South African zookeeper Kevin Richardson works primarily with lions and now serves as producer on a new film called Mia and the White Lion. 

The 44-year-old, who is also known as “The Lion Whisperer,” sat down with uInterview exclusively to discuss his work on the film.

“The full project was a long time in the making,” Richardson revealed. “It started right around 2012 when the director of the film — who I had a relationship with — wanted to make a difference in terms of telling the story about what’s going on in South Africa, especially in terms of the hunting industry when it comes to lions in these kinds of scenarios.”

Richardson explained that he and French director Gilles de Maistre didn’t simply want to make another documentary that “preached to the converted,” but rather an emotional, narrative piece that showed the connection between a lion and a child. Mia and the White Lion centers on a 10-year-old girl from London named Mia whose life is suddenly changed after she and her family move to South Africa to manage a lion farm.

The “Lion Whisperer” also said the project seemed “practically impossible” to him at first, partly because of the logistics of having a child and a lion working together. However, he quickly told the director that he needed as much time as possible to put the film together.

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“We started talking about it and the more we talked the more we realized that we could achieve it if we had certain parameters in place,” he explained. “We needed the buy-in from the parents of the children.”

Richardson also said he ensured that Daniah de Villiers, the actress who played Mia in the film, received a “crash course” in how to interact with lions.

“Daniah was absolutely amazing and fantastic,” said Richardson. “I think the reason why is just that she’s like a sponge. She listened to everything, she hung on every word I said and she would keep a diary and write down everything that happened in the day.”

Noted French actress Melanie Laurent also stars in Mia and the White Lion. 

Q: How did you get involved with the film?

A: All right so the full project was a long time in the making, it started in around about 2012 when the director of the film who had a relationship, wanted to make a difference in terms of telling the story about what’s going on in South Africa and especially in terms of the hunting industry when it comes to lions in these can scenarios. And we didn’t just want to go about making a documentary another documentary that basically preach to the converted, we wanted to go about it from a narrative perspective with a emotional kind of connection between the lion and a child, where the audience would become emotionally involved and then you can hit them with the message. We felt if you made a feature film with this really horrible message up front that people would be turned off it
and probably wouldn’t go to watch it so you needed to compel them to come watch the film.

Q: Were you concerned about having a child work with a lion?

A: You know initially I said to him, “Look the idea is good but how we’re going to achieve this, it’s going to be practically impossible,” and he was like “well you know if we had everything at your at your doorstep what what would you need,” and I said, “Look I mean you’d need Tom, Tom would be the biggest factor here.” And so we started the more we talked about it the more we realized that we could achieve it if we had certain parameters in place, I mean we needed the buy-in from the parents of the children to allow us the time, we needed the time in terms of Danya having to come three-four times a week, to be with me and to be with the lions and to learn how to basically interact and how to work with lions so she had a really a crash course on becoming a lion whisperer so to speak so that the relationship would be believable you know in the film and and I think that’s that comes across well.

Q: What was it like working with Daniah De Villiers?
A: Dania was absolutely amazing and fantastic and I think the reason why is that she’s just she’s like a sponge and she listened to everything. She hung on every word I said and she would keep a diary and she would write down everything that happened in the day, and what was wonderful is she didn’t come in there with preconceived idea of how she should be or telling me that she’s had experience with animals and you know that she’s really good with them. It was none of that, she just listened and she absorbed and she did. And I think that’s why the magic comes out in the film is because of her ability, she’s just such a great actress and a wonderful person to be around so and thought loved as well so that made life a lot easier.

Q: What was the most dangerous scene you filmed?

A: I think the most dangerous scenes are always the ones that potentially are the most difficult because the lion is maybe out of his comfort zone. And so for me the mall scene where she runs through the mall, you know we really needed to take our time on that and get Thor really used to the environment, let him get relaxed in that environment. And as soon as he was relaxed then that obviously takes all the pressures away from doing the rest of the stuff that we had to do. So in terms of dangerous scenes I would say that probably you know would stand out, but even that there was nothing to be alarmed about because of the time-frames that we had.

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