the Fall, I like it to get a little bit cold in Winter so it really feels like Winter.

So did you enjoy shooting scenes of The Cutting Edge if you like Winter?

Oh yeah, oh yeah. I never ice skated before that film so to me what I loved was this idea of having to really learn something entirely new and pull it off. It was physically very challenging for me and I find I do my best work, as a lot of people do, when you’re really challenged. And that was early on in my career too so, for me it was a high to be on a film like that and to be asked to do something I’ve never done before. Working with D.B. [Sweeney] was a great experience as well as working with everyone in general on that film with a great crew and director and a fun story to play. The character Kate Mosley is such *laughs* such a great character with a lot of bite to her and I like that. 

 As far as Disney and your role in the Lion King, now that it is being re-released in 3D, do you have any thoughts on 3D and its current/future role in films?

Well I think, you know, its here and they’re making such strides on perfecting it. Anything, if done well can really enhance the experience and take it to a whole other level whether it’s through music or film or theater. It’s like when we went from silent films to talkies, you know, there’s progress in art, there’s progress in everything. The more they fine tune it [3D] the better it’ll become…I just hope they don’t get into using holographic actors *laughs* or I’ll be out of the job. But other than that I’m OK with it.

Well thank you tremendously for your time, it’s been an honor talking with you.

Thank you, it was a pleasure talking to you Marc

A huge thanks from Go,See,Talk to Disney and the lovely Moira Kelly for arranging time for this interview and for their work on The Lion King.

So let me ask you an interview question: What is your favorite memory about The Lion King? Also, do you have a favorite character or song from the movie…or both??

Comments

  1. very nice interview

  2. Great interview, Marc, that’s cool that you get to talk to Miss Kelly. Lion King is such a timeless piece. I also remember her from With Honors.

    • MarcC says:

      Thanks Ruth, it was a treat to not only talk to her but to get some info on, like you say, a timeless film. She was super sweet and I just kept geeking out that I was talking to Kate Mosely…guess it was that 7th grade crush re-surafacing:P

  3. Great interview Marc!