Disney: Lupita Nyong’o & Giancarlo Esposito Interview #JungleBookEvent

I received an all expense paid trip from Disney to attend the #JungleBookEvent. The opinions expressed here are my own and I received no monetary compensation.

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If interviewing Jon Favreau and Neel Sethi at the #JungleBookEvent wasn’t cool enough, we had a chance to chat with Lupita Nyong’o (voice of Raksha) & Giancarlo Esposito (voice of Akela) at the press junket. Lupita walked in wearing a gorgeous pink dress that had animals embroidered on it. She is even more beautiful in person and I love what she had to say about her mother in relation to her character Raksha and how in her culture, she had many mothers. As for Giancarlo, he knew how to butter up a room full of mothers in a very genuine way! I could have spoken with him all day. He’s insightful, intelligent and my husband was quite jealous that I got to interview Gus from Breaking Bad. 

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Q: Jon mentioned that some of you haven’t seen the film yet. Have you seen the film?

Giancarlo Esposito: We have not. 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. We’ve been offered screening after screening, but we’re obstinate. We say no, we want to see it together as a family.

Q: Do you have a mother role in your life experiences to draw from [for the character of Raksha]?

Lupita Nyong’o: 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, my mother’s sisters are also my mother. And my father’s sisters are my mother’s, too. So I have many mothers. My mom has a fierce love for her children. And she’s 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. 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 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 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, and then how hard it is to lose those connections. So those were things I was definitely thinking about. And I love my mommy.

Press Junket For Disney's "The Jungle Book"

 Photo: Becky Fry / MySparklingLife.com

Q: What drew you to your roles?

Giancarlo Esposito: I’d done a show called Revolution with Jon. 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 Jon about 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 and said guess what. I said, you 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 and 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! 

Lupita Nyong’o: 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 just opened myself up to something new! I have always loved children. I’ve been fantasizing about motherhood since I was probably 2 ½. I loved to babysit my cousins, and nieces, you know. But I also had [a] kind of fear about being a mother, and doing work like this makes you really put yourself there. I like being put in those kinds of uncomfortable places that help me to expand my empathy. And so that was what attracted me to Raksha.

Press Junket For Disney's "The Jungle Book"

 Photo: Becky Fry / MySparklingLife.com

Q: What was the recording process like?

Giancarlo Esposito: Very different because technology has changed so much in the last few years. I love being on the mic. There’s a special relationship that 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 three different cameras that captured our motion so that he could blend our physicality with the physicality that he was planning for the wolves. I learned so much from just being in the studio a couple of different times. It’s great to hear Jon talk about it because he’s such a Disney fan. I just think Walt Disney was just way ahead of his time. And now we have a guy who’s remade this movie with new technology.   

Q: Do you identify with Akela in any way?

Giancarlo Esposito:  Oh, in so many ways. 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, you know, 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 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 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’ve learned 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. When my former wife said to me, hey, whatever’s best for the children, she meant it! It is the 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 woman that will move us forward in this new century. It’s no doubt. 

Press Junket For Disney's "The Jungle Book"

 Photo: Becky Fry / MySparklingLife.com

Q: What is one [example or role model quality] that you want children to take from your character? 

Lupita Nyong’o: 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 so that they can veer away from it, but always be able to come back when they need to.

Giancarlo Esposito:  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 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. And now I can play more! I can not worry that the hair is out of place, or the eyelash is not happening! You know what I mean? 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. And what I want people to get from this movie is that sense of freedom, that sense 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…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! 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!

Press Junket For Disney's "The Jungle Book"

 Photo: Becky Fry / MySparklingLife.com

Q: Lupita, when we last met, you couldn’t say anything [about the Force Awakens]. What were you just itching to tell us that you couldn’t then?

Lupita Nyong’o: I wasn’t itching to tell you anything [jokingly]. I mean, it’s so much more fun to do the work than to talk about it. I will have to admit that. Everybody gets to decide how they feel, and what to take away by themselves, and that’s what you hope for. That people will take away different things and have different experiences from the work we do as actors. So I don’t like to prescribe how to feel about the work I do. Right now, on Broadway, I’m playing a 15 year old. And so to go from playing a 1,000 year old female to 15, I mean, I just love that kind of range to be able to do those kinds of things. She was a riot to work on.

Make sure to follow The Jungle Book on Facebook, Twitter, IG, Pinterest and G+. You can also follow Walt Disney Pictures on Tumblr and YouTubeThe Jungle Book opens in theaters everywhere in 3D, RealD 3D, and IMAX 3D on April 15th!

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I'm Vanessa and it's my mission in life to spread my love of hot glue guns and glitter to others. I suffer from craft ADHD, regularly working on at least 10 projects at the same time and my craft room looks like a tornado hit it. My first craft book, Party in a Jar, was published in 2014. I look forward to crafting with you!

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