Andy Serkis has become synonymous with performance capture technology in film. He first came to mainstream attention playing Gollum in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. He then put on an Oscar caliber performance portraying Caesar in the current Planet of the Apes series. Now, he is the director for Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, a fantasy adventure based on the stories by Rudyard Kipling.
Screen Rant: This has been an ongoing project for you.
Andy Serkis: Yes [chuckles].
Screen Rant: It started back in 2013? Has there been a lot of changes along the way?
Andy Serkis: Yeah. I mean it’s had a life for sure. It was a big journey. But in terms of the vision, and in the script, and how I came on board with it, and why I wanted to do it, I think that’s not changed. That’s remain rock solid. And I knew the project I wanted to make. And actually, I was looking at my mood boards, that I was drawing up at the beginning. And actually, they really are representative of the final movie in a way.
Screen Rant: Mood boards. So, did these mood boards change at all after Favreau’s project? Did you avoid that project, or did you enjoy it?
Andy Serkis: I went to see it. And I thought there was some magnificent things in it. You know, no one wants to make a movie at the same time someone else is making a movie. Don’t get me wrong. But that was just the fact of life. And it’s not the first time it’s happened in Hollywood. But I knew that ours was going to be significantly different, whatever. Because, you know, Disney were going to make a family film, that was infused with the storytelling from the ‘67 animation. That was going to– The music, etc. etc. So, we knew that was happening. But this was always going to be a much darker and closer tonally to the original source material.
Screen Rant: Was that ever a concern? Because this story has been so closely attached to this bubbly musical kind of story in the past.
Andy Serkis: I won’t deny it. It’s a challenge to have people have a fresh perception of it. But certainly, in terms of the story that we set out to make, I knew that we were making something that was completely and utterly different.
That was, for a start, it was a Mowgli-centric story. It was absolutely about this boy’s journey. And this boy who has a sense of being other, an outsider, trying to find– fulfill his destiny. But crucially, trying to find how he fits into the world. Which is changing. Both the world of man and animal. Gradually changing as they affect each other.
Screen Rant: You’re extremely prolific as a performance actor. And this is your third major film as a director. But you’ve done a lot of B unit as well with Peter Jackson.
Andy Serkis: Yeah. I started directing the second unit on The Hobbit. So, I shot an enormous amount of for that.
Screen Rant: Was there a lot of pressure though? Working with Academy Award winning actors in something like this? Or was it just having fun with your friends?
Andy Serkis: No, it’s– I mean, look. Everyone came to this, and a lot of actors came to this, a lot of great actors came to this having never done performance capture before. So, they were looking to me for some kind of leadership. But I mean I had to explain to them very quickly that the performance capture isn’t a type of acting. You don’t have to change your way of acting. It’s just a bunch of technology that films you in a slightly different way. So, it’s really about finding character. And that’s of course what they do magnificently. So, no. But I mean, we worked very closely and very hard. And with young Rohan Chand, who played Mowgli at the center of it all. And he wasn’t fazed by anything or anyone. So, it was a really creative experiences. Wonderful.
Screen Rant: Now, am I my wrong, or when I’m looking at Bagheera, you could see Christian Bale’s actual face? I could swear those are his cheekbones.
Andy Serkis. No, absolutely. We designed all of the animals around the actors who were playing them. Because my take on it was, it seems kind of crazy to have to create a photo real tiger or panther and then drop a voice on top of it and expect it to look real. The jaw wouldn’t move in the same way that a tiger’s jaw or the panther’s jaw would move in a completely different way. So, we literally took Christian, an image of Christian, and an image of the panther and then gradually morphed him over a timeline. And then, there is a sweet spot where you can actually see, as we have it in the movie, both his face and the face of the panther. And that was the key that unlocked the way to doing it for all of them.
Screen Rant: It came out wonderful. The film is wonderful.
Andy Serkis: Thank you.
Screen Rant: Thank you so much. I’m looking forward to your next directing project.
Andy Serkis: Thank you very much.
More: Read Screen Rant’s Mowgli Review