When it comes to iconic voices on film, few people measure up to the sinister plotting behind Jeremy Irons and the baritone pipes on James Earl Jones. With 'The Lion King 3D' hitting theaters this week, Moviefone rang up Scar and Mufasa themselves to hear what it was like being part of a Disney classic, and how they channeled their inner beasts to create some of the most memorable roles of their careers.
James Earl Jones: What's the deal with ['The Lion King'] re-release, is anything being done to it?
Moviefone: As far as I know they're just re-releasing it in theaters and converting it to 3D.
Jones: Ah, that's right. But our voices stay two-dimensional, right? [laughs]
Yeah, I don't think they'll be popping out of the screen or anything. What do you think of the 3D revival going on right now?
Jeremy Irons: I've only seen one movie in 3D and it was Werner Herzog's film 'Cave of Forgotten Dreams.' I'm not sure 'The Lion King' needs 3D, but I think at the moment it's fashion and I'm sure it looks amazing in 3D. But I think story is story, and it is a great story.
But I'm so pleased it's being re-released because it will be there in cinemas for a new generation, and that's fantastic.
So what drew you to 'The Lion King?'
Jones: I have a son who's now 28, and he loved the Disney studio tours and some of the workshops they had down in Orlando and Hollywood. He really enjoyed that, he even considered going into animation for a while. It didn't work out that way since he works with me now, but there was always that possibility. He's very good with graphics.
And that was the main reason I took the job. I like animation and I like voice work.
Irons: Well I think it's a great story. People liken it to Shakespeare's 'Hamlet,' it's a great story, it's a family story. There's emotion in it, there's excitement in it, there's humor in it, and fantastic graphic work. I think it's a film that really pleases every demographic and it's story-led and character-driven. What more could you want from a movie? It really deserves its success I think.
Did you have any favorite Disney movies growing up?
Jones: Well 'Bambi' is everybody's favorite. What I was surprised about and what I couldn't tell from the script as I could from the result, was that 'The Lion King' came close to achieving what 'Bambi' did in terms of being a movie for the whole family -- a movie that captured the attention of grown people as well as children.
So what do you like most about doing voice work as opposed to being in front of the camera?
Jones: Well there's a certain freedom you have in the studio with your microphone and you don't have to worry about anything visual.
Did you see models of Mufasa and what he looked like when you were doing it?
Jones: I did. They were very careful to give us an idea of what to go for, so they had models and they would change the models as they went along. I think they did the voices over a two-year period. They'd call us back and say, "Let's try something different," and they themselves took over four years for the visuals.
And what they would do is they would record our faces as we stood in front of the microphone doing the words. And anything that happened that would make our faces express something unusual, they'd try to incorporate that in the animation. So to make it very subjective and unique, they'd ask us to keep that in mind as we re-recorded our words, to enhance it.
So my character became more and more of a dopey dad instead of grand king, you know? [laughs]
Is there a trick behind performing a really good lion's roar?
Jones: Oh, no, but I did try to develop a roar. Do you remember the movie ['Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes'] where Tarzan is brought back into a civilized family? He was taught good British manners, and he was at a formal dinner where he entertained everybody by making sweet animal noises that he'd learned in the jungle. And he went up beside one lady and made a real scary roar, and it turned all of us on -- it turned me on -- that a human being could make that kind of a sound. It wasn't his real voice, but I wish a human being could do that sort of thing.
And I tried it as Mufasa, but I didn't turn anybody on. [Laughs] We got a raw throat, I think, and my vocal chords suffered a little bit. There's some muscles deep down that are used in an animal that we don't even recognize in our speech.
So before signing up to play Scar, you already had a remarkable career playing live-action villains in movies geared towards adults. Did starring in a family movie open up any new doors for you?
Irons: No, well, one never knows what opens up doors. I made a children's film before that called 'Danny the Champion of the World,' but it wasn't nearly such a big success as this one. So what's been great for me for this film really is the generation who first saw it. I mean, how long has it been since it came out?
It came out in 1994, so that's 17 years.
Irons: Right. So the four-year-olds are now 21 and they're watching it again. And of course they get to know you as an actor then in that film and they'll follow you in other things. It's very nice, and I meet so many people know and they say, "God, I've always wanted to meet you because of 'The Lion King!'"
Well in comparison to the other villains you've played in your career, how does Scar measure up to the likes of Simon Gruber [from 'Die Hard with a Vengeance] and Claus von Bulow [from 'Reversal of Fortune']?
Irons: I think he measures very highly, he's a great villain. He has charm, he has Machiavellian qualities, he may not have the muscle of Simon Gruber, but he really is iconic in some of the things he says. So, yeah, he's right up there in the forefront with all of them.
Was it your idea to give him Claus Von Bulow's "You have no idea" line?
Irons: It wasn't actually my idea. The film makers wanted to try it and I figured, "Well, why not?"
Do children have any funny reactions when they meet you for the first time and realize who they're talking to?
Irons: I certainly became the favorite of many kids, the one they love to hate.
Jones: Well their parents will say, "There's Mufasa!" But I don't look like a lion, and if they're real little kids, they think they're being shafted or having the wool pulled over their eyes. And I can't roar to prove it to them, but I can say [in Mufasa's voice], "Simba. You have deliberately disobeyed me!"
I can do things like that, and then they recognize it because they've heard it over and over and over again. They go from having no idea who the heck I am and not wanting to know because I'm big and loud and scary, but then I come out with those lines and they go, "Ohhh, that's who you are." Then I belong to their world, other than that I'm an alien. I could be Chewbacca as far as they're concerned.
Do you have a favorite scene from 'The Lion King?'
Jones: I think when Simba meets his jungle pals for the first time, Timon and Pumbaa. It's the beginning of his salvation -- he's in exile, but at least he has friends. And in his friends he learns to come back to life, in a way.
Do you still tear up when Mufasa dies?
Irons: Oh, I haven't seen it in years. I'll probably be one of the people in the audience watching it in 3D.
Jones: Oh, well of course that's my very favorite scene, but I can't say that, that'd be selfish!
But everybody tears up at that scene!
Jones: You're right. That's what I mean about this being a film for adults as well.
That's where the 3D glasses come in handy, so no one can see you crying in the theater.
Jones: [Laughs] Right!
Do you still tear up when Mufasa dies?
Photos courtesy of Getty Images, Steve Granitz/WireImage, and Disney.