'The Lion King's' original voice bows down to Beyonce

WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) — Before she was the voice of reason at the heart of The CW's "One Tree Hill," Moira Kelly brought her comforting tone and reassuring demeanor to another beloved property — "The Lion King."

Kelly was the original voice behind grown-up Nala, the steadfast mate of Simba and eventual queen of the Pride Lands, in Disney's 1994 animated feature. When the photorealistic computer-generated remake hits theaters Friday, Kelly will hand off the role to a whole other kind of queen entirely — international superstar Beyonce Knowles-Carter.

"She's not a bad person to be sharing a character with, I'll tell you that," Kelly said while visiting Wilmington in July for a "One Tree Hill" event. "I bow down to her."

As the hugely anticipated remake prepares to stampede into theaters, it features a (mostly) new voice cast that also includes Donald Glover, Billy Eichner, Seth Rogan, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard and John Oliver, with James Earl Jones returning as the voice of Simba's father, Mufasa.

But it was Knowles-Carter's casting that was, perhaps, the most headline-grabbing, something Kelly was particularly thrilled about.

"When I found out they were doing the live-action one, of course, it would have been nice to get to go back into that story, but Beyonce is brilliant, beautiful and so talented, and I think they are going to do an amazing job with it," she said. "I'm so excited to see it."

Besides her role as Karen Roe, the single mother of Chad Michael Murray's character on "One Tree Hill," Kelly is best known for "The Cutting Edge" and "The West Wing."

But her voice work as Nala often goes unrecognized, even though she looks back fondly on the experience and is excited about how the new film offers the chance to reintroduce the story to a whole new audience.

"It is another generation finding this story," she said. "It's been years since we did that movie and it's going to be really nice to see all those characters come back to life and see what they do to them and what each actor does with it. It's allows it to live on in such a beautiful way."

She's also excited for the music, which was famously written by Elton John and Tim Rice. John wrote a new song called "Never Too Late" for the film, and Knowles-Carter also contributed a rousing new song titled "Spirit" and will curate a special album inspired by the film called "The Gift."

Besides a few made-for-TV movies in recent years, Kelly has largely stepped away from acting to focus on her family and raising her sons. She did venture back into the world of "The Lion King" in 2011 for its big-screen 3D re-release.

But this summer marks a bit of a resurgence for the actress, who not only gets to watch one of her biggest roles get reimagined by one of the world's biggest musicians, but she also returned to Wilmington earlier this month to attend her first reunion event with fans of the locally shot "One Tree Hill."

Kelly said she felt it was time to finally say yes to one of the reunion conventions who have repeatedly pitched the opportunity to come back in recent years. Kelly lived in Wilmington for 11 years before and after her four-season run on "One Tree Hill."

While attending Friends with Benefit Charity Events' fundraiser on July 6, she reflected on the powerful experience of getting to interact directly with the show's loyal fans.

"It's nice to walk back into it and realize I was part of this and it is such a wonderful thing to have been a part of," she said. "Just meeting the fans who are so touched and feel so much joy over meeting someone who was on the show is powerful. Sometimes you work in this industry and you don't take into consideration that you are really doing something that is impacting people. It's wonderful to feel."

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Information from: The StarNews, http://starnewsonline.com