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Some quotes have been paraphrased for readability.
Just before walking the red carpet for The Jungle Book world premiere, I was able to sit down and chat with some of the talented minds behind the movie. Today, I bring you the best of our interviews with Director Jon Favreau and Neel Sethi, who plays Mowgli.
Jon gave us some fun behind the scenes information about several aspects of the movie (and The Jungle Book merchandise!), and it was awesome to learn about Neel’s thoughts about his first movie.
Jon mentioned that adding a song into a movie breaks the movie up a bit. He had to choose wisely when deciding which songs to add from Disney’s original The Jungle Book, and wanted to keep the storyline of the Rudyard Kipling book. Jon brainstormed the music decisions with his wife:
…This is the one time, she said ‘you’re not going to have that song in?’ And I said ‘No, No, it might not fit tonally.’ She said, ‘I think you should have the song.’ And my kids wanted to hear the song… It was early enough in the process that we worked it in because when I came on board, there was no music in the movie at all.’
Jon was super excited about the merchandise that is coming out with The Jungle Book–specifically, the Singing Baloo doll. He didn’t see much merchandise with his movie Elf, and the Iron Man merchandise was so difficult to come by that he decided there would be no shortage of The Jungle Book merchandise at his house for the movie.
I looked at the pictures and said, ‘oh give me 10 of those, 20 of those, …50 of those.’
Jon didn’t quite expect what happened next.
They delivered about 20 boxes the first day–that was the first shipment. My wife said, ‘what’s going on here?’ The whole dining room was filled with boxes. When I get back from Australia, the entire driveway is full of boxes. We have so many stuffed animals that every kid who comes over, it’s like Christmas because w like ‘Take one of these things. You want this?’ If it’s still around by Halloween, there are gonna be very lucky kids in the neighborhood!
Jon’s vision for The Jungle Book needed a bit of help at first, and he found that help from Alan Horn.
…We could create our own complete environment [similar to Avatar] and if you do that, I could do something similar to what I was thinking about for Magic Kingdom (another project Jon is working on). If Disney had a castle this big, make the castle this big, if the branches of trees in this movie in real life were this big or a Panther is this big, make him as big as he was in the cartoon. Make him bigger, play with scale. Always keep it photo real but you could give it a dream like quality so you see the whole thing through a kid’s eyes. …The confidence they had with the success of the other live action adaptations made me realize that they were an enthusiastic partner for The Jungle Book.
Newcomer Neel Sethi was found after his dance teacher saw a flyer for the auditions. Here’s how Jon explains it:
I can’t take credit for this talented young man. He wasn’t experienced but he had a quality and being a Father, I recognized–it was confidence. He was a full formed version of himself and was very quick on the comeback, very confident, and I think the fact that he wasn’t a kid who was out there looking for acting jobs made it fun for him. It didn’t feel like he was concerned about failing or concerned about getting the part or not. They came in on a lark. He saw a Flyer.
They auditioned and I was looking at 2,000 kids. Not all of them but they would send me the best of the lot and he [Neel] was one… he was a little younger than we thought. But there was something that made me smile. Then he started doing Martial Arts. After the audition was over, he says, I do my own stunts. I thought, this kid’s having a good time and then we brought his family out and I met with them.
It was a big important part because it could be a disruptive experience. His sister actually really sealed the deal. She was 16, and she turned out pretty well and actually prepared him for the audition. I thought, ‘if they raised this one, they’re good parents and as he grows up, they’ll be able to handle that.’ The whole family was there, on the set. And the whole set became a family.
Neel’s version of the story is equally interesting:
I was in a Dance Class and the teacher said I’d be very good for [the role]. I never thought about acting before but I auditioned. They really liked me so we flew in LA. We flew to LA and were in the hotel, and the Producer called and we were flipping and jumping and we were so happy! We went out and got my favorite food, lobster ravioli.
I just made it natural that if this was a puppet, I would just make it normal [pretend] that it’s not a puppet. If it was a bear or a panther, I just [thought to myself] ‘it’s not a puppet. Oh, that’s Baloo. Hi Ballou!’ That made it a lot easier. Sometimes they made [the puppets] look like Baloo and that helped a lot. And John actually got into the puppet sometimes and that helped me interact with him.
I didn’t really like the mud. It would dry on me and then I would get hot and itchy and then they would spritz it with cold water for it to get muddy again. I didn’t like that and I had to act like it was normal that I was getting chased by a stampede of Buffalo [in the mud].
I loved being able to hear Neel speak about his experience filming the movie, and when watching it, it was stunning to me that it was filmed without other “real” characters around. Remember, this was his first movie!
I attended press events with Walt Disney Pictures and Disney XD, which included talent interviews from The Jungle Book. This expenses paid trip to Los Angeles is offered in exchange for my coverage about the events. No other compensation is given. Of course, opinions and experiences are my own.