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Being able to attend the press junket for The Jungle Book has definitely been the highlight of my 2016. When I was first invited I was over the moon; believe it or not, little by little the event kept getting better. Upon hearing the news that I would be interviewing Academy Award Winner Lupita Nyong’o (the voice of Mowgli’s wolf mother “Raksha”) and Emmy-nominated actor (and cast member of Once Upon a Time) Giancarlo Esposito (the voice of the alpha wolf “Aklea”) made me weak in the knees. Could this really be my life? More importantly, could both of these talented actors be in the movie together? The answer to both questions is “yes”. This is most undoubtedly my life and yes, Nyong’o and Esposito are yet another force to be reckoned with in Disney’s The Jungle Book.
The picture above really captures both Nyong’o and Esposito perfecty. The minute they walked into the room energy level rose. Both actors exude happiness and professionalism at the same time.
[Tweet “Lupita Nyong’o’s role in Jungle Book was her first one after 12 Years a Slave. #JungleBookEvent”]
In the movie, Nyong’o plays Mowgli’s mother, granted she’s a wolf, but she’s the only mother he has known. Nyong’o isn’t a mother, so she drew her inspiration for playing “Raksha” from the strong women in her life, most notably her own mother, “She has a fierce love for her children. And she’s [been] known to say things like, ‘if you die I’ll kill you.’ For me, that spirit, that tenacity of mothering was something that I thought of. And that inspired my version of Raksha.”
The role of Raksha was the first role Nyong’o accepted after she got off of what she called “the 12 Years a Slave train.” What drew her to the voice over role was the fact that Raksha is a mother,
I’ve been fantasizing about motherhood since I was probably 2 ½…But I also had a fear about being a mother, and doing work like this makes you really put yourself there. I like being put in those kinds of uncomfortable places that help me to expand my empathy. And so that was what attracted me to Raksha.
Giancarlo Esposito is probably most well known for his role as “Gus Fring” on the Emmy Award winning drama series Breaking Bad. Esposito was also nominated for an Emmy for his role as Gus Fring on the television show. I know of him from one of my favorite ABC shows Once Upon a Time where he plays the Magic Mirror/Sidney Glass. As a child, Esposito was extremely well read. His mother read him Kipling’s The Jungle Book when he was 10-years-old and Esposito told us it was one of his favorite books as a child. “I was really moved by Kipling because of his background,” Esposito explains, “Where he was raised. He was born in India and he was raised through that caste system. He’s an Indian in London and this story was such a story of freedom…”
If I could transport you to that room, with all of us sitting there listening to Esposito and Nyong’o, I would in a heartbeat. I could listen to Esposito talk all day. The man is so eloquent with such a beautiful way of describing his role in the film. He also conveyed to us the importance this version of The Jungle Book is to today’s society,
Jon asked me. I was in [at playing the role of Aklea] at ten [years old]. My life was coming full circle. To be able to be in this particular story, which is told in a new way with more eminent danger, yet with a great deal of compassion and understanding for the world which it’s placed in, which is our world of now…I just think Walt Disney was way ahead of his time and now we have a guy who’s remade this movie with new technology.
Esposito is right; Disney was ahead of his time. It was clear while we were talking to the actors that they understood the significance that just as Disney was ahead of his time Favreau is similar. Favreau has turned an animated Disney classic, in fact the last film Disney worked on before his death, into a live action motion picture. There was a sense when we were interviewing both Nyong’o and Esposito that history was being made with this film. Because of the way it was shot and because of how the story parallels the world we live in today.
Since Nyong’o played Mowgli’s mother much of our conversation with her centered around what she thought of Raksha’s character as a mother. When he was asked what inspired him as he played the alpha wolf, Aklea, it became clear that for Esposito, a father of four girls, the importance of mothers played a great deal on how he envisioned Aklea and interacted with Nyong’o’s character, Raksha,
So while Lupita and you guys have been talking back and forth about motherhood, I have this vision that I’m really watching each one of my daughters start to become women, and mothers. And this is what’s gonna save our planet. I know it. Because there’s such a grace and understanding in the female persona when women have really come into their own. Part of that is to have children, and to be caring for those children, and not only in the care for them, but also in the nurturing and raising of them, they have to pass on their, their souls, and their intelligence…It is this strength of the mother that is going to change the way the world is. It’s the compassion, the love, the very open spirited mother, and woman that will move us forward in this new century. It’s no doubt.
At the time that this interview had taken place I had seen The Jungle Book once. I picked up on its beauty and how vivid and real the effects of the film were. I did not, however, think much about the social dialogue happening in the movie and how it pertains to our world today in 2016. I think Esposito said it best when he said,
I just want to serve up the goodness and grace that’s been given to me because I made a choice that lined up with my passion. And that’s what I tell my kids. And what I want people to get from this movie is that sense of freedom, that sense of abandonment in the ride, of this film, the sense of connection with family, even if you don’t have a family. The sense of trust that someone’s gonna adopt you and take care of you.
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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