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For his “live-action” remake of Disney’s 1994 animated classic The Lion King, director Jon Favreau brought back James Earl Jones to reprise his role as Mufasa. According to the director, this was in part to carry on the legacy of the first film. That may have made bringing James Earl Jones back an easy call, but that doesn’t mean that directing him was quite so simple. In fact, Jon Favreau found directing the voice of Mufasa to be rather intimidating, as he explained in a recent interview.
It's a bit intimidating [laughs] because just when you hear his voice. … He was in New York and I was in Los Angeles, and you hear his voice over the headphones and it's hard to try to be the ‘director.’ Because when he's on the phone and he says, ‘Do you have any direction for me as Mufasa?’ I didn't really know what to say! I was like, ’Anything that I have in my mind of what Mufasa is, is based on you.’ So, you know, you want to be supportive and helpful, but all I could do is keep from tearing up when I heard him recite the lines. And much of his dialogue is very similar, if not identical, to the original production. That character and that character's dialogue held up extremely well. Then, that was one of the aspects I didn't want to change much because I felt that pretty much everything he utters is memorable.
James Earl Jones’ voice and his performance as Mufasa are so iconic that it made for quite a unique directing experience that Jon Favreau found somewhat intimidating, at least according to what he told AMC. His reasoning is really interesting and makes a lot of sense. As the director, it is Jon Favreau’s job to convey his vision for the film and the characters to his actors and help them to deliver the performance the movie needs.
But for The Lion King and specifically Mufasa, Jon Favreau’s vision of the character is entirely based on James Earl Jones’ performance in the 1994 film. This isn’t like something like IT, where there is a mini-series as well as Stephen King’s novel. In that case, director Andy Muschietti can direct Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise in such a way so as to be more in accordance with his vision of the book or to distinguish it from Tim Curry’s performance.
The Lion King has no source material (yeah, yeah, it’s Hamlet) other than the animated film and James Earl Jones’ original performance. So by bringing the actor back, it probably felt strange to tell him what to do or what not to do when he already authored the gospel for this character, like telling Tolkien ‘Frodo wouldn’t say that.' If the role were recast for the remake that would be one thing, but by bringing James Earl Jones back, it’s more of a ‘you do you’ situation.
So as he said, Jon Favreau tried to support James Earl Jones in whatever way he needed, but ultimately was a bit intimidated. As a fan of the actor and the original film, he just kind of reacted emotionally to hearing that iconic voice utter those iconic lines. Plus, those iconic lines will remain largely the same.
As we’ve heard before, Mufasa’s words of wisdom ring as true today as they did 25 years ago; thus, Jon Favreau did not really change Mufasa’s dialogue much, if at all. Hopefully we’ll still get some new dialogue from him -- at least a little -- but even in lieu of that, Jon Favreau has said that James Earl Jones’ voice has changed so there will be something new to the Mufasa in the upcoming film.
Jon Favreau clearly has reverence for James Earl Jones’ Mufasa and the original Lion King, so it makes sense to bring the actor back, beyond just carrying the torch. James Earl Jones is Mufasa to Jon Favreau and to many audiences as well, and it would be difficult to imagine another voice in that role. In fact, anyone who would have taken it on would've had an impossible task burdened by eternal comparison. Talk about intimidating.