The Lion King’s Nicholas Afoa had a promising rugby career with the All Blacks until he was injured. After recovering, he decided to change direction and pursue a career in theatre. Nearly a decade later, the 29-year-old beat 400 other hopefuls to the role of Simba in the Australian production of The Lion King, and last month joined the London cast of The Lion King to make his West End debut at the Lyceum Theatre. We spoke to Nicholas to find out more…
Where did your interest in theatre begin?
My interest in theatre only really began when I landed the role of Simba in my late twenties, but I think the seed was planted long before that. I performed from a fairly young age; I was the lead in my church plays as a child and also played the lead in my high school productions of South Pacific and Carousel.
When you realised you could no longer continue your career in rugby, how did you come to the decision to go into theatre?
It wasn’t really a decision to go into theatre as such; it was more a desire to play the role of Simba. My love for the story, the music and his journey really drew me in and the rest just happened from there.
How did you feel when you found out you had the lead role of Simba?
Disbelief at first, but overall I was just incredibly humbled. I also felt excited and nervous, as I knew it was the beginning of something that would change my life.
What has been the hardest part about preparing for and playing the role?
Probably making sure that you’re staying safe vocally and physically, so that you’re always completely in shape when you’re performing.
What has been the best part about playing Simba?
The best part about playing Simba is that I get to tell a story in a way that is unique to me and have it resonate with people in the audience from completely different walks of life. I love the fact that his journey transcends time, culture and age.
What’s your favourite part of the show?
I don’t have a favourite, because from night to night there are scenes that affect me differently. I remember the first time I was in the rehearsal room when I started, and I decided to watch little Simba and Mufasa in the scene where he is teaching his son about life through the song They Live in You and I was moved to tears. I was reminded so strongly of my Dad and the journey we have had as father and son. Still today that scene never fails to move me.
How does our London audience compare to the Australian audience?
I have found the crowds here exhilarating and energetic, which I love. You can sense that people are really enjoying themselves. Although the theatre is big, it feels intimate so you get a real sense of the crowd’s energy. Australian audiences were much the same, however as it was a touring show some of the theatres provided for a different atmosphere. I feel like being here in the West End, the crowd is really actively involved.
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Images: Johan Persson, Disney, Catherine Ashmore