Interview: JD McCrary Talks ‘The Lion King,’ Working With Donald Glover

Children and children at heart were thrilled with the recent announcement of the official cast of the live-action version of Disney’s cartoon film, The Lion King. The heartwarming classic follows Simba, a lion cub who learns about the great circle of life through his experiences as he grows up.

READ: Disney Announces ‘The Lion King”s Official Live-Action Cast

Musician and actor Donald Glover will portray the adult version of the main character, while legendary actor James Earle Jones will reprise his role as Mufasa, Simba’s father. Beyonce Knowles, Alfre Woodard and Chiwetel Ejiofor are just some of the big names who will lend their voices to the film, slated to hit theaters in July 2019.

Rounding out the main voice cast is actor JD McCrary, who will play young Simba. Don’t let the 10-year-old fool you—this triple threat is hardly new to the entertainment industry. He can be seen in Dr. Dre’s Vital Signs on Apple Music and has appeared on Disney’s KC Undercover with Zendaya, as well as Showtime’s I’m Dying Up Here. He also has an upcoming role in Tyler Perry’s show, The Paynes.

As a singer, McCrary and was featured on the Steve Harvey-hosted talent show, Little Big Shots and is working on his solo EP. Ironically enough, he is one of only a few featured guests on Donald Glover’s Grammy-nominated album under the moniker Childish Gambino, Awaken, My Love!. His effortless riffs can be heard on the track “Terrified.”

VIBE caught up with the up-and-comer about his big role in the highly-anticipated Jon Favreau film, as well as what it’s like working with Glover and his dreams for the future of his career in the entertainment industry.

VIBE: When did you realize you had talent as a performer?
JD McCrary: I realized I had talent as a performer when I was at least four or five years old, because I started singing. I was inspired by Michael Jackson and he taught me a lot of life lessons.

Amazing. Did you ask your parents if you could start going on auditions, or you were just like, “I’m gonna do it.”
Actually, it’s kind of both! My parents, they were cool with it, and I did it!

It didn’t take any convincing or anything? They were accepting?
Yeah!

So, you sing, you act, and you dance. What is your favorite out of the three and why?
Singing, because my whole family sings, and I just wanna inspire people with my music.

Do you ever get nervous when you sing or perform, or you’re over that now?
Oh, never. I don’t think I ever get nervous, because I always feel like I’m just performing for people. We’re all human!

That’s what you like about performing too? Performing in front of people and giving them something that they enjoy?
Yeah, absolutely!

Who are some of your influences besides Michael Jackson?
My influences are Stevie Wonder, Bruno Mars, Justin Bieber, and maybe even Chris Brown.

You have some good taste, kid.
[Laughs] Thank you!

You’re playing Young Simba in the upcoming, live-action remake of The Lion King. Tell me a little bit about that. Was it an audition, or they called you and told you right off the bat that they wanted you?
I did have to audition. There were thousands of kids who were [there], and I was in Atlanta at the time, shooting my TV show [The Paynes]. It was a self-tape that I had to do. I booked it, and luckily, the week later, Tyler Perry said we could go home, we had a break. So, I went home to Los Angeles, and I went straight to the studio and started recording.

That’s amazing. So it was right away. You must have really impressed them.
Yep, thank God.

You’re still pretty young, but were you familiar with the movie and the songs from the cartoon? What are some of your favorite Disney movies?
Yes, very familiar. I love the movie! My favorite Disney movies would have to be, of course, The Lion King, Aladdin, and…I like Cinderella, it’s pretty good.

So, how is doing voiceover different from doing regular acting?
It’s very different because you don’t really have to use and body language. You have to get all the action done with your voice. And I get to wear whatever I want!

You’re going to play Young Simba, and Donald Glover, whose album you sang on, is playing Adult Simba. I know you technically haven’t met him yet, because you Skype’d when you were working on his album. Do you think you’ll finally meet him?
Yes, ma’am. I think I’m gonna meet him, and it’s just gonna be a great time.

How did he get in touch with you to sing on his album?
I think he e-mailed my e-mail account, and we accepted! We went to the studio, this guy named Beethoven, his name is based off the composer, he did the recording. I finished it in about two hours!

How has the feedback been for you since being on his album?
It’s been very positive, and very, very great things have been coming after that. It had a very great impact on my life.

What was your favorite song on that album besides yours?
“Redbone.”

You’ve got a lot of really great projects under your belt already. So, outside of The Lion King, what are you looking forward to in the next few years?
I’m looking forward to my album, and I’m doing a lot of the singing-part of my life right now. I’m recording and getting a lot of things done, and I’m already halfway done with my EP.

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CREDIT: Birdie Thompson

What kind of music are you hoping to put out?
I try to do everything, but usually, I stick to pop.

What are your biggest dreams as an entertainer?
My biggest dreams are to be the youngest Grammy Award-winning solo artist, and to inspire young kids to follow their dreams and chase what they love to do.

With your talent, you’re definitely on your way to accomplishing that Grammy goal for sure.
Thank you, I appreciate that!

READ: Alfre Woodard Joins Disney’s ‘The Lion King’ As Sarabi

What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten about your career?
The best advice I’ve ever gotten is don’t be a follower, be a leader. Always keep your head up, and just follow what you wanna do. If an idea pops in your head, just add on to it. Who taught me that was Pharrell Williams.