Disney's "The Jungle Book" features an impressive array of talented actors, but it's Neel Sethi as Mowgli who is sure to steal the movie when it hits theaters in 2016.
The Jon Favreau-directed live action movie stars the likes of Bill Murray as bear Baloo, Ben Kingsley as panther Bagheera, Lupita Nyong'o as wolf Raksha, Idris Elba as tiger Shere Khan, Scarlett Johannson as snake Kaa and Christopher Walken as orangutan King Louie. Since they all recorded their parts separately in the studio, Sethi spent much of his time filming "The Jungle Book" on his own.
"I would have eye-lines, and I would listen to their playback to hear their lines, and I would just focus on my eye-line and picture a wolf, or a panther, or a bear," Sethi tells Zap2it at Disney's D23 Expo of shooting opposite CGI characters in his first acting role.
According to Favreau, Sethi was the 2000th person to audition for the role of Mowgli in "The Jungle Book." The director says Sethi embodies the role and was able to hold his own opposite the movie's heavyweight actors.
Sethi did get the opportunity to film in the studio with Murray and Kingsley, and Kingsley has high praise for the 10-year-old actor.
"Fortunately Jon [Favreau] was able to organize our schedules so we could spend a couple of days together," Kingsley says of his young costar. "It was in those times that I was able to establish a rapport with him as an actor. Then when we were separated, we still continued to sing the same duet because his performance is so pure and indelible and strong and consistent that even when he wasn't in the studio it was clear how he would interpret the lines that I was responding to."
"The Jungle Book" trailer Favreau premiered at D23 was impressive for its seamless incorporation of live action and CGI characters, and Sethi's performance helps cement the movie's realism. He admits that his favorite part of shooting was doing stunt scenes, like one in the trailer where he hurdles around the jungle with his animal friends.
"The stunts were really fun because I actually got to show my energy a lot more than usual, and that's what Mowgli's character is: Energetic, stubborn and really awesome -- and funny," Sethi says. "The stunts were one of my favorite highlights of filming."
"The Jungle Book" hits theaters on April 15, 2016.