Barry Jenkins is an Oscar winner and also an Emmy nominee this year for his work on Amazon’s “The Underground Railroad.” But the filmmaker’s next project, a prequel to the 2019 remake of “The Lion King” will stand as his biggest swing yet, the first blockbuster of his lauded career. Little has been revealed about the film, but Thursday brought word of its first two casting decisions: “The Underground Railroad” star Aaron Pierre will voice young Mufasa in the film, while “Cyrano” star Kelvin Harrison Jr. tackles the role of Taka, a character whom fans of “Lion King” canon will better recognize as the future Scar.
James Earl Jones returned to voice Mufasa in the 2019 film for director Jon Favreau, reprising his role from 1994 original; Chiwetel Ejiofor took over the villainous Scar from 1994 original Jeremy Irons.
Jenkins won an Oscar for “Moonlight” in the Best Adapted Screenplay category. He was also nominated in the same category for writing “If Beale Street Could Talk,” his “Moonlight” follow-up. This year, he’s an Emmy nominee for “The Underground Railroad,” a 10-part series on Amazon Prime Video that Jenkins had pursued for years. If tackling a prequel to “The Lion King” seems like a huge departure for the indie filmmaker, Jenkins previously explained how his decision to make the film was at least partially inspired by Chloe Zhao. The Best Director winner for “Nomadland” is next directing “Eternals” for Marvel, a superhero blockbuster with an all-star cast.
“I read the script and about 40 pages in, I turned to Lulu [Wang] and I said, ‘Holy sh–, this is good,’” Jenkins said last year. “And as I kept reading, I got further away from the side of my brain that said, ‘Oh, a filmmaker like you doesn’t make a film like this,’ and allowed myself to get to the place where these characters, this story, is amazing. What really pushed me across the line was James [Laxton], my DP, said, ‘You know what? There’s something really interesting in this mode of filmmaking that we haven’t done and that not many people have done.’ That was when I went back to the powers that be and said, ‘I would love to do this, but I’ve got to be able to do what I do.’ And they said yes!…And knowing that Chloe Zhao had gone from one of the most beautiful films of the century with ‘The Rider’ to making a Marvel movie, I was like, ‘Oh, sh–. If she can do it, I can do it.’”
More recently, Jenkins said “The Lion King” prequel also spoke to him on a personal level as well.
“This trio of works — ‘Moonlight,’ ‘Beale Street,’ and ‘The Underground Railroad’ — they kind of are of a piece,” he said. “I’m trying to figure out where do I go from here and the script landed on my desk. Now, here’s this script about the young Mufasa and the journey his life goes on. I look around at my friends and my family — and I go, I’m not Mufasa, I’m no king, I don’t want to be no king, and yet I saw so much that reminded me of myself. So maybe all this is therapy. I’m just working out all my life sh– and ‘The Lion King’ is the next best [movie] to work it out in.”
“The Underground Railroad” is streaming now on Amazon and Emmy nominated in multiple categories including Best Limited Series and Best Directing in a Limited Series for Jenkins.
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