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When you’re given the opportunity to interview the director of a brilliant Disney remake and its leading actor, you drop everything, move Heaven and Earth, to take that opportunity. That’s how I felt when I received the invitation to attend the press event for Disney’s live action film The Jungle Book. It’s a terrible time of year for my family, my husband is an accountant after all, but to be in close proximity to greatness is something that some people only dream of. Before the red carpet world premiere of The Jungle Book I had the opportunity to interview the director of the film, Jon Favreau, and the film’s lead actor in the role of “Mowgli,” newcomer Neel Sethi.
When Favreau and Sethi entered the room we erupted with applause. We had all been able to see the film the night before and were still awestruck by what we saw on the theater’s screen. The first thing Favreau noticed were the action figures one of the bloggers, James, had placed in front of their seats. Favreau, as I’m sure you can imagine if you’ve seen him on screen, is full of life and a great storyteller. He told us that when he had the chance to see The Jungle Book merchandise he was bound and determined to not miss out. He ordered a few of each piece of merchandise and figured that was it. Suddenly, boxes started to arrive at his house. Then more boxes arrived. Favreau’s not quite sure how he ended up with so much Jungle Book merchandise but he said, “…we had so many stuffed animals and every kid that comes over is like Christmas cause [I’m] like, ‘I’ll take one of these. You have this. You want this?’ — and if [the merchandise is] still around by Halloween, there’s gonna be a very lucky kid.” He also shared this story during his interview with Good Morning America.
During the interview, I couldn’t help but notice the bond that Favreau had with his young lead actor, Neel Sethi. When Favreau described how he found the actor during his search for the perfect “Mowgli” it was clear that many things came into play when he was in the casting process. Not only was Sethi’s athleticism noticed by Favreau but his confidence was something in particular the director admired. This film is the first real acting Sethi has done and because of that Sethi wasn’t out looking for a film job. Sethi had fun with the audition process. Favreau said of Sethi’s audition, “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.”
[Tweet “Favreau was impressed by Neel Sethi’s confidence during auditions. #JungleBookEvent”]
The other important thing for Favreau when choosing Mowgli was getting to know the family that supported Sethi, “It was a big important part because [filming] 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 was like if [his parents] raised [his sister]…they’re good parents and as he grows up, they’ll be able to handle that [filming and everything that goes with starring in a motion picture].” I have to mention this little tidbit of information because of my own father’s profession, but both of Sethi’s parents are dentists. Both of Sethi’s parents were there during the interview and it was heart warming to watch them listen intently to their talented son.
It’s hard to believe but The Jungle Book was not shot on location. At all. The film was shot in a sound stage in downtown Los Angeles and the majority of the film’s visuals and the animals created by CGI. Sethi’s own performance in the film is outstanding when you consider the conditions he was filming in: with puppeteers, sometimes even Favreau, on set. Sethi’s imagination was employed during the entire filming of The Jungle Book and trust me when I say that it’s remarkable what this child can do.
“I just made it natural that if this [holding an action figure of Baloo] was a puppet that it’s not a puppet,” described Sethi of how he was able to act without his fellow co-stars with him during filming, “[The puppet] is a bear or a panther. Sometimes they made them [the puppets] look like Baloo and that helped a lot, and Jon actually got into the puppet and that helped me interact with [Baloo].”
My son had one question for me to ask during the press event and I knew no matter the circumstances I had to ask his question. Like a typical child, my seven-year-old, wanted to know if there was any scene the Sethi filmed that he thought was scary. It makes sense for my son to wonder that because the trailers and clips he’s seen from the film are so realistic. When I asked Sethi this question he kind of chuckled, not in a condescending way; it was like he understood where my son was coming from: the film is so realistic looking. Sethi answered, “Well none of it was really scary cause I was always 30 inches off the ground but I didn’t really like the mud.” Sethi is referring to the scene below.
“[The mud] would dry on me and then I would get all hot and itchy and then [the crew] would spritz me with cold water to get muddy again,” Sethi described, “and I didn’t like that. I had to act like [the mud] was normal but I’m getting chased by a stampede of Buffalo.”
[Tweet “Neel Sethi’s least favorite part of filming was the mud from the buffalo stampede. #JungleBookEvent”]
Do not miss seeing The Jungle Book on the big screen! The film opens in 3D, RealD 3D, and IMAX 3D everywhere on April 15th.
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