Actor Stephen Carlile made his Broadway debut nearly a year ago as one of Disney’s most loathsome baddies: Scar in The Lion King. Having played Scar on the national tour from 2012–2014, the British actor was brought from across the pond in anticipation of the production’s 20th Anniversary in November of last year. “My whole year had been leading up to that. I’d always been a bit nervous, suddenly it happened, and I went onstage,” Carlile pauses to remember, “it was like a rock concert.”
Over time, Carlile has discovered the layers of the notorious villain. “It’s all there in the script; it’s very much the bible of clues,” he says. “[My portrayal] definitely comes from the lines like the opening line ‘Life’s not fair.’ The way it’s delivered, with that sarcastic loucheness. That laid-back quality.”
Three ingredients become apparent in crafting his perfect scoundrel, and Carlile spoke to Playbill to reveal how he builds Scar from the outside in.
“Scar is broken on the outside, on the inside, as well. He was just always very off-center, imbalanced, crooked. I always imagined that he’s just always in a lot of pain. His knees and hips… I feel like his skin is covered in eczema and psoriasis and sores weeping with puss. You’ve got so many dynamics going on there that help create this character. Julie Taymor calls it the double event, where you’re looking at the man, but then you’re looking at the mask and the animal, and then sometimes both together and it creates a three-dimensional character. The mask is so big on top of my head I’m about eight feet tall. So you really get that languid sort of brokenness. The costume helps so much as well, because that bamboo sticking out of your body—the bamboo shell—you can see every nook and creak of this whole thing and the way he moves in the thing. I’m on high heels, as well. When you move in that leather, you hear when I’m moving—the creak of the skin and the leather. That really helps and informs the character, even just when I’m walking.”
The speaking voice
“I think, like all villains—not all villains, but certainly this one—they’re narcissistic and they love the sound of their own voice. I don’t know why a British accent really suits evil character, but it just seems to fit. I supposed the whole thing about the regalness and wanting to be higher up, more intelligent. He’s a very intelligent character. He thinks he should be king, because he has intellect, where his brother probably doesn’t, but the brother was first, and he has the brawn, so there’s actually nothing that Scar can do about it, apart from using these wise, witty plans and schemes, which eventually work. It’s as crooked as the whole physicality.”
The singing voice
“I was always a tenor, as you say. I was in The Producers [as the ‘Springtime for Hitler’ soloist]. I sang ‘On the Street Where You Live’ in My Fair Lady as Freddy Eynsford Hill. All that bel canto style and then this part came up. [In the callback] I sang ‘Be Prepared’ and it was too low for me, actually, but they didn’t seem to be bothered. Over time, [my voice] just gradually got lower and lower, and I really work on it. But quite often speaking [in song] is good. I think sometimes with evil characters I don’t want to be singing too much. When he’s singing but it’s really him speaking to the masses, he’s not a singer. In the tango, the madness of Scar, he opens up and it does get quite operatic and I feel right there because I think Scar is quite a show-off.
Epitome of his villain experience
“I love that moment where I turn on Simba, and I say, ‘Tell me, who's responsible for Mufasa's death?’ I manipulate him. That whole scene for him, he thinks he killed his father, because I made him think he did. And then he's telling everyone there. I love that manipulation, and I love the lines afterwards, when I'm forcing him up the rock, to his death, with my wit, and not my strength. His unpredictability and using his wit, forcing him off to his death, I think that is my luscious moment.”
Flip through Stephen Carlile's full makeup transformation below: