Read my exclusive interview with Giancarlo Esposito and Luptia Nyong’o, where we discussed their roles as Akela and Raksha in Disney’s The Jungle Book. Now available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Digital today.
Interview with Lupita Nyong’o and Giancarlo Esposito
It’s not every day when you get to sit across from the beautiful and talented Lupita Nyong’o, as well as the insanely talented Giancarlo Esposito. I can’t even tell you right now how excited I was when I learned I would be interviewing Giancarlo Esposito.
He is one of my favorite actors and plays so many parts in so many shows I binge watch on various streaming outlets. It was truly an honor to be able to interview these two amazingly talented people. Something I’m sure all of us wonders is if these actors are as grounded as us “normal” folk, or are they in character all the time.
Just to let you know from this mom’s own eyes and ears, these two people right here are as down to earth as you can get, and with so much poise and knowledge you can only hope to pick their brains for just a little bit longer than your allowed in these interviews.
Interview with the voice of Raksha
Lupita Nyong’o voices Raksha, a mother wolf who cares deeply for all of her pups–including man-cub Mowgli, whom she adopts as one of her own when he’s abandoned in the jungle as an infant. “She is the protector, the eternal mother,” says Nyong’o. “The word Raksha actually means protection in Hindi. I felt really connected to that, wanting to protect a son that isn’t originally hers but one she’s taken for her own.”
Interview with the voice of Akela
Giancarlo Esposito (voice of “Akela”) Akela is the strong and hardened alpha-male wolf who shoulders the responsibility of his pack. He welcomes Mowgli to the family, but worries he may one day compromise their safety. “Akela is a fierce patriarch of the wolf pack,” says Giancarlo Esposito, who voices the character. “He believes the strength of the pack lies in what each and every wolf offers. He’s a great leader, a wise teacher.”
Disney’s The Jungle Book
Disney’s The Jungle Book will be playing in theaters everywhere April 15th 2016, make sure you come back and tell us what your family thought about the movie, as well as what their favorite parts were. View the full trailer of the movie below and watch it with your family.
More Interviews from the #JungleBookEvent
- Interview with Jon Favreau and Star Neel Sethi “Mowgli”
- Interview with Sir Ben Kingsley
- On The Set of Disney XD’s Walk The Prank
- Walking The Red Carpet In LA for Disney’s The Jungle Book World Premiere
Read my full Disney’s The Jungle Book movie review now and share the trailer with your kids today. This movie features the infamous songs “The Bear Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You”.
Question: Have you seen the film?
Lupita Nyong’o: No.
Giancarlo Esposito: We have not. We’ve seen parts of the film because, in our work on the microphone, we did get a chance to see some of the films as they progressed.
Especially in parts of it that referred to our scenes together, and our scenes with Mowgli. Which has been really wonderful, then we’ve been offered screening after screening, but we’re obstinate. We say no, we want to see it together as a family.
Question: Do you have a mother role in your life experiences?
What life experiences did you have to draw from within yourself to this character as a mothering role?
Lupita Nyong’o: Wow. Well, I have a lot of very, very powerful women in my life. My mother being the first. And most important. But in my culture, my mother’s sisters are also my mother. And my father’s sisters are my mother’s, too. So I have many mothers. My mom has a fierce love. She has a fierce love for her children. And she’s known to say things like “if you die I’ll kill you.”
That for me, that spirit, that tenacity of mothering was something that I thought of and that inspired my version of Raksha because it takes a woman with one huge heart to take on not only a child that’s not hers but of a completely different species. And the fact that she does this and she doesn’t look back, and she does everything in her power to protect that child.
And then to have to let go of that child as well, that takes even more love to allow your children to do what they need to do. And all mothers go through that. I know I went through that with my mother. As a child, you don’t appreciate it until you’re much older, and you realize how hard it is to make new connections and then how hard it is to lose those connections. So those were things I was definitely thinking about. And I love my mommy.
Question: What drew you guys to this role? Why did you want to take it on, what was that process like?
Giancarlo Esposito: I had a very unusual story. Jon and I have done a show called Revolution and our show had finished, and he called me and said I would like for you to come and do a commercial with me for one day. It was the trailer for Destiny. And the character was reading The Law of the Jungle to his son. And it was a highly technical trailer that we did.
I stepped away from reading this and had a conversation with Jon about Kipling, and The Jungle Book. We had a wonderful and marvelous conversation, which ended when he said well, wouldn’t it be wonderful to do this movie again and re-envision it for a new generation? A year and a half later he called me…and said guess what. I said you got to be kidding me.
And he said, are you in? I said, of course, I’m in. I had read this book when I was probably about 10 years old. And my mother and I talked about it afterward. She’d have me read everything from Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven to Shakespeare to Kipling.
I was really moved by Kipling because of his background. Where he was raised. He was born in India and he was raised through that caste system, he’s an Indian in London, and this story was such a story of freedom, yet in music, in jazz music, they say “there’s no freedom without time.”
You can’t be free without time. There has to be a parameter, a meter to measure to be free within! And I think so much about this particular time of this book. There was so much going on in the world. So that’s how I got involved! Jon asked me.
I was on board like, my life was coming full circle. To be able to be in this particular story, which is told in a new way with more eminent danger, yet with a great deal of compassion and understanding for the world which it’s placed in, which is our world of now.
Lupita Nyong’o: For me, this was the very first role that I performed after I got off the 12 Years a Slave train. I like to call it. What appealed to me was this idea of playing a mother, something that I hadn’t yet done. To do it in voice-over, just opened myself up to something new! I have always loved children. I have been fantasizing about motherhood since I was probably 2 ½.
I loved to babysit my cousins and nieces, but I also had kind of a fear also about being a mother, and doing work like this makes you really put yourself there. I like being put in those kinds of uncomfortable places that help me to expand my empathy. And so that was what attracted me to Raksha.
Question: What was the recording process like?
Giancarlo Esposito: Very different, because technology has changed so much in the last few years. I love being on the mic, there’s a special relationship that your whole being nurtures when you’re on the mic. I started working with RKO when I was seven years old, and couldn’t get my face in front of a camera because I wasn’t black enough.
Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It was a really interesting situation. So I went on the mic because I wasn’t regarded as black ‘cause I’m half Italian and from Europe and all these things.
But because I spoke well I would do recordings that would teach young black kids how to speak English. So I gained a relationship with the mic. With this Jon put up three different cameras that sort of in a way captured our motion so that he could blend our physicality with the physicality that he was planning for the wolves.
So I learned so much from just being in the studio a couple of different times. It’s great to hear Jon talk about it because he’s such a Disney fan. I just think Walt Disney was just way ahead of his time, and now we have a guy who’s remade this movie with new technology.
It was interesting and fascinating because you weren’t really seeing a picture. You had to take your own timing the first time we were in the studio. And then the next time we had sort of a rough picture.
Then the next time the rough picture was also combined with Lupita’s voice. So then you had something to play off of. But it was a process. A very, very, very interesting process that was fun! And made it be very organic and natural by Jon’s presence.
Question: Do you identify with Akela in any way? As you were playing the role?
Giancarlo Esposito: Oh, in so many ways you know, I’m a male. On the way in, Lupita was talking about another film she did, and there was a lot of testosterone, energy! I have four daughters, and you know, I have to say that, while these questions in regard to Raksha and how Lupita feels about her mom and being a mother I feel like the importance of the female and the mother presence in our society is greater than ever.
I have four daughters with the eldest being 19, the youngest is 12, and I watched all of the journeys into motherhood. Motherhood is very deep. It starts when you’re very, very young. Now, my 12-year-old comes in, wants to put me to bed. And she’ll, you know, put her hand on my forehead and say the prayer with me. As for years, I’ve done for her! It’s almost like a very beautiful, natural transition.
So while Lupita and you guys have been talking back and forth about motherhood, I have this vision that I’m really watching each one of my daughters start to become women and mothers. And this is what’s gonna save our planet. I know it.
Because there’s such grace and understanding in the female persona when women have really come into their own. Part of that is to have children and to be caring for those children, and not only in the care for them, but also in the nurturing and raising of them, they have to pass on their, their souls, and their intelligence.
Giancarlo Esposito: And all those things can’t be taught. It’s something that, that is the essence of a woman, the essence of a mother, a mother knows! So to me, I have learned to listen through raising four daughters. But I’ve learned to become a progressive man because I have four women in my life.
And their mother, who I’m not married to anymore, but who impresses me because of our relationship. Because we have a very deep and friendly relationship that is completely about who we really are now.
Before it was husband, wife, mother, father. But now it’s about who we are as human beings. Because we didn’t give up on each other. And because we didn’t hurt each other and blister each other from a divorce. We became tight. Best friends. And more than that even, because now we’re best parents.
So our children look at us differently. When my former wife said to me, hey, whatever’s best for the children, she meant it! So now I have two daughters who live with me in Austin, and one daughter in New Haven, one daughter who lives with her. But we all convene!
But this is what’s going to change. It is this strength of the mother that is going to change the way the world is. It’s the compassion, the love, the very open-spirited mother, and the woman that will move us forward in this new century. It’s no doubt.
Question: What is one thing that you want children to take back from your character?
What’s one example or role model quality that you want the kids to see from your characters as adults and parental figures in the movie?
Lupita Nyong’o: Well, I think… what Mowgli is dealing with is finding belonging and what Raksha offers him is home. Her as home, as an anchor, I think that’s a really important thing for children to have so that they can veer away from it, but always be able to come back when they need to.
Giancarlo Esposito: That’s really beautiful. We want to remember to be playful! We’re here in this wonderful and incredible world! Like, the grand architect of the universe created this playground. And we’re supposed to have fun, and we’re supposed to play.
So when you think of the four-letter word called work, you want to think, how, how do I translate that into play? To be playful? To help bring people to their best selves? To not be so about me, me, me all the time. It took me years to learn this. I’m so sick of seeing myself in movies you know what I mean?
That I got over myself! And now I can play more! I can not worry that the hair is out of place, or, the eyelash is not happening! Do you know what I mean? I don’t care anymore! I just want to serve up the goodness and grace that’s been given to me because I made a choice that lined up with my passion.
And that’s what I tell my kids. I want people to get from this movie is that sense of freedom, that sense of abandonment in the ride, of this film, the sense of connection with family, even if you don’t have a family.
Giancarlo Esposito: The sense of trust that someone is gonna adopt you and take care of you. That sense of really being engaged by the world is what I would love people to take from this film. Because that’s our life! We think it’s all these other things until we get to a certain point some of us never get there, where we go, oh my gosh!
Did I just miss it? You know? This is what life’s about! It’s not about all the other things we may think it’s about! You know, it’s about having these moments and I think people are gonna feel it in this film. If anything, all the folks who’ve come and talked to us in the press today, their hearts have Lupita, said this coming in here! Their hearts have been opened!
This movie is opening people’s hearts in this way, that It’s doing its job And if it’s entertaining you as well, and you’re seeing all of this great story that’s an amalgam of all this technology and human challenges that came with it to put a human being in this film, It’s precious! This is the precious gem that we’re gonna take away. I can’t wait to see it tonight. I’m really excited.
Question: You were very well read as a child. Do you have a favorite book?
Giancarlo Esposito: Oh my goodness. Well, Jungle Book was certainly one of my favorites. I also liked the poems of Edgar Allen Poe. They were very dark. There’s one other book. I have to think about it, though. Gosh, I can see it, and it reminds me a lot of this series of movies that I’m doing now actually.
Lupita Nyong’o: What comes to mind right now is the BFG I love that book. What else? That’s it for now. I didn’t like to read when I was younger. I much preferred climbing trees and making up my own worlds.
Giancarlo Esposito: Oh, okay. So there’s another one, The Prophet, by K Hill Jabron and I love Sid Arthur a lot as well. Another great book.
Question: So what’s next for you?
Giancarlo Esposito: Today, or next in life? Oh my, You really want to know? Well, that’s so nice! I feel really blessed. I’ve just made my second feature film as a director called This is Your Death. It stars Josh Duhamel, Famke Janssen, and myself, it’s an unflinching look at reality television. It’s very provocative and profound.
I locked the picture on Friday. I’m praying that my investors at Gray Point Media will say yes. This is the locked picture, and I can go into my finishing. So I’ll be finishing the movie this month in Vancouver doing all the technical stuff that I need to do on it. And I’ve started on Maze Runner 3, The Death Cure.
I’m doing that as well, we’ll go back May 15th and finish that film. I really feel so blessed to be in creation. I’m working with the History Channel on a story of the firs black US Marshal named Bass Reeves. In Indian Territory who was the right hand man of Judge Isaac Parker, Hanging Judge Parker, who brought law to an untamed land.
So it’s a story about their relationship. So I’m excited because I’m able to do very different things, and it’s kinda lovely to be able to play in television and play in film, and I’ve got this coming out, and Money Monster coming out in April. I feel like I finally have gotten back I’m hitting my stride again. It’s kinda nice.
Lupita Nyong’o Well, I am on Broadway at the moment. I’m doing a show called Eclipsed by Deni Guerrera. You might know her from The Walking Dead. She plays Mishone and she’s an incredible playwriter. She’s written these five female plays about women in the Liberian civil war, and how they each individually deal with war and get themselves out of the very dire situations. We are the first all-female performed, directed, and written play on Broadway.
Giancarlo Esposito : Wow… Yes!
Lupita Nyong’o: And, not to mention, we’re all black. So It’s a milestone I’m really proud of. I love going to work every day. It exhausts me. And I earn my rest! And I wake up and I do it again, and I just feel so blessed to be able to do this story that means so much to me, means so much to my continent, and is meaning so much to the very diverse audience that’s coming to see it. So if you’re in New York, come check us out. Other than that, I have things I cannot talk about yet.
Another film where I play a mother, but this time live-action mother, Queen of Katwe comes out, it’s another Disney picture about a Ugandan chess prodigy. Dadada. So anyway, I play the mother, and I hope you’ll see that, too. And, I will maybe be talking to you again.
2021 Update: I had the opportunity to speak with Lupita Nyong’o in LA again for her role in Disney’s Queen of Katwe. Read up on the whole QueenofKatweEvent and don’t miss more cast and director interviews, walking the red carpet, and other experiences you won’t want to miss.
That wraps up the amazing exclusive interview I was able to be a part of with Lupita Nyong’o & Giancarlo Esposito from Disney’s The Jungle Book. What do you think you found interesting from this interview?
I found it interesting that it took them a year to record their voices for the characters. I also love the point where Lupita Nyong’o drew her inspiration from when it came to referencing a motherly role, of course, she got it from her momma.
About The Jungle Book
Directed by Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”), based on Rudyard Kipling’s timeless stories and inspired by Disney’s classic animated film, “The Jungle Book” is an all-new live-action epic adventure about Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi), a man-cub who’s been raised by a family of wolves. But Mowgli finds he is no longer welcome in the jungle when fearsome tiger Shere Khan (voice of Idris Elba), who bears the scars of Man, promises to eliminate what he sees as a threat.
Urged to abandon the only home he’s ever known, Mowgli embarks on a captivating journey of self-discovery, guided by panther-turned-stern mentor Bagheera (voice of Ben Kingsley), and the free-spirited bear Baloo (voice of Bill Murray).
Along the way, Mowgli encounters jungle creatures who don’t exactly have his best interests at heart, including Kaa (voice of Scarlett Johansson), a python whose seductive voice and gaze hypnotizes the man-cub, and the smooth-talking King Louie (voice of Christopher Walken), who tries to coerce Mowgli into giving up the secret to the elusive and deadly red flower: fire.
The Jungle Book Stars
The all-star cast also includes Lupita Nyong’o as the voice of the fiercely protective mother wolf Raksha and Giancarlo Esposito as the voice of wolf pack’s alpha male Akela. “The Jungle Book” seamlessly blends live-action with photorealistic CGI animals and environments, using up-to-the-minute technology and storytelling techniques to immerse audiences in an enchanting and lush world.
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U.S. Release Date: April 15, 2016
Cast: Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Neel Sethi and Christopher Walken,
Director: Jon Favreau
Producers: Jon Favreau, Brigham Taylor
Screenplay by: Justin Marks
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THE JUNGLE BOOK opens in theatres everywhere on April 15th, 2016!