Sarabi is a Queen. She is Queen of Pride Rock. Mufasa’s wife and Simba’s mother. It’s a role Alfre Woodard was born to play. From Passion Fish to 12 Years a Slave, to Luke Cage, she is always a treasure. Later this year Woodard will be seen in Clemency, but today, she is sitting with me in Beverly Hills talking about her latest role in The Lion King.
Woodard has been a long-time fan of The Lion King. With Jon Favreau, her character is given more to do. She says the story could not have come at a better time. “It’s a story that brings joy, and it’s the perfect time to bring that joy to the world.” She explains, how the story is one of community and power. “The story of the Lion King is a story that describes what real power is and one that reinforces the idea of community.”
What was it like for Woodard to play Simba’s mother? “I imagined myself being a lioness. I imagined what it would feel like and what that is.” Woodard recalls observing lionesses on a lion reserve once. “The lioness are the rulers. They keep the pride together. Everyone knows that. Everyone knows that they are the true protectors of the pride. They’re the nurturers. You hear the King, he’s out in the perimeter, but the lioness is the one that keeps everything together in the pride. They hunt and feed. They are the ones who maintain order.” She adds, “While their cubs suckle — and it’s that motherly instinct in women — you will protect anything that wants to endanger those cubs. That’s the lioness.” She explains how watching them helped her embody playing the character. “There’s a power in the stillness that I’d notice when I’d see the lion. It’s a stillness that is so relaxed and alert at the same time. That’s where they will come out of, especially if the cubs are at risk.”
The process for recording her part was done in the traditional way, Woodard says,. “I worked with Jon and I did the traditional voiceover work. I was alone in the studio.”
And what was it like seeing the film at the World Premiere? “I was an audience member too. I had never seen the complete film, so I was gasping, clapping and weeping.” Having been a fan of all the incarnations, I ask her favorite Lion King moment. She says in the original 1994 animation it was the opening. “I loved when Rafiki holds up the new baby Simba. I loved that.” And what of her favorite song in the movie? Take a listen:
The Lion King is on general release