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Meet the San Diego Native Who Stars in ‘The Lion King’

Nick Cordileone plays wisecracking meerkat Timon in the Tony Award-winning musical
Nick Cordileone (left) as Timon in Disney's 'The Lion King'

By Erin Coates

For the last six years, Nick Cordileone has helped bring Disney’s The Lion King to life on stage as wisecracking meerkat Timon. On September 7, Cordileone and the rest of the cast will take the stage at San Diego’s Civic Theatre for a nearly month-long run of the production. Here, the San Diego native talks life on the road, performing at the Old Globe, and his favorite taco spots.

When did you start acting?

I started acting in church plays around when I was 7 years old. I did youth theater, and speech and debate in high school. Then I went to college for theater performance at Northern Arizona University and moved back to San Diego after graduating. I worked in different theaters before becoming a resident ensemble member at Lamb’s Players Theater for many years. Then my wife, daughter, and I moved to New York where I started working regional theater and doing a lot of classical work. A little over six years ago, I landed the Lion King tour.

Which are some of your most memorable roles?

Lobby Hero at the Old Globe, Hamlet at Lamb’s, The War of the Roses. At Alabama Shakespeare I got to play King Henry the Sixth. And then Timon, of course, is a favorite.

How challenging is it to control a puppet on top of singing and dancing? Any funny mishaps?

The puppet is really an ingenious design. It’s designed in such a way where I can do all of it. My feet are attached to his feet, I can operate his arms when I need to, and I can connect my right arm into a harness so that I can operate his mouth. The way the harness is designed, our centers are pretty much connected: if I take a deep breath, it appears like he is taking a deep breath. And the rest is sort of rounding it out and making him stay alive. The fun part is that I didn’t have any puppeteer experience. When Disney is looking for potential folks to do the show, they look more for the relationship you have with this story telling device as opposed to being an expert right out of the box.

How did you work to make such an iconic role your own?

I was the reader for the audition so a lot of people were reading all sorts of things, and I would read the opposite parts. When it came time for director Julie Taymor to see me, she really played up the idea that these guys are wannabe wise guys. They think they have all these street smarts and are these tough guys, when the fact of the matter is they’re not. They’re prey and in danger of being eaten. But that stuck with me. I showed her my drivers license where I look like I’m trying to be a wannabe thug and she said, “That’s what I want Timon to think he is.” She gave me the freedom to be my own self and borrow a little of Joe Pesci, Bruno Kirby, Ziggy from The Wire and throw it all in a blender.

Had you planned to be in the show?

Not at all. That was something I would do for cash between acting gigs and the casting director said, “Hey, would this be something you would be interested in if they’re interested?” And I said, “Of course.” It was a no-brainer. But I never thought “I’m going to go audition for The Lion King.” It was off the radar, but when it became a real possibility I was very excited by it.

Other than visiting family and friends, what else do you plan to do while you’re in town?

My sister is getting married, which is super exciting and it just happens to coincide with us being there. Getting back to old haunts—Taco Salsa, Mona Lisa, El Indio, all my favorite places. I get to share my hometown with a lot of our cast and tell them all the best places to go. We get to spend anywhere from a month to two months in some of these cities. It’s a real gift to be able to take the show places, but also learn about every place we go and learn the personality of that city—what makes it tick, and hear the audience react in different ways.

The Lion King runs September 7–October 2 at the Civic Theatre

Meet the San Diego Native Who Stars in ‘The Lion King’

Nick Cordileone (left) as Timon in Disney’s ‘The Lion King’

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