Back left
Back right

Jungle Book’s Amazing Actors

Apr 11, 2016

By: Lynn Barker

In Disney’s The Jungle Book, a new live-action movie based on the novel by Rudyard Kipling and the previous, animated Disney musical film, a human boy is guided and protected in life by his animal friends. Director Jon Favreau is a big fan of all the versions of the story and used state-of-the-art technology to bring it to new audiences.

Mowgli exploring with BagheeraMowgli exploring with BagheeraCourtesy of Disney

Actors Lupita Nyong’o (voice of Raksha, a mother wolf), Sir Ben Kingsley (voice of Bagheera, a black panther) and Giancarlo Esposito (voice of Akela, a wolf) really got into their characters and loved working with 12-year-old actor Neel Sethi who plays young human Mowgli. Everyone loved the novel that bonded Mankind with his animal friends.

Swimming with bear BalooSwimming with bear BalooCourtesy of Disney

Q: Lupita, how did you get involved with doing the voice of Raksha in the film?

  • Lupita: I was very busy with the campaign for 12 Years a Slave at the time I met Jon (Favreau, the director) and he very quietly walked me through his idea for this version of The Jungle Book and what struck me was the compassion with which he was talking about these characters. There was all this state of the art stuff he was going to do with it but at the heart of it was the love of the story and vision for each character so that is what brought me in.

Lupita as wolf RakshaLupita as wolf RakshaCourtesy of Disney

Q: Neel, were there a lot of auditions to get the lead part of Mowgli?  

  • Neel: It felt like it was too easy, like it shouldn’t happen for me so easily. I just auditioned once and Jon really liked me. The first time I met Sir Ben and Lupita, I voice recorded with Sir Ben and I met Lupita at D-23 (the Disney expo). That was a lot of fun.

Meeting the wolf familyMeeting the wolf familyCourtesy of Disney

Q: Was it important, Jon, that the cast record their voices in the same room?

  • Jon: I tried to get everyone to perform as much as I could together. I’ve done animated voices before and it tends to degrade eventually to, “Okay, just say it again louder”. Depending on how good the filmmaker is. they use the loudest take because it has the most energy or they can weave together a subtle performance but it’s a lot of ask of people.
  • I wanted this to seem like a live action film, not animated so the key was to get a conversational performance. As an actor, you rely upon your scene partner, his or her energy modulates yours. You should play it like a tennis match with the person you are in front of the camera with. Neel came with me to every location (to record) and Sir Ben was a great teacher (for him). He’s passing good habits on to the next generation.

Jungle Book director Jon FavreauJungle Book director Jon FavreauCourtesy of Disney

Q: Can you all talk about developing your characters?

  • Sir Ben: I realized much later that Bagheera is the voice of (author) Rudyard Kipling in the story. I’m privileged to be the voice of Kipling. When I was in the Cub Scouts, our troop leader was called Akela.
  • Giancarlo: (Voice of Akela). Reading the book as a child really made a difference for me. It allowed me to dream big, to have courage, to have connection. I always wanted to be Mowgli as a boy because there was a freedom to be able to express myself the way I always wanted to. I found that freedom through being an actor and seeing (the original) movie did something to my imagination. It allowed me to understand how we create relationships with each other and how those relationships are things we can really hold onto. There is not much that is material that we can hold onto although we still like the shiny, glossy things. This particular character has to bring some compassion but also tough love to this young boy.
  • Lupita: This is my first voice over role and I was attracted to the character 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 did a session of voice over really early on then I was called in again but Jon had Neel’s performance captured and that really grounded the mother/son relationship for me; to see the vulnerability of this boy. The love he had for the wolf only made the love I had for him grow. It’s very beautiful to see these very different creatures have this very real bond.

Sir Ben as panther BagheeraSir Ben as panther BagheeraCourtesy of Disney

Mowgli with his animal friendsMowgli with his animal friendsCourtesy of Disney

Q: What did you draw from to express that strong motherly instinct?

  • Lupita: I think my mother had a lot to do with what inspired me because she’s my example and she’s a very good mother. I asked myself a lot of questions about what it would be like to lose one of my own though I’m not a mother myself. I do love children. When I was 12 I preferred to stay indoors and babysit my cousins that go outside and play so there is that part of me that is very much alive. I gravitate very much toward children. My mother was definitely someone who inspired me.

Sir Ben, Neel and Lupita at the Disney ExpoSir Ben, Neel and Lupita at the Disney ExpoCourtesy of Disney

Q: Neel, how did you handle the stunt scenes?

  • Neel: I’m not a climber that much because I was raised in the city so I didn’t climb much but in the movie it looks like I’m climbing like 400 feet off the ground but I can only be 30 inches off the ground. It’s just a blue pad (below) and it looks like it’s so far down but it’s really not.
  • Jon: We put Neel through the paces with a stuntman before we hired him to see what type of athlete he was and Neel is actually great at a lot of sports so when I would direct him it was sometimes like being a coach. I’d be like “Do you play baseball? Did you ever steal a base?”. He’s like “Oh yeah!”. I said “Pretend like you’re getting ready to steal second base”. When you are watching him running away from the cattle in the stampede, he was stealing bases. You are tricking yourself into believing that what you are doing is real.

Giancarlo as wolf AkelaGiancarlo as wolf AkelaCourtesy of Disney

The Jungle Book is in theaters now!

The Jungle Book PosterThe Jungle Book PosterCourtesy of Disney

The Jungle Book Trailer


Have Your Say

Have you ever read “The Jungle Book”? Did you see the early Disney animated film? Are you into the bond people can have with animals? Let us know below.