5 questions with actor Andy Serkis on his directorial debut, 'Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle' on Netflix
Jon Favreau directed The Jungle Book in 2016. Why was there a need to create another version?
Why do we need to see another version of Hamlet or Spiderman? With classic pieces of literature, they always bear retelling. Every single time it's made, there is something fresh and new that each new director or actor brings to it. This is very different from any other version of The Jungle Book. This is about Mowgli. Most people's perception of this story is based on the 1968 Disney animation. People aren't so aware that it was actually based on a book that was published in 1890 and centred around India. It is very culturally specific. It is also about a young boy who is in search of his true identity. There is a feeling of 'otherness' outside of his own world. It is a very emotional and visceral journey where there are consequences. It is not about spectacle with an automatic happy ending.
Is the movie a faithful adaption of the book and did you consider the author's reputation of being an imperialist?
You can't make The Jungle Book today without looking at the historical and cultural roots of the author, who he was as a person and the times he was writing in. Rudyard Kipling was viewed as a new voice for the working classes, but at the same time, he was potentially viewed as a borderline racist and imperialist towards the later parts of his life. He was brought up in India with Hindi as his first language. He was then sent to a boarding school in England where he was brutalised and had a very unhappy childhood. All of these things inform the book, and this movie adaption is faithful to the tone of the book. It does deal with subjects such as 'otherness', class systems, tribes, supremacy and colonialism. I don't think any other versions have gone anywhere close to dealing with those things. It underpins the cultural specificity of our version, not in an overtly political way but it's in the DNA of the film.
When Warner Bros. sold the rights of the movie to Netflix, were you concerned that it won't make it to the big screen?
No, because I was very much part of the discussion. It was always with a view to having a theatrical release as well as being on Netflix. I am delighted that it can be seen immediately across all platforms. I am very interested in next-generation storytelling and how stories will be received in the future. There is a 3D version of Mowgli that is really powerful and I think people will go see that in the cinema. Equally, there is an intimacy in this film. About 80% of the movie is close-ups of animal characters that are played by a great A-list cast. What I love about Netflix is the global reach. It places as much importance on regional audiences as North America.
Could you not have achieved a similar effect with animation instead of going through the painstaking process of motion capture?
We could have, but then it would mean Mowgli would have to act against nothing. This movie is all about emotion. Drama is about what happens between two actors. It's a different level of connection to have actors playing the parts. If you're doing an animated voice, you're isolated. You're standing on your own in a booth doing a voice. You're not connecting with anybody else. Mowgli needed to feel the energies from all of the characters, and that was the primary desire to do motion capture.
Is there a creature or monster you would love to inhabit using this technology?
There are films that I would like to make using the technology more than a specific character. I have always wanted to make a version of the Mahabharata, and using motion-capture technology to create all of the characters would be pretty cool.