One of the most anticipated movies of 2019 is just days away from arriving in theaters and it stars some of the biggest names in show business. Beyoncé, Donald Glover, James Earl Jones, and Chiwetal Ejiofor are all part of the cast of the new, live-action version of Lion King. But what about those important scenes with the young Simba and Nala? Young Simba is voiced by singer/actor JD McCrary, but who voices young Nala in The Lion King? Shahadi Wright Joseph lends her voice to this role, and if you’re a horror fan you probably know her well.
This isn’t Wright Joseph’s first turn with the material for The Lion King. According to Broadway World, she made her Broadway debut when she was 9 years old with her performance in the theater-version of The Lion King, and set a record as the youngest performer ever to play the role of young Nala. But she’s more commonly known for 2019’s uber-scary Jordan Peele thriller Us, in which she played Zora Wilson and her doppelgänger Umbrae, according to her IMDb page.
In 2016, the young actress was featured as Little Inez in the NBC production of Hairspray Live!, according to Deadline. The Hollywood Reporter also revealed that she gained notoriety on Broadway for her work in the role of Madison in School of Rock.
The actress must know the material for The Lion King inside and out; according to Refinery 29, she performed the song “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” about 208 times during the year she played Nala on Broadway. (That’s four performances a week, as she alternated with another actress, according to Refinery 29.)
Now the young star is bringing her vocal talent to the music industry as well. On July 11, in fact, she released her first single — "Skin I’m In" — which premiered on Billboard. Wright Joseph told Billboard that the song "is an anthem to remind us all to love ourselves on our best and worst days," adding: "Daily challenges are unavoidable but can be taken in stride when we choose to say, 'I am enough.'"
That’s a pretty deep statement for a 14-year-old, but Wright Joseph doesn’t credit her maturity to her early career start. “A lot of people in interviews says, ‘You’re so mature for a 14-year-old,’ but I feel like that isn’t because I’m a child actor. It feels like that is just the way I was raised,” she told Refinery 29 in an interview earlier this month.
But even all the maturity in the world can’t save you when you’re cast opposite Beyoncé, who plays the adult version of Nala in The Lion King. “I think I screamed when I found out Beyoncé was going to be in the movie,” Wright Joseph previously told Entertainment Weekly. “And when I found out she was going to be playing older me, I really had to step my game up and think about what Beyoncé would want.”
Based on her stellar work thus far, there’s little doubt that Wright Joseph was able to turn in a performance that would not only impress the Queen Bey, but will also leave audiences in love with a new, adorable Nala.
Look for young Nala and the rest of the incredible cast of The Lion King when it arrives in theaters nationwide on Friday, July 19.