The live-action remake of The Jungle Book was a big hit for Disney, restoring one of the company’s most cherished properties (the original animated Jungle Book was the final feature produced by Walt Disney himself, who passed away during its production) to prominence and introducing a new generation to timeless characters like Mowgli and Baloo. But it also served to make an overnight movie star out of formerly unknown child actor Neel Sethi, who won the sought-after role of Mowgli in an audition and has since become recognized worldwide.
Now, with The Jungle Book set to release on DVD from Disney this week, the young star sat down with Screen Rant for an interview about his experiences making the film. But before we could ask about his future in Hollywood (or the hypothetical Jungle Book sequel), Sethi had some questions of his own: Namely, the 12 year-old New York Giants football fan wanted to know if our Boston Massachusetts-based interviewer was a New England Patriots fan (he was):
Neel Sethi: We [The New York Giants and their fans] don’t always win the Super Bowl, but when we do, we beat the Patriots!
Screen Rant: [Laughs] Yes you do!
NS: And we’re proud of it.
SR: You should be! You should be proud of a lot of things, you’re having a big year.
NS: I am – and Tom Brady Always cheats! (laughs)
SR: Ha! So, congratulations on The Jungle Book!
NS: Thank you!
SR: Did you participate in any new special features for the DVD?
NS: Yeah, I did two interviews for specials features. It was a pretty long one but I liked doing it because they showed how the movie was made. You should get it, it’s good!
SR: You’d never appeared in a feature film before this, correct?
NS: No, it’s my first time acting.
SR: How did the audition process for that go?
NS: I went to a studio… I don’t remember which one it was. I just walked in, waited in the waiting room, then I was just myself and they said they really liked it. Then I went outside and got a hotdog, and it was really good – that was the highlight of that day.
SR: How familiar were you with The Jungle Book as a property before auditioning?
NS: Actually, I didn’t know what The Jungle Book was. But then when I heard about the audition, I watched it – the [animated] classic one – and I liked it.
SR: Did you take a look at the Rudyard Kipling book that it’s based on?
NS: I’ve read a couple pages of it, but it’s very, like… old.
SR: Are you in school right now – well, not “right now,” because it’s still Summer, but eventually?
NS: School starts soon and I’m NOT too happy…
SR: Who encouraged you to go to the audition?
NS: My family all encouraged me to do it. But the dance teacher who showed me the audition role, she told me it was a good opportunity and “this is very much like [me].” So I said, “Oh! Okay, I’ll do it!”
SR: Now, as most people understand it, you weren’t in an actual jungle for most of this movie – you were on a greenscreen set, correct?
NS: Yeah, I was on a green screen the whole time with puppets.
SR: What was it like getting to see the finished result after that?
NS: I was thinking “That’s so weird! That was a puppet, but now it’s a bear.” But it looks so amazing.
SR: A lot of these animated animals are voiced by some of the biggest stars in Hollywood. You weren’t necessarily “on the set” with them, but did you get to eventually meet the real people you shared the movie with?
NS: Oh yeah, I met all of them! I met a couple of them while filming – I met Bill Murray, actually! I went on a private plane to go meet him in Martha’s Vineyard and we ate a lot of good food and played football!
SR: Wow! That’s a rare occasion – people can’t always find Bill Murray, a lot of the time.
NS: Yeah. He was in Martha’s Vineyard.
SR:Disney has already said they want to make a Jungle Book 2, have you had any discussions about that?
NS: Well, I really want to do it and I hope I can; but no idea what they’re doing or how they’re going to do it. But I want to do it, yeah!
SR: Are you planning to make a career of acting now?
NS: I also want to do dentistry and be a football player, basketball player, baseball player, a police or fireman… I want to do all that stuff; but I also want to be an actor.
SR: What sort of movie parts would you jump at the most, if they brought it to you? An action hero? Maybe a superhero?
NS: Oh yeah, I want to be a superhero! I want to be a mix between DC and Marvel… like, a mix between Captain America, Batman and The Joker – and The Flash!
SR: What was your favorite thing to do on The Jungle Book?
NS: I made so many big memories, I met so many great people, great friends – I liked that.
SR: Was there any part of making the movie that wasn’t as much fun?
NS: There was this one part in the mud that was very uncomfortable. I was itchy and scratchy… I despised that part.
SR: Maybe thinking, “Why can’t they do this in the computer?”
NS: (laughs) Yeah!
SR: So they can do the tiger in the computer but not the mud?
NS: No, they can’t do mud. The mud has to be real. It would be cool if there was a real tiger, though!
SR: Would you like to make a movie with real animals, as opposed to animated ones?
NS: Yeah! Imagine, just like… hugging and playing around with a real bear? Like – you’ve watched [the movie], right? So imagine that scene where they’re charging up against each other and it’s like Shere Khan against like the whole entire squad? And then Baloo and Shere Khan just go up against each other and bite each other? Imagine how cool that would be, right!?
SR: Did you have a favorite animal in the cast?
NS: Oh yeah, definitely Baloo! Because he’s so free spirited and goes with the flow and stuff. He’s funny! And Bill Murray is, too.
SR: Would you prefer future acting gigs to stick more in this type of green screen realm, or would you want to get out more into the real world?
NS: I want to do anything. It sounds like fun to just “act!”
SR: Did you find any parts of the finished film scary when you saw it fully realized?
NS: Yeah! So, I watched it in 3D in Chicago, and it was the first time I’d ever watched it. So when the tiger jumps out when I look down into the tree trunk at the end of the movie? I got so scared! Me and my popcorn slipped and it just went everywhere.
SR:It looks like we’re at the end of our time here, so before we go is there anything you’d like the people reading this at home to know about you?
NS: Um… just that I play a lot of sports, and I hope you watch the movie and get the DVD!
The Jungle Book is available on Disney Digital & HD, Blu-ray and DVD starting August 30th.