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Interview: Giancarlo Esposito on THE JUNGLE BOOK

Disney’s live action remake of The Jungle Book was a smash hit both critically and commercially when it was released theatrically in April. Recently unveiled in gorgeous Blu-ray format, the film is very much worth a revisit. On the day of its release we were thrilled to chat on the phone with renowned actor Giancarlo Esposito, who voices Akela the wolf in the film. The following are the conversation highlights.

Scene Creek: How did you get involved with The Jungle Book

Giancarlo Esposito: Oh my goodness. Well I had worked with Jon Favreau on a show called Revolution 3 or 4 years back. He directed the pilot of that. We just fell in love on a professional level, he’s just such a smart guy. Then it was soon after that that I wound up doing a commercial with him where the storyline was where a futuristic army came and a father was teaching his son and reading to him from Rudyard Kipling’s novel The Jungle Book. A few years later and I was in the studio recording Akela. We just both cared a lot about this piece of literary splendor. If you look at the Disney original animated film, it’s very different than the concept that Jon created, although there are sprinklings of that film within it, honoring all the timely messages in the source material.

SC: When I interviewed your co-star Neel Sethi (who plays Mowgli in the film) he said that his favorite part of working with Jon was the brisket that Jon cooked for him and Bill Murray (who voices Baloo in the film). What did you like best about working with Jon this time and did he cook for you? 

GE: *laughs* Well I didn’t have an experience with the brisket, although I have been told that story, partially by Jon and partially by Neel. I wish it was my favorite thing because I know he’s an excellent cook! Also an excellent sommelier. But my favorite thing was to really watch some of the clips with Jon and Neel working together actually. He proved he was the right guy to direct because he would get into costume and roll on the ground and really get into character with Neel. I want that experience! I’m just such a big kid at heart and I grew up on this book and I really wanted to be Mowgli. It’s also the answer I give to that question – who else would you want to be on this film? Well who else would you want to be?! Mowgli! I want to be the kid, are you kidding?! I just always related to the freedom that young Mowgli has and the relationship he has with all the animals is just wonderful to behold.

SC: What do you think are the bare necessities of life?

GE: Oh my goodness. You know in our day and age the necessities are looked at as the washing machine, your car, your cell phone, and the like. For me the bare necessities are to have open communication with my children. I have four daughters so I keep trying to earn and keep their respect and love. Then there’s also my work, which is like a meditation for me. I see so many folks choose jobs that they’re not happy with from day to day and I get the chance to come in and play every day. Being in the studio and being in front of the cameras, and recently I finished my second feature directing – it’s been such a blessing for me. I’m just in heaven right now having a lot of fun.

SC: Who is your favorite Disney character of all time and why? 

GE: That’s a hard one! I love everything that Walt did and I’m such an old school person. You know my favorite Disney film this year has been ours. I just think it has the right balance between light and dark. Some moments really teach us life lessons about the world and about having courage. I’m just so impressed with this version of The Jungle Book story and with the film itself.

SC: Your most high profile roles, from The Jungle Book to The Get Down to Breaking Bad, have been quietly menacing characters. Do you ever call up your agent and beg for a comedy instead? Something tells me you have impeccable comic timing. 

GE: *laughs* You know I’ve been asked this so much lately! I do have a comedy coming up with Taran Killam. The answer to your question is yes, I do. I call him all the time and say, “you know it would be nice to do a broad comedy at some point!” You’re right though, I have done my share of nefarious characters in the last few years. I did do a show in Canada called Once Upon A Time and I played two characters in that and one was actually underneath a really nice guy.

SC: What is your dream role?

GE:  The dream role for me is always the one I’m doing at present. I just finished doing a film called Okja directed by Joon Ho Bong, a really great Korean director. You know actually my dream role would probably be to play a poet. There’s a Russian poet named Pushkin, a mixed race musician but also a writer and very famous novelist and person in history. It would be unbelievable to play him at some point.

SC: You recently teased online that you had taken a meeting with the folks at Marvel. Can you share anything more about the possibility of you working with Marvel sometime in the near future

GE: Oh my gosh, I love the people at Marvel, man! These guys know how to make films with a small unit, small precision makers at the top and people who are very respectful of the source material. They’re always looking to do something simple yet honest. So all I can say is that I really want to work with them and I know they want to work with me so it’s just a matter of figuring out the material, but I know it’ll be exciting.

SC: While working with Tilda Swinton on Okja, did she share any advice about working with Marvel from her experience on Doctor Strange?

GE: Oh you’re so well informed! You know I did actually, and she loved the experience. In fact we were shooting two weeks ago and we had a very off schedule because we shot in Korea and then Tilda and I started in New York, and then we wound up in Vancouver. We had the Monday, Tuesday off and she had to leave on the Sunday night to go finish Doctor Strange and work on a scene that they had just written. So we had a big laugh because the next day she sat down next to me and said, “do you ever have a moment where the cameras are rolling and you’re supposed to speak and everything just goes away?” And I said, “Yes.” So she asked, “what is that? Is that just getting older?” I said, “well there’s a lot going on in our brains, a lot of material.” After two night shoots they rewrote stuff for her and when they began she had it and allowed her to remember a time way back when she had the experience of being too full of all the material. But, you know, Tilda is lovely. She had a great time on Doctor Strange, which made me really jealous and made me want to work with Marvel even more. I think it’s definitely going to happen.


The Jungle Book is currently available for purchase on Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD.


Leora Heilbronn

Leora Heilbronn is a Toronto based film aficionado who has a weakness for musicals and violent action flicks. She can often be spotted reading a wide range of literature or listening to show tunes.