“Look, this is not a fantasy”
Actor-director Andy Serkis on why his Kipling adaptation Mowgli goes beyond ‘The Bear Necessities’
ANDY SERKIS HAS been working on his directorial debut for a very long time. So long, in fact, that it’s no longer his directorial debut. In the five years since taking on screenwriter Callie Kloves’ adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, he’s made and released an entire other movie (last year’s true-life drama Breathe). The delay was, in no small part, down to Disney rushing out its own Jungle Book in 2016. A movie from which his, Serkis is keen to establish, differs considerably.
“It’s all about the positioning of the film now,” he tells us just after the first trailer for Mowgli, as it is now titled, has broken. “Allowing people to know that it is a darker film, so they’re not too shocked. So they’re not expecting singing or dancing. The trailer’s saying, ‘Look, this is not a fantasy.’ It’s grounded. Almost like a historical piece. But, honestly, the preconceptions are really hard to get over. Everyone expects the animals to have American accents, for instance. People are really shocked that they have British accents!”
Those accents come courtesy of the likes of Christian Bale as mentor panther Bagheera, Benedict Cumberbatch as “agent of chaos” tiger Shere Khan, and Serkis himself as a cockney, battle-scarred Baloo, who all provided vocal and facial-captured performances way back in the summer of 2014. Now, at long last, they are fully present in animal form, opposite newcomer Rohan Chand as Mowgli. Albeit in an intriguingly stylised way. “They are like anthropomorphised visions of a 19th century explorer’s idea of what an animal could be,” Serkis explains. They also subtly share facial traits of their performers, he adds, to make them “emotionally much more real, much more connected”.
The former Gollum’s experience with performance capture (he runs his own Ealing-based mo-cap studio, The Imaginarium), on top of his second-unit directing work on Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, made him the ideal candidate to tackle the technically complex Mowgli. And he’s not lost any enthusiasm for the film during its long-haul production.
“It’s incredibly thrilling,” he says of finally getting it done (just the 3D conversion to go now). “I have to pinch myself that I’m no longer working on it.”
In Serkis’ directing future lies another adaptation of a talking-animal literary classic: George Orwell’s Animal Farm. “That’s in development,” he confirms. “It will have a more animated feel, but still using performance-capture, à la Tintin.” But before that, he teases, we may see him shoot another film which, Serkis apologises, he can’t yet reveal. But, like Breathe, it won’t involve mo-cap.
Despite being a proponent of the high-tech technique, he by no means wants it to define his directing career. “As with acting, I don’t ever want to be typecast. Whether it’s realistic stories or whether it’s stories with heightened elements in them, for me it’s all about putting story and character first.” CG or live action, talking beast or human, the Serkis maxim remains: keep it real.
MOWGLI IS IN CINEMAS FROM 1 NOVEMBER
Top: Andy Mowgli Serkis. director Middle: Mowgli (Rohan Chand) chats to an elephant.
Above: Dreaming of escape from his caged existence.