The comedic actor voices meerkat Timon and the pop star voices Nala in the Disney remake

By Dana Rose Falcone
July 19, 2019 11:30 AM

Long before Billy Eichner worked with Beyoncé on Disney’s new version of The Lion King, he considered himself a member of the Beyhive.

“I’ve always been a huge Beyoncé fan, like the rest of the world,” Eichner, 40, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “I’m not as young as I look, so I remember when Destiny’s Child first came out, my friends and I in college were huge Destiny’s Child fans. I’ve seen Beyoncé live a number of times.”

Now his character Timon walks through the African plains with Beyoncé’s Nala, and they appear together on Lion King classic, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?”

“I am on a track with Beyoncé, which not many people can say, which is really bizarre and insanely cool,” the Billy on the Street host says.

Kwaku Alston
Disney

Though they didn’t record together in the studio, Eichner has since gotten to meet 37-year-old Beyoncé (and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle!) at The Lion King’s London premiere.

“BILLYONCÉ,” he captioned a shot from the film’s July 14 screening.

The fact that Eichner landed a part in the animated movie’s modern remake initially shocked the actor, since he didn’t know that director Jon Favreau (The Jungle Book) was considering him.

“There was no audition process,” Eichner explains. “I knew Jon — he’d reached out to me a few years ago to tell me how much he liked my show and we corresponded a bit and had hung out, but I didn’t know I was being considered. I got a call from my agent one day out of the blue saying Jon Favreau wants you to be Timon in the new Lion King, and I was just in shock. And at the time I didn’t even know what that meant to do Lion King. I thought, is this a new Disney Channel cartoon? Is this Disney on Ice?”

Once Eichner learned that he’d be voicing meerkat Timon, the Parks and Recreations alum reached out to Nathan Lane, who voiced the same character in the 1994 original.

For more on Billy Eichner, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on stands now

“I have loved and admired him so much for my life since I was a kid,” Eichner says of Lane, 63. “I emailed him and I said, ‘Look, you’re a legend, I can’t believe I get to walk in your footsteps. I can’t do it the way that you did it, I’m just going to do my best and I hope I have your blessing.’ And he was wonderful and wrote right back to me and told me how excited he was for me and also made a lot of jokes. He said, ‘What are you going to do next, The Birdcage with Ryan Gosling?’, which actually is not a terrible idea. But he couldn’t have been more supportive. It’s such a full-circle moment for me to be stepping into a role that he created.”

The Lion King is out now.

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