“Look, this is not a fan­tasy”

Ac­tor-direc­tor Andy Serkis on why his Ki­pling adap­ta­tion Mowgli goes be­yond ‘The Bear Ne­ces­si­ties’

Empire (Australasia) - - Preview - DAN JOLIN

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.


Top: Andy Mowgli Serkis. direc­tor Mid­dle: Mowgli (Ro­han Chand) chats to an ele­phant.

Above: Dream­ing of es­cape from his caged ex­is­tence.

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