'The Lion King' star Shahadi Wright Joseph talks Nala and Beyoncé: 'She inspires me everyday'

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment

Not every actress gets to grow up to become Beyoncé. But that’s the dream that Shahadi Wright Joseph was able to make a reality thanks to Disney’s current box-office champ, The Lion King. The 14-year-old performer reprises her Broadway role as young Nala in Jon Favreau’s updated version of the 1994 cartoon classic, acting opposite JD McCrary as the lioness cub’s best friend — and heir to the Pride Rock throne — Simba. Midway through the film, the narrative takes a time jump and when we catch up with the adult Simba and Nala, they’re voiced by Donald Glover and Beyoncé respectively.

From the moment the singer’s casting was first announced, the internet lost its collective mind. And Joseph was equally amazed. “When I first found out that Beyoncé was going to be playing Nala, I was in awe,” she tells Yahoo Entertainment. “She’s a really, really sweet person and she inspires me everyday. I love her.” (Watch our video interview above.)

Wright also has a lot of love for her alter ego, who she played over 200 times during her one-year stint in the Broadway production of The Lion King when she was nine years old. “I feel like I didn’t realize it was so intense to be on Broadway at age nine,” she says now. “I was just having fun. Now that I look back on it, that was a lot and it was pretty big. I feel pretty proud of myself.”

Reconnecting with Nala five years later for the film version gave her a new appreciation for the character. “I love Nala because of her intelligence,” remarks Joseph, who recently debuted her first single, “Skin I’m In.” “I love how she thinks things through, and she kind of is Simba’s anchor when it comes to sneaking into an elephant graveyard. Lots of kids will love her confidence and how sure she is of herself.”

The Lion King is playing in theaters now. Visit Fandango for ticket and showtime information.

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