Q&A: 'The Lion King' Lioness Moira Kelly

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Moira Kelly has a warm, distinctive voice that "The Lion King" fans will instantly recognize as the voice of adult Nala. Kelly returned to voice Nala in two straight-to-video sequels and is excited to experience "The Lion King" in 3D with her own children in theaters before the highest-grossing hand-drawn animated film in history makes its Blu-ray debut. 

Over the years, Kelly has made an impression in various TV and movie roles, such as figure skater Kate Moseley in the fan-favorite romantic comedy "The Cutting Edge." We sat down with Simba's main lioness and had a candid, "hakuna matata" chat with her about her own lion-like qualities, "The Lion King"'s enduring impact on her family, her prowess on ice skates and why David Lynch showed her dead things in his refrigerator. 

After three films, what special connection do you have with Nala?

For me, it's just being able to take part in a Disney animation. Having grown up with them, it's so nice to now know that I have this connection and, throughout the years, it will always be. My children and my children's children will watch "The Lion King" and know that I was a part of it.

Has anyone ever heard your voice and recognized you from "The Lion King?"

No one has pegged me as Nala, but I do get recognized by my voice. People will say, "Your voice sounds so familiar. Were you in that ice skating movie?" I don't know what it is, but I suppose there's something about my voice that stays with people.

You have two children of your own. Describe your lioness qualities in real life.

I'm very protective and—I'll put it this way—I've been called "Mean Mommy" by my son a number of times. As my mother once told me, "If you're not called Mean Mommy a few times by your children, you're not doing your job right." I'm a survivalist and will do whatever it takes for my kids. I wouldn't say I make high demands on them as far as what I would want them to be in life as much as I want them to be responsible people. I think that's at the core of Nala when she tells Simba that as much as he wants to run away from things, he has to rise up and take responsibility.

When you watch "The Lion King" with your children, do they know that mommy is Nala?

Yes. They are seven and nine now. When they were younger, they were a little scared of some of the action scenes, but now they're very excited that mommy is in a Disney movie.

It remains the highest-grossing 2-D film of all time and spawned endless collectibles and toys. Confess — What "Lion King" items do you have lying around your home?

I have a few posters, drawings that were done by the animators and two versions of the screenplay. I also have an anniversary packet that they gave us that has some of the film cells in it and a colorful booklet and a making-of DVD. I tried to get my children into the plush Disney animals, but they weren't going for that!   

"The Lion King" has now been converted to 3-D for a limited run in theaters. In general, do you think 3-D adds something to a movie or is it gimmicky?

I think it depends how it's done. Sometimes it just doesn't serve the film and gets in the way. Sometimes it's done so well that the level of viewing experience is heightened and taken to a new level of magic. I'm an old-fashioned girl — my husband tells me that I'm the horse-and-cart girl — so it's hard for me to embrace new technology, but you can't hold back progress. The more that we learn to fine tune it and explore, 3-D could eventually be this incredible new experience of watching film and expressing yourself in the arts.

It's in our nature to not let go of what works and what is nostalgic, but that doesn't need to go away. We can always look back on it, reminisce and enjoy it for what it was at the time. If 3-D doesn't invade or distract, then I'm all for it.

People remember and love you from "The Cutting Edge." Do you still know your way around an ice rink?

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The last time I went skating was probably three years ago with my daughter. Yeah, I'm not an Olympic skater. It's funny when I go out on the ice, everyone is waiting for me to do the "Pamchenko," and I'm like, "Ok, people. It's a movie." I love rollerblading more than ice-skating, actually.

Are you still in contact with your "Cutting Edge" co-star, D.B. Sweeney?

I actually worked on a film of his called "Dirt Nap" about three or four years ago. I was working on a television show in Wilmington, North Carolina, and he asked me to do a small part.

A few years before you voiced Nala, you took a much darker role in David Lynch's "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me." Did you have any reservations about stepping into the role of Donna Hayward after Lara Flynn Boyle played the character for two seasons on the cult TV show?

No real reservations, but I was curious as to why Lara didn't want to do this role and work with David Lynch again. I was just excited to have the opportunity. I might have been a little worried that fans weren't going to accept me as Donna because they were so used to Lara Flynn Boyle. I loved working with David, and I would love to see him do something else because I haven't seen him do anything in a long time.

What was your impression of Lynch? People think of him as so eccentric.

He is, and you can imagine that he's a little offbeat. He is who he is, and you're not surprised, really. I remember the first time I met him. His manager took me to his house in L.A. because David wanted to meet with me and talk to me about playing this role. I walked into the house and there was a couch, a coffee table and a standing lamp in this massive room with nothing else. I said, "Oh, are you just moving in?" David said, "Oh no. I've been here for a while, Moira!" Then he took me into the kitchen, opened up the refrigerator and pulled out this metal plaque with this bird and mouse—he was dissecting these animals and labeling the parts. I thought, "This man is really interesting. I'll do it!" It was quite an introduction.

What surprised me most about him, though, is when I saw "The Straight Story." When I think about David and his ability to really get into the dark side of people's psyches and make it a visual thing, to see "The Straight Story" and how heartfelt and basically straight it was, it made me love him more. His scope of filmmaking is wide, and his ability to reach you in a macabre way and a heart-wrenching way shows that he is very, very good at what he does.

Is it true that you used to consult your priest before you took the more risqué roles of your career? Do you still do this?

I consulted a priest for one role, and I think it was "Twin Peaks." There were some scenes that I was taking part in and I didn't know, as a Catholic, if it was my responsibility to lessen what was going to be viewed. My priest told me that if it lends to the story and it's not gratuitous and it gives you an understanding of what the character is going through, then it is art. That discussion freed me and opened me up to a better understanding of not getting caught up in religiosity. I'm still Catholic and it feeds my soul, but it doesn't have to inhibit me from creating. I'm turned off by the righteous and the preachy. None of us have it right — we're all just living life and trying to figure it out.

After "The Lion King" roars into theaters again, what can we see you in next?

I've had four years off raising my children, and I'm hoping in the future that I'll get back behind the camera as a director — I've done that twice. Being a mom puts restrictions on your career that you have to be willing to make, even if it doesn't sit well with your agent! I would definitely voice Nala again or anything Disney asked me to do.

The Lion King 3-D Roars into theaters September 16th, and comes home on Blu-ray 3-D & Blu-ray Hi-Def Combo Pack October 4th.