Nathan Lane recalls 'The Lion King' origins ahead of Hollywood Bowl anniversary event

Peter Larsen, The Orange County Register on

Published in Entertainment News

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Nathan Lane laughs when asked what he recalls about creating the role of Timon, the mischievous meerkat, in the 1994 animated film "The Lion King." Timon, along with his happy-go-lucky warthog pal Pumbaa, befriend the young lion Simba in the movie.

"I do remember we were then performing in 'Guys and Dolls,' so we would go in early sometimes to record," Lane says of himself and Ernie Sabella, who played Pumbaa to Lane's Timon. "While we were recording, Ernie would make flatulent noises to amuse me in the middle of his speech.

"He would just fart," Lane says, laughing. "And so I would laugh. That inspired them to make Pumbaa a flatulent creature, and it was incorporated into the film, and in the song, 'Hakuna Matata.'"

Lane and Sabella will reprise their roles on stage at the Hollywood Bowl on Friday and Saturday, May 24-25, for a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the film, which will screen to the accompaniment of a live orchestra. (Listen closely to the trombones during "Hakuna Matata"; there's no telling what you'll hear.)

Others scheduled to appear include Jeremy Irons, the original Scar; Jason Weaver, who sang the original Young Simba; Billy Eichner, who played Timon in the 2019 remake; and South African singer-composer Lebo M, who collaborated with film composer Hans Zimmer on the score to add authentic African voices.

Performers not in the original or remade films include Jennifer Hudson, Heather Headley, and North West, the 10-year-old daughter of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, and the cast of the Broadway musical version of the movie will be on stage at times, too.


In an interview edited for length and clarity, Lane talked about how he landed the role of Timon in "The Lion King," why not everyone thought it was going to become a hit, and what makes "The Lion King" even more affecting than "Bambi."

Q: You'd worked in theater for years, but had only made a handful of movies when you and Ernie Sabella joined the cast of "The Lion King." Tell me how you got that part.

A: It gets very "Rashomon." Ernie has his version of this story; I have mine. And I'm sure that the people casting or the directors remember something else. Ernie and I were doing "Guys and Dolls" at the time.

What I remember is this: We were both reading for hyenas. (Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin and Jim Cummings ended as the hyenas.) I was going to go in and Ernie was going to wait for me; we were gonna get lunch or something. And I said, "Would it be OK if Ernie and I read together," because, you know, it's three different characters and it would be helpful to play off of someone.


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