This week we venture back into “The Jungle Book” with Jon Favreau’s adaptation of the beloved Disney animated classic. Audiences will see Mowgli and friends in a whole new way with cutting edge technology which will delight all senses.
Favreau along with the cast which includes Neel Sethi (Mowgli), Sir Ben Kingsley (Bagheera), Lupita Nyong’o (Raksha) and Gianarlo Esposito (Akilah), reflected on their experience working on the film and the importance to honor the original.
Around the time that Favreau worked with Sir Ben Kingsley on “Iron Man 3”, he approached the actor to be a part of the cast for his ambitious take on the Disney classic. As a fan of the original, Kingsley’s choice was an easy one but even as he finished the picture, he later realized the real significance of voicing Bagheera the panther.
Ben Kinglsey: With a benign smile, Favreau sat down next to me at a party. When he invited me to play the part of Bagheera the answer flew out of my mouth before Jon could finish the question. I realized much later that I actually am playing Kipling. That Bagheera is Rudyard Kipling. He’s the voice of Kipling in the story and the narrator. Tragically, Kipling lost his only son in World War I, in the Battle of Loos in 1915. And we were talking about coincidences and how there’s some kind of benign matrix in which we’re all mixing here and it’s definitely the spirit of Kipling.
The search for the perfect Mowgli took Favreau a long time but for newcomer Neel Sethi, it was just only a single read!
Neel Sethi: It was one audition and then Jon really liked me. So we flew to LA, me and my family, and that was really big. We had lunch with Jon. My mom went to the bathroom and he said. “As far as I’m concerned, Neel has the part.” And everyone was like “WHAT?!” and then my mom hadn’t come back from the bathroom and she was like “WHAT?! Wait how do you flush this toilet?”
She quickly came back (after the message) and asked, “Can you please say that again?” It was amazing and the food was really good too. I was acquainted with Sir Ben and met Lupita at D23 (Expo) in June. That was a lot of fun.
Before she voiced Maz Kanata in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, the role of Raksha was Lupita’s introduction into Disney’s wonderful world of voice over. She shared what inspired her to join Favreau’s cast and how she worked with Neel even if they weren’t in the same place:
Lupita Nyong’o: This is my first voice-over role, and I was attracted to it because Raksha is like the eternal mother. She chooses to take care of this creature who is not one of her own, but as though he was. I remember I did a session of voice-over really early on and then a few months later Jon [Favreau] called me in again, but this time he had Neel’s [Sethi] performance captured. And that really grounded the mother-son relationship for me, to see the vulnerability of this boy and the love that he had for the wolf. It only made my love for him grow even more. It’s such a beautiful image to see these two very different creatures have this very real bond.
Giancarlo Esposito also jumped at the opportunity to be a part of the film as a fan of the series as a youngster.
Giancarlo Esposito: Reading the book as a child really made a difference for me. It allowed me to dream, and allowed me to dream big to have courage, to have connection. For me, I always wanted to be Mowgli, the boy, because there was a freedom within that, and a freedom to be able to express myself the way I’ve always wanted to.
“The Jungle Book” is Favreau’s follow up to “Chef” where he was able to get back to his directing/writing roots. With the early reception of “Jungle Book” being really positive, he admits he is still mindful of how the film will do up to the release.
Jon Favreau: Much like my training when I made “Chef”, it’s not a meal till its served and so the real treat (I learned from) all the chefs I ever met, no matter how self-centered or selfish they seemed, or unconcerned and egotistical, they’re peeking through that kitchen to see whether everyone is finishing what’s on their plate. That’s how I can speak for all of us here, that we’re excited about the early reception. Everybody that comes up to us now means the world to us because we worked so hard on this thing. We poured ourselves into it. It’s not until it bounces and echoes back to us that we really feel we did our job. It’s a medium. It’s a communication. It’s not a painting you put on the wall, it’s a conversation we’re all having. This is something that belonged to the whole culture before we decided to make it. So it’s been very exciting. I’m starting to get the sense of how it all came together.
“The Jungle Book” opens April 15th!