Meet Daniah De Villiers, a 15-year-old breakout star and animal activist who recently starred in the film “Mia and the White Lion.”
The film is about a girl in South Africa whose best friend is a lion named Charlie. The movie starts with Mia (De Villiers), a young girl who has been recently relocated from London to a South African farm her parents inherited from her grandfather.
Here, she meets a white lion cub named Charlie, who grows to be her best friend. However, her parents fear that this unbreakable bond will become dangerous once he’s a full-grown lion.
At its climax, the film emphasizes its negative view against trophy hunting and the incarceration of wild animals.
De Villiers began acting at a young age, entering an acting competition with her sister in Los Angeles, which she ended up winning. From there, she knew that story-telling through acting was her main forte.
She spent three years of her life filming “Mia and the White Lion” alongside a real lion, named Thor. The movie lacks CGI effects, surprisingly, as much of the film centers around this “wild-animal” and its bond with a girl.
“This was a very unique opportunity because not a lot of films are filmed over the period of three years with a lion. It was a lot of love and hardworking and trust that went into making this movie,” De Villiers said. “The love she has for Charlie, I developed for Thor. It was really special to be able to play her.”
To control the lions and train them is the famed “Lion Whisperer” and wildcat preservationist Kevin Richardson. He explained the lion’s natural instincts and the meaning of their movements to De Villiers as filming progressed to ensure a feeling of safety.
“There were definitely times where I’d be like why is he looking at me like that and Kevin would explain to me ‘no he’s looking at the antelope behind you’,” De Villiers said. “He taught me everything that I know about lions. He gave me an understanding about their behavior, how they see me as one of their friends, part of the pride.”
Richardson, who founded the Kevin Richardson Foundation, created the Land for Lions campaign and made De Villiers an ambassador. The funds secure land for sanctuary lions that have helped create a worldwide network of advocates for lions.
“I’ve developed such a big love for them, I thought ‘We have got to protect these animals.’ His foundation is just about creating awareness and sharing the truth with what’s happening with lions especially in South Africa,” De Villiers said. “Kevin is a wildlife warrior. He devoted his life to lions and it was an honor to work with him because he has such a unique way of working with these animals.”
In between the three years, she became homeschooled and also acted in local and international films such as “Nul is nie niks nie,” and “The Dating Game Killer.”
As Thor grew older and as filming progressed, much of the crew had to be placed in filming cages as well, highlighting the actual danger that exists when dealing with wild animals. However, the movie still stands strong, advocating against trophy hunting and animal cruelty.
“It was such a powerful experience. I never thought I would ever work with lions so it was powerful to be in the presence of a lion and being accepted as a friend,” De Villiers said. “I hope that people would develop such a big love for lions and nature, that they get the message of what’s really happening to lions in South Africa.”
For the future, De Villiers hopes to continue acting and learning to create more awareness on the plight of lions. “Mia and the White Lion” opens in select theaters on today.