Disney’s latest live-action adaptation is The Lion King, and while it features the return of James Earl Jones as Mufasa, much of the rest of the cast is all new. That includes Billy Eichner as the lovable Timon, and early impressions of the film indicate he did a masterful job with the part. In the original animated film, the part was played by Nathan Lane, who knocked it out of the park. ComicBook.com recently spoke to Eichner about playing the role, finding ways to put his own twist on it, and following Lane’s iconic portrayal.
Eichner has a theatrical background, and this was the perfect chance to return to his roots a bit. “But this is really getting me back to something I really love, which is a great musical and it has musical comedy elements,” Eichner said. “And I grew up loving Nathan Lane even before the Lion King from his stage work in New York. And so it’s full circle in many ways.”
“I think we try to find a balance basically,” Eichner continued. “You know, I didn’t want it … it wouldn’t be worth doing unless we could bring something new to it. And Timon and Pumba are iconic characters. So we wanted to find ways to nod to the original so that people weren’t disappointed because I think people would be a little disappointed if we completely changed the tone of the character. So we didn’t want to do that. And so we tried to find a balance.”
That included some improvisation between Eichner and Pumba actor Seth Rogen, and that helped the duo find their own voice.
“Seth and I got in there and luckily we were able to rely on each other and what John did, which really helped us find our own chemistry is to use improv,” Eichner said. “And we ended up improvising a lot, which at the time seemed like just an exercise. But when you watch the finished product, a remarkable amount of the Timon and Pumba dialog was improvised. And it ended up in the movie. And honestly, you can tell because it feels conversational. You can tell we’re in the same room together and that we’re listening to each other and playing off each other.”
“And you know, I think it gives it this very organic conversational tone that matches the photorealism of the movie, which was important because I think if we came in and try, well you can’t talk with Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella did anyway,” Eichner said. “But even if we tried to do this Broadway, vaudeville inspired tone like they did in the original, it wouldn’t have matched how real the animals look, you know? And so that helped us define the characters in a new way also.”
Early reviews indicate Eichner and Rogen managed to find a voice all their own, and you can see it for yourself when The Lion King hits theaters on July 18th.
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