Beast is the latest big action movie from Universal and sees Idris Elba take on one of the world’s most deadly predators – a rogue lion. Packed with an A-list cast, plenty of thrills and beautiful South African scenery, it’s a flick where family bonds are shown to be at the heart of survival. We spoke to Leah Jeffries and Iyana Halley, who plays the role of Elba’s daughters in Beast, to celebrate the wild release.
Set in the South African bush, Beast follows Dr Nate Samuels (Elba), who brings his two daughters, Norah (Jeffries) and Meredith (Halley), to his deceased wife’s childhood home. However, their vacation isn’t that relaxing as a lion whose pride was killed by poachers is on a murderous revenge quest.
On top of an angry lion out for their blood, the thriller movie shows the strained relationships between the family, as Nate and his daughters navigate feelings of resentment and regret in their deadly situation. During our interview, Jeffries and Halley break down what it was like filming their challenging roles, working with CGI lions, and what advice Elba gave to the two young stars.
The Digital Fix: Leah, I read that you were really excited to film in Africa. What was your favourite moment during the production?
Leah Jeffries: Everything was just my favourite moment. Like, I don’t think anyone understands how much I literally loved filming this. I really want to go back and just re-film the whole thing over again. But my favourite part was just us laughing all the time on set.
We were in the most troubling times and filming the most troubling stuff. And I don’t know; I would just hear us laughing, making jokes, and making fun of each other. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so hilarious. I definitely want to do this again.’ On the first day, we were doing something super serious but yeah, we were still laughing.
The Digital Fix: One of the best things about Beast is Meredith and her dad’s relationship. It’s complex. Iyana, you have such a good back and forth with Idris Elba. What was it like working with him?
Iyana Halley: Working with Idris was a dream come true for one, and he’s really humble. He’s really sweet. I didn’t know what to expect at first because I was like, ‘this is a celebrity’. Like, ‘how was he gonna act?’ But he was so cool. Very funny. We bonded a lot. A lot of our scenes are in the cars, and we had a lot of downtime. So we definitely spent it making jokes and hanging out.
A rogue lion: Best monster movies
And again, Meredith’s relationship with her dad is complex. So it’s like once the cameras started rolling, I had to pretend that I didn’t really like this guy, even though we were just laughing before. So it was actually funny. It was like a light switch on and off.
The Digital Fix: You mentioned the car scenes, which for the most part, are pretty scary. This movie is pretty intense, with a lion constantly attacking the vehicle. I want to know, what was the biggest challenge while filming Beast for both of you?
LF: Well, one of the hardest moments for me was…I think I have two of them. But I think that it was when I had that scene by myself and had to go through this little maze, and there’s blood on my hands and stuff. And then I look in front of me, and there’s someone that just got messed up by the lion.
The big man: Best Idris Elba movies
It happened at the beginning of the movie, when I had to scream and had the most fearful face ever because I was so scared of what happened. And I think that was really the most challenging because I don’t scream a lot.
And also because seeing blood on your hands, and then seeing something right in front of you that is pretty scary even though it’s fake, it’s like, ‘oh my gosh’. And then the camera was only on me, and I was by myself. So I think that one was a challenging time.
IH: I think one of the most challenging times for me was the scene where actually Mer is arguing with her dad. I was super nervous about it. I was just in my head a lot of the time, but Idris is so cool.
He gave me some words of affirmation. He just told me, ‘you got this, you can do it’. So guess what? I was like, okay, cool. I got this; I can do it. And I was able to do it, and again I just watched it yesterday, and I felt very happy with the way the scene turned out.
The Digital Fix: Leah, you’re in the new Disney Plus Percy Jackson TV series as Annabeth.
The Digital Fix: Did Beast give you any tips or tricks that you’re going to take with you to that show?
LF: Well, Beast has taught me how to cry on the spot, how to be scared and to be super comedic also – but you know, that just comes from the natural me. But yes, Idris gave me a lot of tips and tricks on how to do a lot of things on the spot and not take a long time to get ready.
And even though they’re like two different things. Some of those tips can also be used in Percy Jackson and things, so I’m really glad that Beast has helped me because it’s helped me on other shows and films also.
The Digital Fix: So we won’t see Annabeth being chased by any lions, right?
LF: (laughs) No!
The Digital Fix: I want to go back to your characters. How did you prepare for these roles? Because obviously, as you said, Beast is quite heightened. You’re both screaming a lot; you’re being chased by a lion. What did you guys do to prepare yourself for the action-heavy scenes?
A trip gone wrong: Best adventure movies
IH: For me, for the emotional journey, at least, I started journaling and just trying to create different scenarios in my head because Mer is very emotional for, you know, for due reasonings.
And then, in terms of the action part, I had to watch a lot of YouTubes to see how people react to lions attacking them and how the wounds look because it’s never a lion that we’re shooting with. So I had to think about all of that stuff and then still remember my lines and still want to do an amazing job. So it was a process, but it was a cool process, was a learning process for sure.
The Digital Fix: Yeah. Speaking about that, so you didn’t have any actual lions when you were filming this movie; it was all CGI. Was that difficult?
LF: Yeah! It was. Like, tell me, if you saw a guy in a really tight grey suit with paws, like, 10 inches wide, and then him holding a lion’s head? I mean, tell me you would not laugh a little bit at that? Like, would you really be running away and scared of that? Not really.
So you know, it takes a lot of imagination. At first, I was laughing, but you know, I practised, and you make mistakes from your other stuff. So sometimes, it did take me a little while to get used to it. But being there for four months, I had time to practice. So it’s really worth watching it because our emotions are at the top.
The Digital Fix: Yeah, definitely. I felt some of those screams when I was watching it. But, now I want to know, what do you want audiences to take away when they see this movie?
LF: I want them to take away the family bonding in this movie, really, I want them to know that no matter what your family has done, or like no matter if you don’t want to be in this specific situation, you can’t worry about that right now. Because what you need to do is actually you need to survive what’s going on right now. I want them to see how much we went from separation and arguing to us pulling our strings back together and bonding to help each other survive this lion attack.
Fight to survive: Best horror movies
IH: I think that the family message is definitely like important too. But even on another note, like don’t mess with nature. This lion is reacting the way he’s acting because someone messed with him. Right? So it’s like if you just would have left the lion alone, none of this would probably ever happen. So just let things be.
The Digital Fix: As we talked about Percy Jackson, I have to ask, what about you, Iyana? Do you have any exciting new things that you can tell us about coming up?
IH: I’m currently on Abbot Elementary. I have some things that are in the works right now that hopefully go through, and then I’ll be announcing stuff soon. But when I’m not acting, I have a skincare line. I design. I like to do a lot of fun stuff.
The Digital Fix: Last question. Obviously, you guys were chased by a fake Lion while filming, so you may be a bit hesitant, but would you ever go back to South Africa?
LF: Of course!
IH: It’s so beautiful out there. I really want to go, especially now. Covid-19 was super high when we were shooting, so I didn’t get to do a lot of fun stuff. So I want to go back when you know, I’m able to go explore and take more tours and see different things.
Beast is in UK cinemas from August 24.