Billy Eichner will become part of the Disney universe this summer when he voices Timon in the live action (ish) adaptation of ‘90s classic The Lion King alongside the voices of Seth Rogen, Donald Glover, James Earl Jones, Eric Jones, and….hm, did I forget anyone? Oh that’s right: Beyoncé! Beyoncé will voice Simba’s (Glover) childhood friend turned love interest, Nala.
Beyoncé will also perform a new version of the Elton John classic “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” for the film. In a new podcast interview, Eichner said he had a surprisingly emotional reaction the first time he heard her new take on the beloved love song.
Speaking with Ira Madison III and Louis Virtel on their Keep It podcast, Eichner said Beyoncé is “definitely in the movie because I’ve seen a rough cut. And I’ve heard her sing ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight?’ with Donald Glover and I’m telling you, it’s fucking good. And that was never my favorite song to be totally honest… I liked it when Elton John sang it. I love Elton John. I don’t want to give too much away about that, they’re very, they do not want us talking about it. I will just say that honestly, it made me cry and I was not expecting that.”
The actor also confessed that playing Timon is “shocking, it’s bizarre, it’s terrifying” when Nathan Lane’s performance from the original film is so iconic. But a huge help, Eichner admits, was that his chemistry with Seth Rogen, who plays Pumbaa, was “very different, like naturally than what Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella’s energy was. They were both coming out of that production of Guys and Dolls when they did The Lion King. Ernie Sabella was in that production. They and this very vaudevillian, Broadway, musical theater, borscht belt style, which here and there, Seth and I borrow from but we don’t lean into that as much.”
The update’s new style of animation (“it’s so much more, for lack of a better word, realistic,” Eichner adds) wouldn’t have matched Lane and Sabella’s performance. “That helped inform what we do too and helped me create something that was distinct, I hope, from what Nathan did while also nodding to a little bit of what he did, which people loved.”
Speaking of Lane, Eichner is a stan — if you couldn’t already tell — and opened up about his appreciation for the legend. “He really is who I wanted to be when I was growing up. I didn’t think about movies. I thought about theater, I just wanted to do musicals. I went to Northwestern and I was a musical theater major. And if you asked me ‘Who do you want to be?’ I would say, ‘I don’t know, Nathan Lane.’”
The Lion King is in theaters July 19.