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Exclusive Interview with Disney’s The Jungle Book Director Jon Favreau and Star Neel Sethi “Mowgli”

Interview with Jon Favreau and Neel Sethi share

This was truly one of the most fun interviews I’ve been able to be a part of, the atmosphere was so relaxed. Director Jon Favreau answered all of our questions with nothing but an enthusiastic smiling face. With this movie being an almost completely animated cast we all had so many questions for young Mowgli played by Neel Sethi. The Rock Father (another blogger) brought along his toy figures of the cast and placed them where the cast and director would be sitting. Neel loved seeing his self in a toy version when he entered the room and we all loved how his face lit up with excitement about how surreal it is for him to be a toy figurine.

BEVERLY HILLS - APRIL 04 - Group photo with Jon Favreau & Neel Sethi during the "The Jungle Book" press junket at the Beverly Hilton on April 4, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Becky Fry/My Sparkling Life for Disney)

BEVERLY HILLS – APRIL 04 – Group photo with Jon Favreau & Neel Sethi during the “The Jungle Book” press junket at the Beverly Hilton on April 4, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Becky Fry/My Sparkling Life for Disney)

Here are a few fun facts about the movie that are included in the interview below. Make sure you are looking for them while you are reading through. There was so much fun information in this interview it was super hard to narrow it down to just 5 fun facts.

5 fun facts jon neel share

Disney’s The Jungle Book will be playing in theaters everywhere April 15th, 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.

BEVERLY HILLS - APRIL 04 - Actor Neel Sethi during the "The Jungle Book" press junket at the Beverly Hilton on April 4, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Becky Fry/My Sparkling Life for Disney)

BEVERLY HILLS – APRIL 04 – Actor Neel Sethi during the “The Jungle Book” press junket at the Beverly Hilton on April 4, 2016, in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Becky Fry/My Sparkling Life for Disney)

A Question for Neel Sethi “Mowgli”   What it was like when you got the part so what was the audition part like and that?

Neel Sethi :     Yeah, so I was in a Dance Class and the Teacher for the Dance Class said I’d be very good for it and I never thought about Acting before but I auditioned and  they really liked me so we flew to LA, and then 2 weeks later we flew to LA and we’re in the Hotel, and the Producer called and were like flipping and jumping and we were so happy.  We were so happy, we went out, and got my favorite food.

Question :    What’s that?

Neel Sethi  :    Lobster and Ravioli

BEVERLY HILLS - APRIL 04 - Actor's Jon Favreau & Neel Sethi during the "The Jungle Book" press junket at the Beverly Hilton on April 4, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Becky Fry/My Sparkling Life for Disney)

BEVERLY HILLS – APRIL 04 – Actor’s Jon Favreau & Neel Sethi during the “The Jungle Book” press junket at the Beverly Hilton on April 4, 2016, in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Becky Fry/My Sparkling Life for Disney)

Question :  How did you know when you found Mowgli?

John Favreau :  I can’t take credit for this  talented young man. He wasn’t experienced but he had a quality and being a Father I recognized it, it was confidence.  He was a fully formed version of himself and so we kind of got who he was very quick, on the comeback, very confident, and I think the fact that he wasn’t a kid who was out there looking for Acting jobs made it fun for him.  It didn’t feel like he was concerned about failing or concerned about getting the part or not.  They came in on a lark.  He saw a Flyer.

They auditioned and after, I was looking at 2,000 kids.  They would send me the best of the lot and he was one and he’s said, he’s a little younger than we thought.  He’s from Manhattan, that helped.  I’m from New York.  I like the Century Theatre.  There was something that made me smile.  And he started doing Martial Arts.  After the audition was over, he says I do my own stunts and he had a Stunt Man.  And I was like, this kid’s having a good time and then we brought his  family out and I met with the family.

THE JUNGLE BOOK (Pictured) MOWGLI. ©2016 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

THE JUNGLE BOOK (Pictured) MOWGLI. ©2016 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

It was a big important part because it could be a disruptive experience.  If you don’t have a good support system around you, the parents both Dentists.  His Sister actually really sealed the deal.  She was 16, was, she turned out pretty well and actually prepared him for the audition.  I was like if they raised this one they’re good Parents and as he grows up, they’ll be able to handle that.  And the whole family was there, you know, they would be on the set.  And the whole set became a family.

They did a great job.  He was an Athlete, the Stunt Men put him through the paces to make sure he could keep up with all the strenuous activity and really sell that he’s a kid, survived in this environment and it was just a weird combination of things that we were lucky enough to find this gift.

BEVERLY HILLS - APRIL 04 - Actor Neel Sethi during the "The Jungle Book" press junket at the Beverly Hilton on April 4, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Becky Fry/My Sparkling Life for Disney)

BEVERLY HILLS – APRIL 04 – Actor Neel Sethi during the “The Jungle Book” press junket at the Beverly Hilton on April 4, 2016, in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Becky Fry/My Sparkling Life for Disney)

Question  :    You had to act with a lot of things that weren’t there.  Did you have something in your mind when you were actually filming and how close was the final film to that?

Neel  Sethi  :    I just like made it natural that if this was a puppet like I would just make it normal that it’s not a puppet.  It’s like a Bear or a Panther.  And I just made it like that was, it’s not a Puppet like I just made that in my head and made sure, Oh, that’s not a Puppet.  That’s Ballou.  Hi, Ballou.  And then instead of seeing a Puppet, I would see this like or something like that.  That made it a lot easier and the puppet’s like sometimes they made them look like Ballou and that helped a lot, and John actually got into the puppet sometimes and that helped me interact with him.

Question for Neel :     So what is it like seeing yourself as a toy?

Neel Sethi    :    It’s amazing.  Do you have it?

*****Sorry Neel we do not have them yet but we will be getting them ASAP!****

John Favreau :   Did you see the singing balloon yet?  Oh, the singing Balloon is great. 

Neel Sethi :   No I don’t think he’s here today.

John Favreau :   I keep bringing them in.  They keep disappearing

Neel Sethi :    Why? <<—- You can’t see his face in this post but he was totally doing the Looking left and right routine.

John Favreau :   It’s a good thing I ordered 10 boxes of them.  Yeah, I brought two.  And he sings, he says a few lines from the Movie when you squeeze his paw and then if you hit it like 4 times, he’ll sing “Bare Necessities” and “Dance Around” so it’s awesome.

John Favreau :    I still get a kick out of it.  On Marvel Movies, there’s no merchandise and I was so sad that there was never merchandise.  None of the Movies, and finally on Ironman, there’s merchandise and they send you like one.  So you’re protecting it.  So this time as we were looking at the  Jungle Book Merchandise, they said, well if you want to order it, you should order it in advance because if you wait til it comes out. It’s going to be forever because the way Merchandising works is there’re different quarters and cycles and if you want to get it when the Movie comes out, order it now.

So I look at the pictures and I say give me 10 of those, give me 20 of those.  Oh, give me 50 of those.  I want to give some of those out.  Give me 3.  And I fill out the thing.  I don’t think anything of it.  Is any of you old enough to remember “I Love Lucy”?  Do you remember — do you remember when she gets a Freezer and orders a side of Beef?  And she says, I don’t know, give me a side of Beef.  And — and cause there’s a Freezer in her home, about this big and then they start delivering it for the whole episode, they’re bringing in package after package and in fact, the whole set gets filled up with all this Meat that’s hanging.

And that’s what it felt like.  Every, there would be boxes.  They delivered about 20 boxes the first day and that was the first shipment.  And my wife goes like what’s going on here?  Our whole, the whole, uh, uh, Dining Room is filled with boxes.  Then I get back from Australia, the entire Driveway is full of boxes.  So we had so many stuffed animals and every kid that comes over, it’s like Christmas cause it’s like I’ll take one of these.  You have this, you want this, and — and if it’s still around by Halloween, there’s gonna be a very lucky kid.

BEVERLY HILLS - APRIL 04 - Actor Jon Favreau during the "The Jungle Book" press junket at the Beverly Hilton on April 4, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Becky Fry/My Sparkling Life for Disney)

BEVERLY HILLS – APRIL 04 – Actor Jon Favreau during the “The Jungle Book” press junket at the Beverly Hilton on April 4, 2016, in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Becky Fry/My Sparkling Life for Disney)

Question :    How did you get started with The Jungle Book Movie?

John Favreau :   I was working with Disney on a project called “The Magic Kingdom” which I thought was really cool.  It was essentially the Park coming to life.  A Family goes to the park that goes every year, the daughter is about to go away to College.  She doesn’t want to go.  You know, it’s like the one last time we get to go to the Park and something happens and the Park changes over.  And it’s whatever is implied by the park all comes to life in full scale and they get separated, and as a family has to face these challenges, come back together again, get separated.

So a big adventure but inspired by all the different lands of the Park and the different attractions I grew up with, almost like a dream, the dreams I used to have when I was younger about Disneyland.  And so we were working back and forth with this and at the same time, this was years ago, Disney begins doing films like “Cinderella”,”Maleficent” “Alice” and so each of these Properties is being exploited. “Pirates” of course being exploited as their own franchises.  So there were, we weren’t moving forward with this Magic Kingdom project but I had been researching how do I do something with live humans but a set that you’re not gonna build because there are too many times when I worked on Effects Movies where we build these big sets and then you end up replacing them and you pay for it twice.

THE JUNGLE BOOK (Pictured) MOWGLI and BALOO. ©2016 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

THE JUNGLE BOOK (Pictured) MOWGLI and BALOO. ©2016 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

It seems wasteful, inefficient and you know, to me, I want to get all the money, all the money they’re gonna spend on the screen.  And so I met with Rob Legato actually who is our Visual Effects Supervisor on this.  After I met him while he was on the Awards tour for “Hugo” which I thought was a wonderful film.  So I was discussing with him, how would I do this if I want to do this for “The Magic Kingdom” hoping of course that maybe it would get made and I would hire him.  He invited me back to his place, showed me Visual Effects, how he did things in “Hugo”, talked about “Avatar” “Titanic” working with Marty Scorsese, talked with Jim Cameron.

Just a very experienced guy who really understood Visual Effects and what you could do with them.  And I didn’t really thing anything of it after that and then I got the call from Disney to come in.  Alan Horn loves “Jungle Book.”  He loved it as a kid.  He loved the Novel, the stories, and this was gonna be the next one after the success that they had, they wanted to explore what could happen.  And I didn’t really understand, I knew the Animated Film.  Doing a photo-real version of that didn’t seem obvious how to do that.  But as he discussed “Life of Pi” and he talked about the tone of that film and he talked about “Avatar”.

It got me thinking well we could create our own complete environment and if you do that, I could do something similar to what I was thinking about for the Magic Kingdom which was, if Disney had a Castle this big, make the Castle this big, if the branches of trees in this Movie in real life were this big or a Panther is this big, make him as big as he was in the Cartoon.  Make him bigger, play with scale.  Always keep it photo real but you could give it a dreamlike quality so you see the whole thing through kid’s eyes.  And so it was their enthusiasm and their commitment to doing this.  And honestly, the confidence they had with the success of the other live action adaptations that made me realize that they were an enthusiastic Partner.

director

And when you’re making a Movie, that’s huge because they’re not fighting you over every little decision.  There’s a little bit of  a relaxed comfort that comes with that, that as an Artist, you really want that kind of support.  When somebody’s scared and greenlights the Movie but is nervous about the budget and nervous about this, you’re gonna end up with an energy that’s very hard for me to put out of my head as I’m trying to be creative.  And so the whole thing, the 3 years we’ve been working together has been a wonderful experience.  Every time I show them a new version of it, we did it, we started off similar to an animation where it would be pencils and Show Reels.

So they’re used to looking at that for Pixar and Disney Animation.  So they were on board with the story I was pitching the whole time so in each iteration, nothing was a surprise.  They were Partners throughout the whole thing.  And now finally, when it’s all completed, you know, it really shows like we’ve been a journey together and  it’s just been a wonderful experience and now that people are seeing it and reacting, you know, they believe in it and  have their belief beginning to be confirmed that their taste is being shared by Audiences.

It’s nice to feel that support and then know that it was responsible and that they weren’t misguided in offering that support.

THE JUNGLE BOOK (Pictured) SHERE KHAN ©2016 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

THE JUNGLE BOOK (Pictured) SHERE KHAN ©2016 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Question  :    My Son is 7 and he wanted to know what as the scariest scene for you to film?

Neel Sethi  :    To film? Well, none of it was really scary cause I was always 30 inches off the ground but I didn’t really like the mud, it would dry on me and then I would get all hot and itchy and then they would spritz it with cold water for it to like get muddy again and I didn’t like that. I had to act like it was normal but I’m getting chased by a stampede of Buffalo.

Question  :    I have some questions from a class , they read the Jungle Book in their Literature Class this Fall.  They would like to know about the school.  Did you go to a traditional school, what was it like to transition from school to set and back again?

Jon Favreau :    And Lois is here so make sure you answer right.  That was the Teacher.  And also helpful as an Acting Coach to I would say.

Neel Sethi :   I was in a normal school and when I auditioned, it was actually the last day of 5th Grade, the last day of Elementary School, and so our school split up into 2 schools basically for Middle School.  And all of my good friends and everybody went to the same school as me.  And they just like, I would really slip right back in and then we did the test I think when that was coming up.  The State Test and were just like, it was just normal again and everybody thought it was cool for like a week and then like all right, you know, enough.

mogli

Question :    A couple of months ago a few of us interviewed Harrison Ford and he said that–

Jon Favreau :   I heard it was a very interesting unique interview, right? It was very exciting. But he said that out of everything he’s worked on over the years, the only film he kept something from was “Cowboys and Aliens”

Neel Sethi :    Yes.

Question :    He worked on with you and that he and Daniel Craig took their horses 

Jon Favreau :    And that’s where they went.  I can check with them. <<—- TOO FUNNY!!!

Question  :   Out of everything that you’ve worked on, have you taken anything meaningful from the set of one of your films?

Jon Favreau :    Yeah I do I do so my wife’s chagrin because it ain’t going nowhere.  It’s all just piling up. But the one I took from this was if you notice when he goes into King Louis, the Temple where King Louis is…

Everyone says together with Jon “The Cowbell!” Then the room breaks out into complete laughter

Jon Favreau  :    How did you know?

THE JUNGLE BOOK - (Pictured) MOWGLI and KING LOUIE ©2015 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

THE JUNGLE BOOK – (Pictured) MOWGLI and KING LOUIE ©2015 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Question: How did you decide what Musical Scores would go into it?  It was very beautiful how you put the Music in.  How did you decide that?

Jon Favreau :    Some of it were intuition.  A lot of it was trial and error and honestly, it was the part I was most concerned about as the plane is leaving the Runway now because if you don’t have the Music. As a Film Maker, I know I got to give.  As a matter of fact, there was one of the songs that were not in the earlier version, actually, it was my wife, she’s very smart.  She’s like it’s fine, everything is great.  She’s very supportive and very, very rarely goes against what I’m doing because she knows that I’m– You know, as a Film Maker, you’re facing a lot of different opinions and things, and when you go home, it’s nice to have support and enthusiasm and you know, confidence that you’ll figure it out and work it out.

But this is the one time, she was like you’re not gonna have that song in.  And I’m like No, No, it might not fit.  She’s like, I think you should have the song.  And the kids wanted to hear the song. It was early enough in the process that we worked it in because I came on board, there was no Music in at all.  And I started working on the Bare Necessities and then we worked in the one with Walken. If it’s a Musical, it breaks the tone and so it was John Gaffney, the Orchestration of the Music helped tie it into the entire piece.

THE JUNGLE BOOK - (L-R) KING LOUIE and MOWGLI. ©2016 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

THE JUNGLE BOOK – (L-R) KING LOUIE and MOWGLI. ©2016 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

My wife’s actually a Doctor too which is I think maybe why, Neil’s family is a Dentist and so I think that there’s a good relationship that when you do something opposite and you both respect what the other person does but also are a bit in awe of it. It makes for an interesting dynamic and so what’s also fun about that is now that I’ve made adjustments and they see the Music like this, you’re kind of seeing it for the first time because other Movies, it’s shaped gradually.  This one all kind of happens like a ship and the bottle at the end.

And so, uh, a great thrill for me is to show the kids and the whole family what we’ve been doing and then you get your first sense by looking in their eyes.  Sometimes you show them versions that are almost done because you know their taste and I know it from the perspective of me.  I’m 49.  I have 3 kids that are different ages.  Each one of them seeing how scary you could make it, see when they’re scared but they like it, see when they’re laughing.  See the jokes that they get or don’t get, and what each age is doing.  Can you make one for the 9-year-old that doesn’t, that isn’t boring to the 14-year-old?

And then, of course, you know, for — for my age as well.  It’s a really interesting sampling and then now too, I’m really excited because tonight the Cast, a lot of the Cast haven’t seen it.  Neil saw it for the first time.

Neel Sethi :    I loved it.

Jon Favreau :    And that was really cool for me too, you know.  So right now is the fun part for me as all these choices that seem so precarious at times, how to work, balance the Music?  How to balance the tone?  How to balance the action and the humor and how to make that all work together.  This is the part where it’s fun cause you see where you knew or you didn’t know.

Were all of your questions you had for the actors answered? If not list it below! I wish we had more time with them to have been able to ask more questions, these interviews fly by so fast!

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