I interviewed Lupita Nyong’o in December for her role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens as Maz Kanta. She was a so eloquent, and beautiful. Truly, from the inside out. So to get to speak with her once again was a real treat, but to add Giancarlo Esposito to the mix, ok, now it’s even better. For those that aren’t familiar with who Giancarlo is, his list of credits is long. I think his most notable recent role would have to be Gustavo ‘Gus’ Fring from the TV series Breaking Bad. Two incredible actors and souls sat down with myself and 24 other bloggers to talk about their roles in The Jungle Book, where Lupita takes on the role of Raksha, and Giancarlo the role of Akela, the wolf parents to Mowgli.
Voices of Raksha and Akela in The Jungle Book
Lupita Nyong’o and Giancarlo Esposito Interview
These two walk into a room bursting with applause. They both have huge smiles and you can feel the good energy in the room as they sit down at the end of the table. Lupita has the most beautiful skin, and Giancarlo, the most magnificent smile.
John mentioned that some of you haven’t seen the film yet. Have you seen the film?
Giancarlo: 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. 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.
What life experiences did you have to draw from to bring yourself to play such a mothering role?
Lupita: 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, my mother’s sisters are also my mother. And my father’s sisters are my mothers, too. So I’ve have many mothers. My mom, 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 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 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.
Can you share with us how you became part of The Jungle Book?
Giancarolo: 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 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 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 that he’s an Indian in London, and this story was such a story of freedom. Yet 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 that 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. I was in. Like, my life was coming full circle. To be able 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.
Lupita: 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, um, yeah! Just opened myself up to something new! Uh, I have always loved children. I been fantasizing about motherhood since I was probably 2 ½. You know. I loved to babysit my cousins, and nieces, you know. But I also had kind of fear also about being a mother, and doing work like this makes you really put yourself there. And 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.
What was the recording process like?
Giancarlo: 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. And 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 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. 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. It was interesting and fascinating because you weren’t really seeing picture. You had to take your own timing the first time we were in the studio. And then the next time we had sort of a rough picture. And the next time then the rough picture was then also combined with Lupita’s voice. So then you had something to play off of. But a very, very, very interesting process that was fun!
Do you identify with Akela?
Giancarlo: Oh, in so many ways. I’m a male, and on the way in, Lupita was talking about another film she did, and there was a lot of testosterone, energy! I have four daughters and, you know, 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.
I have four daughters who, 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 in the essence of a woman, the essence of a mother, a mother knows! So to me, you know, I have learned to listen through raising four daughters. But 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 is best for the children, she meant it! And when I said that, too. So now I have two daughters who live with me in Austin, and one daughter in college in New Haven, one daughter who lives with her. But we all convene! But this is what’s going to change. 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 woman that will move us forward in this new century. It’s no doubt.
What is the take-away you wish for children to get from the film?
Lupita: Well, what I think 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: That’s really beautiful. It’s this, like, movies. Look like my, my life. My 17 year old lives with us, is going to college next year in Paris. She looks at me and goes, so, Papa, where can we go? Can we do? Um, Mama wants her to come home because her math and science grades fell a little bit. Um, well, you know what? The only way I can fight for you is for you to heal the grade. Heal the grade first. Then
Mama has issues about me always being on the road, and you not having enough nurturing. Now, I know you’re 12 years old, and you’re independent, you got your own life. You’ve made 40 Youtube movies! However, you need some nurturing, too! Right? So here are choices. You come on the road with me, which I don’t really want, ‘cause I want you to be socialized with people of your own age. You pull those grades up, you stay in Austin. We get a good nanny, and I try to make my best film in Austin! I tell her all this, and she looks at me, she goes, okay, cool. Cool. But don’t forget I’m only 12 years old. So I go yeah, 12 going on 24. And I laugh really hard, and I say to her, that’s great. Because 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 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 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. 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, Lupita said this coming in here – their hearts have been opened!
This movie is opening people’s hearts in this way, that… It’s doing it’s good. And if it’s entertaining you as well, and you’re seeing all of this great story that’s an amalgam of all this technology and human challenges that came with it to put a human being in this film, this is, like, it’s precious! This is the precious gem that we’re gonna take away. And I… I just… I love it. I can’t wait to see it tonight. I’m really excited.
Do you have a favorite book you read as a child?
Giancarlo: 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. There’s one other book. I have to think about it, though. Gosh, I can see it, but I can’t…And it reminds me a lot of this series of movies that I’m doing now actually. Um… Oh, my goodness. It’ll come to me. Just a second…
Lupita: What comes to mind right now The BFG! I love that book. Hmmm…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.
Giancarlo: Oh, okay. So there’s another one. The Prophet, by K Hill Jabron. And I love Sid Arthur…a lot as well. Another great book.
So what’s next for you?
Giancarlo: I feel really blessed. I’ve just made my second feature film as a director called This is Your Death. It stars Josh Duhamel, Famke Janssen and myself…and it’s an unflinching look at reality television. And it’s very provocative and profound. I locked picture on Friday. I’m praying that my investors at Gray Point Media will say yes. This is the locked picture, and I can go into my finishing. So I’ll be finishing the movie this month in Vancouver doing all the technical stuff that I need to do on it. And I’ve started on Maze Runner 3, the Death Cure. We’ll go back May 15th and finish that film. And I feel so blessed to be in creation. I’m working with the History Channel on a story of the first, black US Marshal named Bass Reeves. In Indian Territory who was the right hand man of Judge Isaac Parker, Hanging Judge Parker, who brought law to an untamed land. So it’s a story about their relationship. I’m excited because I’m able to, to do very…various different things, it’s kinda lovely to be able to play in television and play in film. I’ve got this coming out, and Money Monster coming out in April. I feel like I finally hitting my stride again. It’s kinda nice.
Lupita: Well, I am on Broadway at the moment. I’m doing a show called Eclipsed by Deni Guerrera. You might know her from The Walking Dead. She plays Mishone. And she’s an incredible playwright. And she’s written this five female play about women in the Liberian civil war, and how they each individually deal with war and get themselves out of very dire situation. We are the first all female performed, directed, and written play on Broadway. And, not to mention, we’re all black.
It’s a milestone I’m really proud of. I love going to work every day. It exhausts me. And I earn my rest! And I wake up and I do it again, and I just feel so blessed to be able to do this story that means so much to me, means so much to my continent, and is meaning so much to the very diverse audience that’s coming to see it. So if you’re in New York, come check us out. And other than that I have another film where I play a mother, but this time live action mother. Queen of Katwe, it’s another Disney picture and it’s about this Ugandan chess prodigy. So anyway, I play the mother, and I hope you’ll see that, too. And, I maybe be talking to you again.
When we last met for Star Wars, you couldn’t say anything. What were you just itching to tell us that you couldn’t then?
Lupita: I wasn’t itching to tell you anything…I mean, it’s so much more fun to do the work than to talk about it. I will have to admit that. Because the work 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. She was so much fun. I mean 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 kind of things. And she was a riot to work on.
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The Jungle Book opens on 4/15/16