I can’t tell you how excited I am to get to this point,” said actor, director and motion capture master Andy Serkis.
His new film “Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle,” his take on Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book,” has had a long journey—as exciting as Mowgli’s himself. Andy, who directed the film, first started working on it five years ago. “A lot has happened in those five years. But it did start off with a great script and it started off with a real desire to make Mowgli the character the true center of the story, which he is… and giving it a visceral, immersive, truthful, emotional journey. That’s what appealed to me about it. And that’s what’s kept me sustained throughout the whole thing.”
Even as a child, Andy loved “The Jungle Book.” “The characters were very solid in my mind. And of course I loved the 1967 Disney animation that we all probably did, we all grew up with it. The challenge for me was to bring a new audience to this and really give them the tone of the book that I don’t think has been seen before. That was the big quest for me.”
Rohan Chand stars in the film as Mowgli. “Rohan is astonishing, I really think he’s an amazing young star in the making. He’s truthful, he’s dedicated, he’s phenomenal. It’s an adult role for a child. The emotions that he goes through as well as the physical tasks he goes through, running on all fours, he gets knocked about and he dealt with it all brilliantly. At the center of it is this terrifically sensitive and wise beyond his years, just an extraordinary gifted actor.”
Andy, whose motion picture magic has brought to life Caesar in “Planet of the Apes,” Snoke in “Star Wars” and, of course, Gollum in “Lord of the Rings,” also stars as Baloo the bear in Mowgli. “Originally I wasn’t going to do it, I was just going to direct because I thought I’d have my hands full. So we cast all the other characters and then then people started saying, ‘Andy, hold on a minute, this is ridiculous, why don’t you play Baloo?’ And I was like, ‘Nah… but actually yeah, that does make sense.’ The Baloo that you will see in this movie is very different from how he was portrayed in the past. He’s not the sort of all singing all dancing, ‘Bare Necessities’ happy kind of hippie character. He’s much more, he’s like Sgt. Major in ‘Full Metal Jacket.’ He’s much tougher. He’s darkly comic.”
The cast also includes Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Benedict Cumberbatch and Freida Pinto. “The cast is incredible. We were so very fortunate to have them all come onboard.”
One of the challenges for “Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle” is the fact that Jon Favreau’s “The Jungle Book” came out just a couple of years ago. But, Andy said, “Even when the other version was being made at the same time, I knew they didn’t cross over because they were completely different animals. This one was much more a piece of drama that had, at the center, this rite of passage, this complex journey. I knew they didn’t really cross over and could coexist, much like “Snow White and the Huntsman” or “Mirror, Mirror.” It’s inevitable these days, you’re gonna start off on an adventure with a film and you’ll hear someone else is making something similar… But it’s all about interpretation. It’s like theater. You can go and see a great performance of ‘Hamlet’ and then next week you can go and see Ben Whishaw’s ‘Hamlet’ or Benedict Cumberbatch’s ‘Hamlet’ or Mark Rylance’s ‘Hamlet’ and they are totally different experiences.”
Andy is excited about the future of motion capture acting. “I remember when I first started using performance capture, the older generation of actors were like, ‘Oh, jobs will be taken away from actors’ and I was thinking, ‘How can this be true? It’s gonna increase because actors can now play anything across so many different platforms. The future in terms of next-
generation storytelling is great because the world is opening up hugely with all these new platforms. It means that literally anybody can play anything. That’s why I love it as a medium. That, philosophically, is incredible.”
Andy is working on “Animal Farm” too with Netflix. But first, there’s “Mowgli.” Netflix acquired the worldwide rights to “Mowgli” from Warner Bros. in a deal that included a limited theatrical release in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and London. “That was one of the most thrilling things about the conversation that happened between Warner Bros. and Netflix. Netflix saw it and said, “Look, we absolutely love this film.” I’d always seen this movie as an international movie even when we were making it. It tonally felt more like ‘Life of Pi’ … When Netflix took it over, I said, it is a cinematic piece, it is meant to be seen on the big screen. It will work both ways because it is a drama, it will work on the small screen, it will work well on TV screens. It was very important that we could have both. The intention of the film, 80 percent of the movie is close-ups on the animals’ faces where you can really read intention even on the small screen.”
“Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle” will premiere on Netflix on Dec. 7.