My last interview from the Jungle Book press junket is with Sir Ben Kingsley. It was awesome to sit in the same room as an Academy Award winner and Knight! Listening to him speak in person was pretty amazing too, his voice was perfectly cast for the noble Bagheera. He spoke with us about his role as Bagheera and also about the movie in general. Here are 5 thoughts from Ben Kingsley on The Jungle Book.
1. This Jungle Book is very close to what Rudyard Kipling envisioned.
I think it’s very close to what Rudyard Kipling envisioned, which was an enormous leap in his imagination, which was a child literally living with and talking with animals. And I think from what I’ve seen that’s what you experience on the screen here.
With all respect to its predecessor in the ’60’s, that was an animated cartoon talking to animated cartoons, but this is a little boy, and we are blessed with him, Neel, he’s amazing. Literally, well, not literally but what you see is he’s with animals, which is wonderful.
And he’s right, the film is amazing. It looks like Neel Sethi is literally walking with and talking to real animals.
2. He modeled Bagheera after a British officer serving in the post-colonial Indian Army.
Wow when I first discussed it with Jon Favreau, I recognized that Bagheera was military. That then in the Indian Army certainly then, then in post-colonial times, probably less now, there were British and Indian officers serving in the Indian Army. And I’ve recently played in Sikh in Learning To Drive, and I’m fascinated by Indian military combination.
So I offered an Indian accent as Bagheera, to play him as an Indian colonel or general, probably a colonel, and he (Jon Favreau) felt that it didn’t fit the universality of the appeal of the story, that it might corner it and make it a province of one particular period of history, culture, hierarchy. So I think he made a very good choice in making it more universal, more accessible.
Having said that, there’s still the ghost of the Indian colonel in my performance. It’s not any accent but it’s in his tough but very affectionate love. I think it’s there but I did actually, tell your friend I did actually embark on an Indian accent and I saw Jon Favreau’s face slowly fall. 🙂
3. He did not see Bagheera as a father figure to Mowgli.
No, I didn’t see him as a father figure at all. I did see him in military terms that it was as if I was training a young cadet into how to survive in particular circumstances. And I liked Jon’s version of this which is close to Kipling’s, which is a book and a story that prepares a young person for life.
And you have to prepare young people for life by lovingly introducing them to the fact that there is light and shade, that both exist side-by-side in life, and that if you dilute, distort, sugar coat, sentimentalize everything in the hope that you’re gonna keep a child’s attention, you won’t. You get the child’s attention, immediately it goes dark. Whenever I read stories to my children, they would always ask me to read the scary bits over and over again, even if the duvet cover would come way up there. They would love it, because they were hearing it in a safe place. That’s the ingredient. If they are introduced to that dark side of life in a really safe environment by their parents, then it’s fine.
4. This is a more 21st century Bagheera.
I’m sure it’s inevitable to use one’s experiences as a parent, but I think in Kipling’s time, which was colonial Britain, and I think actually Victoria might still have been on the throne when he wrote the novel, which is extraordinary, you did discipline your children through irritation and lack of empathy and impatience, rather than love and encouragement. So I think that if we want to translate it into the 21st Century, then yes, there is irritation in Bagheera, and there are those limits that he won’t let the boy transcend, but that it’s done with more empathy and more affection rather than from the book of rules. So there is a shift, yeah.
5. He thinks everyone has a little bit of Bagheera and free-spirited Baloo in them.
I think I’m both. I think we’re all both. I think that when you read a great novel or see a film like this, you realize that they all represent different aspects of you. As these animals all represent different challenges to the central challenge of the young boy which is growing up, adulthood, adolescence and adulthood, massive challenges.
So I think that all the characters are, you know we’ll find that they’re all part of us rather than any one individual character, that we change according to the people in front of us, to dads and moms and that’s how we approach them.
I loved this answer because I couldn’t choose a favorite between Bagheera and Baloo. I like the idea that there is a little bit of both in all of us!
Don’t miss my other posts about the Jungle Book Event experience including more cast interviews, the red carpet experience, and my movie review! And I hope you went and saw The Jungle Book this weekend in theaters, it opened at #1 this weekend with an estimated $103.6 million at the domestic box office!
The Jungle Book opened in theaters on April 15!
I have been invited by Disney to cover the press junket for The Jungle Book and Walk The Prank. As always, all opinions are my own.