I had the pleasure of speaking with Lupita Nyong’o (voice of Raksha) & Giancarlo Esposito (voice of Akela) during the Jungle Book press junket. To hear them speak passionately about motherhood, family and their involvement in the movie was amazing. Today, I’m sharing 9 things I learned from our exclusive interview with Lupita Nyong’o & Giancarlo Esposito.
1. Giancarlo explains why they didn’t want to screen the movie prior to The Jungle Book World Premiere.
We have not (seen the movie yet). We’ve seen parts of the film, because in our work, on the microphone, we did get a chance to see some of the film as it progressed. Especially in parts of it that referred to our scenes together, and our scenes with Mowgli which has been really, really wonderful. And then we’ve been offered screening after screening, but we’re obstinate. We say no, we want to see it together as a family.
2. Lupita isn’t a mother yet but had plenty of women in her life to pull from to play Raksha.
I have a lot of very, very powerful women in my life. My mother being the first and most important. But in my culture, my mother’s sisters are also my mother. And my father’s sisters are my mothers, too. So I have many mothers. And my mom had a fierce love. She has a fierce love for her children. And she’s known to say things like if you die, I’ll kill you.
And so that 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 she does it, and she doesn’t look back, and she does everything in her power to protect that child. And then to have to let go of that child as well, that takes even more love, you know, to allow your children to, 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. 🙂
3. A conversation with Jon Favreau during the trailer for the game, Destiny led to Giancarlo’s involvement in The Jungle Book.
I had 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. And it was a highly technical trailer that we did. And I stepped away from reading this, and had a conversation with Jon about Rudyard Kipling, and the book, 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…
4. Lupita just wanted to do something new.
For me this was the very first role that I performed after I got off the 12 Years a Slave train, I like to call it. What appealed to me was this idea of playing a mother. Something that I hadn’t yet done. To do it in voice-over. And yeah, just opened myself up to something new.
5. Giancarlo has a long history with voice over and microphone work.
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 because 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.
6. Giancarlo believes mothers will save our planet!
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 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… It is this strength of the mother that is going to change the way the world is. It’s the compassion, the love, the very open spirited mother and women that will move us forward in this century, it’s no doubt!
7. Lupita talks about how The Jungle Book is about Mowgli finding home.
I think what Mowgli 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 a really important thing for children to have. And so that they can veer away from it, but always be able to come back when they need to.
8. Giancarlo says we need to remember to be playful!
What we want to remember in life is to play! 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 forget about, I don’t care anymore! 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.
9. What’s up next for Giancarlo Esposito
Giancarlo just directed his second feature film, This Is Your Death, an unflinching look at reality television. He’s started on Maze Runner 3: the Death Cure and is working with The History Channel on a story about the first black US Marshall,Bass Reeves. Plus catch him next month in Money Monster with George Clooney and Julia Roberts.
10. What’s up next for Lupita Nyong’o
Lupita is currently on Broadway starring in Danai Gurira’s play, Eclipsed. It’s a play about the Liberian Civil War and is the first all female performed, directed and written play on Broadway! She also has other things she can’t talk about yet. I’m hoping that means a return of Maz Kanata in the Star Wars: Episode VIII.
The Jungle Book opens 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.