Andy Serkis on Mowgli finally being shown after 5 years, playing Baloo in the film and the future of motion capture acting

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Based on the Rudyard Kipling classic, Mowgli follows a human child who is torn between two worlds. He then accepts his destiny and becomes a legend with the help of a bear named Baloo and a black panther named Bagheera. It stars Rohan Chand, Matthew Rhys and Freida Pinto, along with voice and motion capture performances from Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Benedict Cumberbatch, Naomie Harris and Andy Serkis.

Watch the trailer below:

At a roundtable interview at the Netflix See What’s Next Asia event in Singapore, acclaimed actor and director Andy Serkis tells us about his upcoming epic action-adventure film. Read the interview below:

On Mowgli finally being shown after a long journey

Andy Serkis: I can't tell you how excited I am to get to this point. It really has been. I started was looking at my notes, and realized I started working on it in 2013 – doing mood boards and trying to find the tone for the piece. It's had a very exciting journey and a lot has happened in those five years. 

It did start off with a great script and it started off with the real desire to make the Mowgli character the true center of the story which he is; and both going back to the tone of Rudyard Kipling's book but also giving it a visceral kind of immersive and truthful, emotional journey.

I suppose that was what appealed to me about it, and that's what's kept me sustained throughout the whole thing. Even when the other version was being made at the same time, I knew that they didn't cross over because they were completely different animals. It's all about interpretation and it's like theater, you can go and see a great performance of Hamlet, but the next week, you can go and see Ben Wishaw as Hamlet or you can see Benedict Cumberbatch is Hamlet or Mark Rylance is Hamlet, and they're totally different experiences. Although it's been a long journey, it's been an interesting one and I am very glad to get to this point. 

On shooting in South Africa

Andy Serkis: South Africa is great. In fact, the two feature films that I've directed have both been shot there. Although we are culturally specifically about India, we shot there for budgetary reasons but we were shooting just south of Durban where there is the largest Indian population outside of India. So that's partially why we chose that area but we built this incredible Indian village and we literally built it from scratch in the middle of a jungle and it was an amazing set with a fantastic atmosphere, the light was extraordinary and the crew in South Africa was really fantastic, too.

On working with young actor Rohan Chand

Andy Serkis: I think he's astonishing. I really think he's an amazing young star in the making – he is truthful, he is dedicated, his worth ethic was phenomenal, he had a real instinct for the part, he really goes through in this film. It's like an adult role for a child; everything that he goes through emotionally as well as physically – running on all fours, he gets knocked about and he dealt with it all brilliantly. But at the center of it is this terrifically sensitive yet wise beyond his years, just an extraordinarily gifted actor. 

Image: Netflix

On directing huge stars 

Andy Serkis: The cast is incredible. We are so fortunate to have them all come on board. I suppose I was very lucky because I didn't have as much pressure as I thought I would have because I had spent time working with Peter Jackson, and when he let me direct the second unit on the Hobbit which I did for 200 days – it was a huge part of my life that I actually got to work with a lot of big cast members on that film so I wasn't really daunted by it.

On playing Baloo in the film

Andy Serkis: Originally I wasn't going to do it, I was just going to direct it because I thought I'd have my hands full. And so we cast all the other characters then it came to the point where we've been out for some people for Baloo and then people started to say, "Andy, why don't you just play Baloo?" and I was like, "Actually yes, that does make sense." 

The Baloo that you will see in this movie is a very different Baloo to how he's been portrayed in the past. He's not the sort of singing, dancing, Bare Necessities, happy hippie character so if you're expecting that, I'm sorry. He's much more like a sergeant major in a full metal jacket – he's much tougher and from the tone of the book, he's called Iron Paws and has an affection for Mowgli but he never shows it and he's really tough on him because he wants to survive. And that's his job, his function in the wolf pack is to be the teacher of the cubs to enable them to survive predators. He's darkly comic but he doesn't make jokes or he doesn't sing.  

Image: Netflix

On the most difficult scene to shoot

Andy Serkis: They were all difficult to shoot. There's a particular scene which was one of the first scenes we shot in 2014 and was the last scene that we finished in post-production which is literally two or three months ago. There's a scene where Mowgli is being brought back to the wolf pack and you sort of meet the neighborhood, the wolf pack family and all the other wolves, these mothers cleaning one of them and Boot, the little wolf cub gets bullied. That scene, the interaction and all of the other animals going around Mowgli – everything about that scene was super complicated to shoot.

On dream roles or dream motion capture characters 

Andy Serkis: I suppose my interest at the moment lies more in projects that can be brought to life using this technology. For instance, the Mahabharata is definitely a project which I would love to see come to life using this technology because I think it would lend itself perfectly to create all of those Dante's characters and creatures. I think it would be amazing!

Image: Netflix

On the future of motion capture acting

Andy Serkis: Well, the future in terms of next-generation storytelling is great, because I think the world is opening up hugely with all these new platforms. So whereas performance capture only was the tool that could be used for big blockbuster movies, now, of course, we can use it for TV, for video games, for virtual reality, for mixed reality, for live stage shows and you can even have actors or performers in motion capture suits, and project real-time avatars on the screen.

I remember when I first started using performance capture, the older generation of actors were saying jobs will be taken away from actors and I was thinking, "How can this be true? It's only going to increase because actors can now play anything across so many different platforms." So it's looking really good. 

Image: Netflix

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Mowgli will be released globally on Netflix on December 7. Stream it here.

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Andy Serkis

Andrew Clement "Andy" Serkis (born 20 April 1964) is an English film actor, director and author. He is known for his performance capture rol...  read more »

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