Andy Serkis On 'Mowgli: Legend Of The Jungle': His ‘Jungle Book’ Remake Is Darker Than The Disney Version

“It’s not a spectacle with a happy ending,” he says.

Right now, there’s a viral spoof — called Leaked: Footage From Inside No. 10 Downing Street — of Andy Serkis channelling PM Theresa May… via Gollum, his character from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies. 

In the two-and-a-half minute clip, Serkis combines his famous alter-ego, replete with his signature guttural voice, with the Prime Minister to mock latter’s Brexit plans. 

That’s Andy Serkis in character — playful, having a blast. It’s a side the 54-year-old filmmaker and performance-capture pioneer didn’t reveal when 8 DAYS met him at Marina Bay Sands last month. 

He was here for Netflix’s See What’s Next Asia conference to promote Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, his long-awaited adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book

Mixing performance capture and live-action, the movie, which premiered on Netflix last week, follows Mowgli (Rohan Chand), a human boy raised by a wolf pack in the jungles of India. 

The A-list cast playing the animals include Christian Bale (as Bagheera the panther), Cate Blanchett (Kaa the snake), Benedict Cumberbatch (Shere Khan the tiger) and Naomi Harris (Nisha the wolf). 

Serkis pulls a double shift as the director and Baloo, the wise bear who schools Mowgli on the rules of the jungle. 

Speaking to a group of journos, Serkis explains how his take on the man-cub story is different from the other versions produced by Disney.  

On remaking The Jungle Book (again)…

Does the world need another adaptation, especially so soon after Disney released Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book, itself a live-action remake of the 1967 animated evergreen? “Why do we need to see another Hamlet or Spider-Man?” Serkis counters. 

“Classic literature always bear re-telling and very time it’s remade, the director or actor brings to it something that’s fresh and new.” In Mowgli’s case, it’s a darker interpretation — meaning there are no songs (bye-bye, ‘The Bare Necessities’! — focusing more on Mowgli as an outsider and his search for his truth identity in the world of man. 

“It’s an emotional journey — it’s not a spectacle with an automatic happy ending,” warns Serkis. “We live in a world [where people are being] placed and displaced. It’s hugely a contemporary ideal that I thought [warrants] examination [in the movie].” 

On the movie premiering on Netflix…

Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle was originally slated to bow out in cinemas in October before its producers, Warner Bros, sold it off to Netflix. While it was shown in select theatres in the US, the rest of the world got to see it on the streaming giant. 

Serkis maintains that he wasn’t surprised by Warner Bros’ decision and that he was part of the discussion of how the film would be distributed. “It’s not just a cinema spectacle which can only be seen on the big screen,” says Serkis. 

“Because 80 per cent of the movie are animal characters in close-ups, so whether you’re watching it on a cinema screen or TV screen, you’ll still experience the same impact.” 

He adds, “What I love about Netflix is its global reach… I’m delighted that it can be seen immediately across all platforms — [streaming is a] very interesting next-generation storytelling [device] and [it’ll be interesting to see] how stories will be received in the future. 

Welcome to the jungle: Even though the movie is set in India, it was never filmed there. The Indian wilderness was created at UK's Leavesden Studios (where the Harry Potter movies were shot), while a five-acre Indian village was built in South Africa, in Port Edward, two hours from Durban. Serkis says, "We'd love to have shot in India but it was a budgetary [reason to shoot it in South Africa]." 

On playing Baloo…

On top of directing, Serkis is also playing Mowgli’s bear mentor Baloo, which was no easy feat. While Serkis is a master of mo-cap performance (Gollum, King Kong, and Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes), portraying a quadrupedal creature is whole new ball game. 

For starters, it required two people — one in the front, and one in the back. Even tougher, says Serkis, “was capturing the emotional expressions of the actors and translating them into non-humanoid faces. 

"Imagine we took a picture of Christian Bale [who plays Bagheer] and a panther’s face [and then we morphed in stages from one to the other].  [Along that spectrum of images, we find an image which you can see the actor’s performance and that it still looks like a realistic animal. That process took two-and-a-half years in post-production.”

Fantastic beasts: The CG beasts — like Baloo (Andy Serkis) and Bagheera (Christian Bale) here — took the visual effects artists two-and-a-half years to render. The four-legged jungle dwellers aren't totally photo-realistic because it would be "ludicrous" for photo-realistic animals to talk, says Serkis. The digital creatures were designed in such a way that you can see actor's facial expressions subtly in the animal's head. 

On the movie’s painstakingly long post-production process…

Serkis was supposed to pop his directorial cherry with Mowgli: he started work on it in 2014, and wrapped principal photography a year later. But because it took such a long time to render the CG beasts, the movie’s release was delayed a few times. 

During this time, Serkis went off to star in War for the Planet of the Apes and The Last Jedi, and direct another movie, the Andrew Garfield-starring biopic of Robin Cavendish, the polio-stricken father of Serkis’ pal and producing partner Jonathan. 

So which movie does he consider is his directorial debut? “Good question,” says Serkis, taking a moment to ponder. “I guess Mowgli was technically the first film I directed on set, but because Breathe came out first [in October 2017], Breathe, officially, is my first film as a director. "

On his dream project…

Post-Mowgli, Serkis and his production company Imaginariuim are busy prepping his next directorial effort, another adaptation of George Orwell’s political satire Animal Farm

Other projects in development include a TV show inspired by the late Oliver Sacks, the world renowned neurologist and author whose 1973 non-fiction novel about encephalitis lethargica — a sleeping illness — was made into an Oscar-nominated 1990 movie starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro. 

Besides that, he’s keen to make a version of the epic Sanskrit poem Mahabharata. “I think using performance capture to create a lot of those characters will be pretty cool,” says Serkis.

Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is now out on Netflix; Breathe is streaming on Fox+.

Photos: Netflix 

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