We are feeling increasingly alienated in our world, says Andy Serkis
The actor-director discusses his upcoming film, Mowgli, and why he thinks Rudyard Kipling’s story is more relevant than ever today
Days ahead of the premiere of Andy Serkis’ Mowgli in Netflix, we caught up with its director, an award-winning expert in the art of performance capture. This film, with an enviable cast including Christian Bale, Benedict Cumberbatch and Andy Serkis himself, comes two years after Disney’s own Jungle Book adaptation. Andy explains why this version is quite different, and how his own work is different from what he did in the Planet of the Apes films. Excerpts:
This isn’t the first Jungle Book film adaptation, but this is the first time the story has been recreated through performance capture.
Yes, and this is the biggest cast when it comes to any project involving performance capture. I was clear from the beginning that we not go ahead with traditional animation for this adaptation; you know, where you get the actors to lend their voices, and then sit with the animators on a long process to try and breathe life into the animals… The whole point of performance capture is this connection. We were really able to get the actors connect with the creatures they play in this film. Mowgli is such an emotional journey, and performance capture is the only way we could bring this out.
How is your work here different from what you did in the Planet of the Apes films?
In the Apes films, the creatures slowly learn how to speak like us. It’s like a protolanguage. But in Mowgli, it’s the humans who represented as animals. We had to design their physiognomy in a very specific way for this. Think of it as a line drawn between the actor’s face and the animal they play, as we bridge the differences. The actors morph into their characters.
That explains why Bhageera looks a lot like Christian Bale.
Absolutely. And that’s why you see similarities between Shere Khan and the actor who played him, Benedict Cumberbatch. The eyebrows and the eyes, especially, are quite uncanny.
Talking to us, Bale mentioned that he had had conversations with you about the vilification of the tiger (Shere Khan) in the story, and what it means in today’s climate.
Rudyard Kipling wrote the tiger not as a powerful man-eater, but as a frustrated lame creature. You sense a lot of self-hatred in Shere Khan. He’s a tiger who cannot hunt, and hence, is forced to attack cattle. In doing that, of course, he draws the humans to the jungle. There’s a quote in the book about how when Shere Khan hunts cattle, he heralds the arrival of men sounding gongs and bearing guns. Shere Khan is the nemesis, yes, but I think he represents a different, greater nemesis.
When Kipling wrote the book, of course, the tiger population wasn’t in danger. Is making a villain out of the only tiger in the story not a problem in today’s context?
(Pause) I didn’t think of Shere Khan as the villain. Also, we must remember that at the time the book was written, tiger hunting was quite popular; it was done for scientific research, taxidermy, and trophy hunting. The story, however, is about something else -- something more human.
I find it quite fascinating that this story about animals rallying for a human comes at a time when the need of the hour is for humans to rally for animals?
(Smiles) Yes. Mowgli is also about realising that we have more connections between us than differences. It’s a story of belonging. It is about an outsider realising who he/she is, making peace with it, becoming able to love self, and then consequently, being able to love others. Today, we are living in a world where we are increasingly alienated. We are encouraged to think about our differences. I think we have also reached a place where we believe we own this world and are free to do anything with it. But we are fast realising that it is not right, and we are seeing the ramifications. I think that’s a powerful message, and people will connect to it.