When you are in the presence of an acting legend, you wish you had the entire day to sit and savor the moment. Alas, we only had about fifteen minutes to interview Sir Ben Kingsley at THE JUNGLE BOOK press event, though time seems a bit irrelevant when you listen to this exceptionally talented actor. Each sage word that he speaks feels like it was mulled over and formed hours before you even had the notion to ask. His authoritative and masterful mannerisms and speech envelop the room, softly filling the corners and weaving into your mind as if they were thin strands of silk formulating ancient tidbits of wisdom to rest there. In the span of fifteen minutes in Sir Kingley’s presence, you feel wiser and most definitely richer, for the experience.
Kingsley had yet to see the complete rendition of THE JUNGLE BOOK film, but expressed that he felt it was very close to what Rudyard Kipling may have envision when he wrote the original book. He commended newcomer, Neel Sethi, saying the film and cast were “blessed” to have him in the role of Mowgli.
For his own role as Bagheera, Kingsley said one of two things will propel him to take on a role: recognition or curiosity.
“Curiosity has to be there,” Kingsley said. “If I’m not curious about him… then of course that won’t be contagious and the audience won’t be curious.”
He also believes the story has to have a “human ingredient” to it, that moves us forward as a human race. His beginnings in acting with the Royal Shakespeare Company formulate a lot of his opinions on the composition of good storytelling. Kingsley lauded Shakespeare as the “maestro of storytelling” for his ability to put patterns of human behavior on the stage which simultaneously explains (human nature) and entertains the audience.
Kingsley did not see the character role of Bagheera to be that of a father, but more of an Indian colonel in the military. Though he doesn’t use an Indian accent for the role, he feels there is still a ghost of the Indian colonel in his performance.
“It was as if I was training a young cadet into how to survive in particular circumstances,” said Kingsley. “And I liked Jon’s (Favreau) version of this which is close to Kipling’s, which is to prepare a book and a story that prepares a young person for life.”
It is this preparation of a young person to recognize both light and darkness coexist in the world that Kingsley feels is Bagheera’s mission. By being introduced to this concept in a safe environment, the child more easily accepts without as much element of fear being involved. Kingsley also feels, though, that he can personally relate to many characters in the film.
“I think that when you read a great novel or see a film like this, you realize that they (the characters) all represent different aspects of you,” said Kingsley. “As these animals all represent different challenges to the central challenge of the young boy.”
A master of acting and voice acting, Kingsley doesn’t make a huge distinction between the two. Again, he references his days in the Royal Shakespeare Company as giving him the foundation for understanding how each word must be given its appropriate weight and emphasis. After playing roles like Hamlet, he feels vocal expression abilities are simply part of his DNA. The essence, to him, is storytelling whether it is with his voice, body or a combination of elements.
“To surrender one’s whole physical side to an animating genius who is thousands of miles away, and maybe there’s twelve of them working on Bagheera’s body, that’s very exciting and allows me to make it very imperative that I explain to them through my voice, so that they can hear what I’m doing and then can animate to my voice,” said Kingsley.
The entire process took over a year and during development, Kingsley was able to see bits of his character as Bagheera’s CGI character and the jungle landscape were developed. He spent only two days with Neel Sethi, but said in that short time they established a “dynamic” between them that helped with their performance when separated geographically. Overall, Kingsley attributes the success of the project to director, Jon Favreau
“You really cannot embark on a massive project like this unless your director has amazing taste and judgment, and Jon (Favreau) has both,” said Kingsley. “Therefore, given that he has the intelligence to see the bigger picture always in his head, he was a wonderful guide as to tone, timbre and pitch in the film. It was a really wonderful experience.”
THE JUNGLE BOOK had a stellar opening weekend and I’m sure fans everywhere will agree with Sir Ben Kingsley’s assessment that this film is a wonderful tribute to the spirit of Kipley’s classic tale. If you haven’t seen the film yet – do! And if you need a little more convincing, check out the trailer below and our top reasons to see THE JUNGLE BOOK today!
For more information on THE JUNGLE BOOK film, visit the official website: http://movies.disney.com/the-jungle-book-2016
Be sure to continue to follow my coverage via @ruralmoms (Twitter) @Barb_Webb (Instagram) and RuralMoms (Facebook)- look for the #JungleBookEvent hashtag.
THE JUNGLE BOOK is in theatres everywhere in 3D, RealD 3D, and IMAX 3D!
Disclosure: I attended the #JungleBookEvent My expenses were covered by Disney. All opinions are my own.