Us and The Lion King’s Shahadi Wright Joseph is a young talent to keep an eye on


Two of 2019’s biggest movies, Us and The Lion King, will feature the talent of Shahadi Wright Joseph. This new star shares what it’s like to work with Jordan Peele and Jennifer Hudson, and why she loves her job.

From the stage, to the screen, to even the recording room, Shahadi Wright Joseph has pretty much done it all — and she’s only 14. Culturess got the chance to talk to the young star whom you’ll see (and hear) in this year’s Us from Jordan Peele and Disney’s remake of The Lion King.

If you’re a Broadway aficionado, you might have already caught Shahadi on stage as young Nala in The Lion King or Madison in School of Rock. If you’re a big fan of musicals, you might have even seen her as Little Inez alongside Jennifer Hudson in NBC’s Hairspray Live! Here’s what Shahadi had to say about her roles in these hit productions, and what it’s like to work with some of the biggest names in Hollywood.

Let’s jump in by asking what made you get into acting?

My first audition was for The Lion King on Broadway. I was 9 years old. And we just kept being called back and my parents were like, “Wow, are we really going to do this?” But I had no idea that I would actually make that far.

Wow, that’s awesome. And you played Nala! What was it like to step onto the stage and be with that cast?

Yeah, young Nala. It was kind of unbelievable. Because I’d never been in such a professional performance before. So it was really different, but it was a lot of fun.

And after that, you were in School of Rock, too. What was that like?

Well, that was an amazing experience. It was actually pretty different from Lion King because, you know, as opposed to alternating with the other young Nala, we would actually have to do eight shows a week. That was really different.

How did you balance doing these shows, all eight a week?

I was in regular school while I was doing School of Rock and while I was in Lion King. Sometimes we would get a little bit of leverage from homework and school work and stuff like that. But it was usually pretty challenging to keep up with school. But in total, it was all worth it.

Oh, I bet! And so after your theater work, you went on to do on-screen work like Hairspray Live!. What made you want to transition from just doing stage work to being on TV and in movies?

I think I wanted a different environment change to get up to the level that I am [at] today doing film. But with Hairspray, it was a little bit like Broadway — because there was no going back. You made a mistake and you kind of had to improvise and get back to the scene. But there was a little bit more pressure because there were millions of people watching you… [and] you couldn’t see them.

What was it like working with Jennifer Hudson?

Oh, Jennifer Hudson is like a real mom. She was so sweet and she such a nice person to be around. I would definitely want to work with her in the future again.

Shahadi Wright Joseph in Us (2019). Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

Let’s talk about Us, which features so many great actors, including yourself. What was it like to work with such a dynamic cast for that movie?

Oh, it was such an amazing experience. The cast was so professional. And they were just amazing to learn from just by being around them, Lupita [Nyong’o] and Jordan [Peele] and Winston [Duke] and Evan Alex. They were just, they were really nice to me and we’re kind of like a real family now.

Who would you say you were closest to on set?

I would say Evan Alex, who plays Jason, my younger brother. I’ve never had a younger brother, so he’s kind of like my actual brother, and we still have such a great connection after that.

As far as Jordan Peele directing, how did he help you as an actress on set?

Well, before we would shoot a scene, he would always talk to everybody individually and tell us what this scene was really about and what we could use to make it better. And he would give us a lot of freedom to explore characters in different ways… So I thought that that was really helpful.

Did Lupita Nyong’o or Winston Duke give you any advice as well?

Yeah, actually, they taught me a lot about method acting. And if you don’t know, it’s a tool to get in character. Like, you’re doing everything that your character would. And while we were shooting the scenes as our doppelganger, everybody would walk or — not really talk — but [walk] as our doppelgangers would.

Seeing the movie for yourself, how does Us compare to Jordan’s last horror film, Get Out?

You know, I don’t think that it really does. I think that they’re two amazing stories that have a lot of power to them. But I think that they’re individual and great in their own ways. Jordan also made sure to tell everybody that the story really isn’t about race, as Get Out was. But he wanted to make sure that it was primarily starring a black family because a lot of people don’t get to see that in horror movies.

What does a movie like this mean to you — to be part of a young generation leading the way for diverse movies?

I think that it’s really important to show diversity and inclusion and representation of black casts to generation Z. Because a lot of people don’t know about their history and about where they actually come from. So I think that it’s really important to show them that there are people out there that look like them and families that look exactly like theirs, so that could they feel as happy as they do.

You’ll also be starring in Lion King this year. What was your overall reaction when you found out you would be in the movie?

I was really excited to be playing this role again because I think that young Nala is kind of a part of me now that I’ve played her twice. And I think that this movie is going to be so special to the Disney-lovers out there.

And as far as recording, was this done in a booth by yourself or did you get the opportunity to be with some of the cast?

Well, I only got to work with JD McCrary, who plays young Simba. But we didn’t actually work in a booth, but we got to record in this open room with a nice carpet. And we actually got to move around as if we were moving in Pride Rock… because there were people who would take notes and actually draw what we were doing.

In addition to your acting job, you’ve also led workshops for A Class Act New York. What was it like teaching those classes, and why was it important for you to do volunteer your time?

A Class Act is such a great way to start in the acting business to start auditioning for agents and practicing for your auditions for different roles. I got to know these new actors that were coming into the business, and it was fun to learn about them before they got really big.

It was really important to see young actors that are coming straight out of school… and don’t really know much about [acting]. It was nice to teach them about what I already know because I might have a little bit more knowledge in the acting business, and it’s great for people to start learning at a young age what it’s like to be in the business so that you can get even better with age.

Lastly, to wrap things up, what’s one fictional woman you look up to and one real woman you look up to, and why?

For fictional, I think that I would want to say adult Nala because you feel powerful [around her], even in hard times. And it makes people really want to be her when they grow up.

And I think for a real person, it would be Harriet Tubman. Because as we already know, she’s amazing, and she’s the most powerful woman that I ever read [and] heard about.

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Shahadi Wright Joseph has an excellent year ahead of her and many more to come. Us is opening in theaters March 22. The Lion King hits theaters July 19.