Our second interviews of the day were Lupita Nyong’o (voice of “Raksha”) & Giancarlo Esposito (voice of “Akela”) and the excitement in the room was palatable. From the time we received out interview itineraries THIS was the interview that was going to give me the most butterflies in my tummy ahead of time. I was hoping to get my questions out with out stumbling over my words. To keep my nerves in check, I jumped right in with my questions for Luipta. My question came from the 3rd and 6th grade of Logos Academy. These students read The Jungle Book in their literature class in the fall and were super excited to contribute questions I would deliver to the actors.
Did you have a mothering role in your life experiences? What life experiences did you have to draw yourself to this character in a mothering role?
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, in my mother’s sisters are also my mother. And my father’s sisters are my mother’s, too. So I’ve have many mothers. My mom has a fierce love, a fierce love for her children. She is known to say things like, ‘If you die, I’ll kill you!’
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 doesn’t look back, she does everything in her power to protect that child.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. And 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.
So what drew you guys to this role? Why did you want to take it on? What was that process like?
I have a very unusual story. I was working on the Destiny’s trailer with Jon. I’d done a show called Revolution with Jon Favreau. And our show had finished, and he called me and said, ‘Would you come and do a commercial with me for One Day? And it was the trailer of Destiny. And the character was reading ‘The Law of the Jungle’ to his son. It was a highly technical trailer that we did. I stepped away from reading this, and had a conversation with John about Rudyard Kipling’s book, 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…..
He said ‘Guess What?’
I said, ‘You have 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 afterwards. 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! (This) makes me 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. It seemed like, my life was coming full circle. To be able to, 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.
For me this was the very first role that I performed after I got off 12 Years a Slave. 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 been fantasizing about motherhood since I was probably 2 ½. I loved to babysit my cousins, and nieces.
What was the recording process like?
Very different because technology has changed so much in the last few years. I love being on the mic. 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 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 cameras, 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.
Do you identify with Akela in any way? As you were playing the role?
Oh, in so many ways! Lupita was talking about another film she did, and there was a lot of testosterone, energy! I have four daughters, and 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.
[bctt tweet=”The importance of the female and the mother presence in our society is greater than ever. @quiethandfilms on #JungleBook” username=”SarahBMock”]
I have four daughters, the eldest is 19, the youngest is 12, and I watched all of them journey 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 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 a women, and mothers. And this is what’s gonna save our planet. I know it. Because there’s such a 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. And all those things can’t be taught. It’s something that, that in the essence of a woman, the essence of a mother, a mother knows! I have learned to listen through raising four daughters 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. And now when my former wife said to me, hey, whatever’s best for the children, she meant it!
What is one thing that you want children to take back from your character?
I think what Mogley is dealing with is finding belonging. And what Raksha offers him is home. Her… as home. And as an anchor. And I think that’s 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.
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 where, 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, the eyelash is not happening! You know what I mean? 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. And what I want people to get from this movie is that sense of freedom, that sense of, of abandonment in the ride, of this film, the sense of connection with family, even if you don’t have a family.
The sense of trust that someone’s gonna adopt you and take care of you. That sense of really being engaged by the world. You know? 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… And, and I think people are gonna feel it in this film. If anything, all the folks who’ve come and talked to us in press today their hearts have been opened!
So you were very well read as a child. Do you have a favorite book interview?
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.
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.
Be sure to see the interviews with Jon Faverau and Nell Sethi here.
The Jungle Book in in theaters April 15.