Do you remember when Disney’s The Lion King movie first premiered? The endearing movie about a lion cub coming into his kingship instantly became a cult classic and the highest grossing hand drawn animation movie in history. Released in 1994, it grossed $783 million worldwide.
The Lion King was released in 3-D, on Sept. 16, 2011, and its reign as the highest grossing hand-drawn animation is sure to continue. Rolling out interviewed veteran stage and film actor Robert Guillaume — voice of the witty baboon Rafiki — to get his sage take on the movie, its impact and his journey.
The original film became a hit right away, as did anything bearing the name. And now there’s a 3-D version. How’d you become a part of something so huge?
I was contacted by my agent to audition. I knew it wasn’t a general audition, but I had been asked to do a reading for the role.
When you first read the script, could you already feel how huge it would be?
You’re never sure of those things!
Why do people love The Lion King so much?
Guillaume: I think that its because the movie touched people on such a deep level of all ages. If not in a personal way, then at least in a general way.
What would you say is the underlying message of the film?
The values in the movie are endearing and forever. They stick with you for years to come. Having the courage to do what’s right always lead to an unexpected payoff.
Talk about your role as Rafiki. Any special preparation involved?
Rafiki’s character is pivotal in the film as he aids in transitioning Simba from being a lost individual to a more mature one finding his place on top. I admired the wisdom and mystery of Rafiki. As for preparation, I used the same old horrible attempt at a Caribbean accent I used as an ice breaker at parties and gatherings. Surprisingly, it worked.
How can you relate the message of the film to young black men who are struggling with their own sense of identity and sense of kingship?
It makes me sad this it’s taken our people so long to find out who we are. … [Like Simba], I barely knew my mother and I didn’t know my father. But with the aid of my grandmother and other family members, I made it. I also needed to hear that I was loved and needed.
How have you successfully navigated between Broadway, movies and television as a black actor?
If I put my emphasis on how, I wouldn’t have the slightest idea. But when I decided that I wanted to be an actor, I knew I had to work hard and be great. I got many, many “no’s” before I was able to show my real talent. But I came with the philosophy that if I kept knocking on those same doors, somebody would eventually open them. I knew that as sure as I knew anything. I had faith in that idea and I had belief in myself.
Describe Robert Guillaume in three words.
Perseverance, survivor and lucky.
Although a short interview, I gained much more insight than I’d ever imagined while speaking with this wise man. His actual personality is so similar to the role of Rafiki that it almost seemed destined to be his. Guillaume’s stamp on the Hollywood scene is more than encouragement and an example to anyone that with faith and belief, the impossible is indeed possible.
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