It’s a tale as old as time…
A human baby is fostered by talking animals and lives a life of many adventures and tribulations in the jungles of India. Some of us have read the book, but most of our generation remember Mowgli as the underwear clad boy from the Sunday morning Doordarshan episodes we so looked forward to. Times change, many renditions of Rudyard Kipling’s classic compilation of stories The Jungle Book have seen the light of day, but Andy Serkis’ live action adaptation of the timeless classic is a first of its kind - Motion Performance Capture. No wonder then that each character is genuinely adorable and the Netflix junket, hosted in India recently gave us access to the the stars and the director himself. Here’s the low down...
Andy Serkis - Baloo and Director, Mowgli
How did your experience playing motion captured characters help in bringing Mowgli to life?
Andy Serkis: The whole approach to Mowgli’s world of talking animals was always going to be through Performance Capture. We wanted the actor playing Mowgli to be able to act with other actors directly, not imagine they’re there and to be created by a team of animators later. It was really important to have the emotional connection from all his mentor characters whether it’s Baloo the bear or Bagheera or his nemesis character - all of the characters had to be physically present and playing their roles to get a true emotional reaction from Mowgli. That was the desire. I suppose having played the character using Performance Capture all these years has equipped me with the technical understanding and a way of creating the right atmosphere for those actors to play their roles.
What drew you to directing a movie franchise with such a rich history and scope for comparison?
Andy Serkis: With any great piece of classic literature, it bears reinvention. It’s a story that’s very much part of the human psyche now. It connects with people in a big way. For instance, you can see an actor play a version of Hamlet, but then there’s another actor playing another version of the same. There’s countless actors playing Hamlet, and they’ll all be different. With this version specifically, we wanted to make it about Mowgli’s journey, and I think in many previous adaptations, Mowgli almost gets lost.because it’s about celebrating the fun aspects of the animals - they always become comic characters. Whereas here he is much more grounded in his emotional journey to find himself. This is the discovery of self and belonging.
What’s your favourite adaptation of The Jungle Book?
Andy Serkis: I love the 1967 animation. That was the one I grew up on. That was my entry - as most people’s - into adoration of the story. It’s a classic, there is no question. But, it is quite a long way from Rudyard Kipling’s book and we wanted to uncover the more complex, darker side of Mowgli’s journey and the reality, also, locating it specifically in India to contextualise it ‘coz that’s where the story is set. It would be crazy to make a version of it in this day and age without really celebrating that.
Do you think VFX technology has peaked in terms of realism and physics of animated characters in the last decade?
Andy Serkis: With every film there’s always room for improvement - in terms of texturing, in the way that the performance is captured and interpreted on the animated characters’ face. For instance, it’s constantly moving forward, so I dont think it’s right to say that it’s peaked. It’s reached a good level, but there’s always room for improvement.
Any specific reason why you chose to play Baloo?
Andy Serkis: Going back to the book, where he’s a playful character, I wanted to bring to the character with his emotions on the surface and less of a buffoon. In the book he’s more like a teacher, a military instructor, a mentor to Mowgli… I wanted his affection for Mowgli to be hidden underneath his desire to teach and care for him and make sure he survived. So you see that he loves him but it’s not overtly presented. He’s much tougher on him and to me, I think there’s more humour in that than being a singing and dancing bear.
How has India treated you so far?
Andy Serkis: We’ve had the most brilliant time here. The world premiere we had here was incredible. Everyone loves the story here and it feels like it belongs to Indians. So many people here have grown up on it. We felt very welcomed and we’d love to come back and make more films here. I’d love to work more on some more original Indian stories.