Jon Favreau made his directorial debut with the now classic Christmas film Elf before hitting the Hollywood big time bringing Ironman to the screen in a time when superhero films were not a regular part of the cinema going landscape. Favreau was first established as a stand-up in Chicago at a young age before moving to regular television appearances in Friends and making varied movies from Swingers, Very Bad Things to Couples Retreat and The Wolf of Wall Street. Visiting Australia for only the second time to show his amazingly upgraded version of The Jungle Book, he talks about processes and casting choices while shedding light on if there will be a long awaited Elf sequel and if he would make another Marvel adventure.
Shane A. Bassett – Happy 20th anniversary for Swingers. Are you and Vince Vaughn going to celebrate this year?
Jon Favreau – Thank you, it’s gone quick. Not sure yet at this point, Jungle Book is overwhelming my agenda.
SAB – You provided a voice in Jungle Book, however if you could voice any Australian animal, what would it be?
JF – Platypus probably, a lot of inner conflict there (laughs).
SAB – The late Garry Shandling does a voice in Jungle Book, was it one of the last times you saw him?
JF – Yes it was the last time Ii saw him, he’s the best inspiring figure genius mentor to all of us, especially my generation. Everyone I talked to would always say, Garry just came in to see my movie in the editing room or suggest a new joke for a hosting gig his friends had or just be there in support. You may not have seen him in front of the camera, he was constantly in contact with everyone to help create a sense of community. He affected us all. It is bittersweet hearing his voice, Garry was having so much fun on my set. He will be missed.
SAB – What can audiences expect and how do you feel upon release?
JF – It’s surreal, it’s exciting. I have fond memories of last time I was here talking to you Shane presenting Ironman eight years ago. This is the first time I am showing Jungle Book to a crowd who didn’t work on it.
SAB – How many deleted scenes were left on the cutting room floor?
JF – None when you do so much rendering on an epic animated project like this. You figure the exact story out way in advance or it becomes expensively time consuming on the level of shots needed. You don’t treat it like a live action film trimming scenes out, too much work goes into every second. Efficient process is key.
SAB – Does that include voice talent such as Bill Murray notoriously improvising?
JF – Oh yes that happened in the earlier stages before the footage was finished. We would videotape them getting reference for the animators encouraging improvisation almost like a radio play building around those performances.
SAB – Which character was hardest to perfect technically?
JF – Different ones presented different challenges, Baloo took the most trial and error making a photo real bear to figure out how far we could push it and we could with Bill Murray as his voice is so recognisable. We looked at his body of work and put that into the performance of the bear.
SAB – In the beginning, did the Jungle Book project pick you or did you pick the project?
JF – It’s a bit of both at this point of my career. I know a project will pop up eventually I want to work on or generate something myself like Chef. In this case, Disney reached out to me because I could bring a vision to it after having a good time on the Ironman films. What was immediately appealing to me was that we were building a world from scratch. You may have a few indicators where a film might go like Elf or Ironman but really, it becomes a blank canvas to cast it, create a tone and visuals, especially what is available. I still had to pitch my version and we all got along enthusiastically showing Disney my process every step of the way.
SAB – Did you come in at budget or under?
JF – Good question (laughs). My trick is I hire their own money people so I just listen to what they tell me to do.
SAB – Stroke of genius bringing in Scarlett Johansson voicing Kaa changing that character to female.
JF – She’s the best one of my favourite people. We were a little light on female roles in the books and the film, an opportunity to have a role reconceived in a way useful to the story and make use of her unique vocal skills, watch ‘Her’ for proof of that.
The other one was Lupita Nyongo as Raksha, we built that up as it was more prominent in the Kipling stories, foremost it was better for the story we told.
SAB – How extensive was your search to cast Mowgli?
JF – We looked at over 2000 kids which takes confidence to hang in there when you see so many. The tapes I was getting was the creme of the crop. There was something about this kid that made me smile enjoying watching his performance, not the most polished actor but definitely had a tremendous amount of spirit reminding me in some way of the 1967 animated Mowgli from the way he moved a little awkward to the look. We flew him out to see how athletic he was with the stunt department, impressive at that, sharp as a tack and a great kid to talk to intelligently. I knew I could work with him in the process of many months of technical tricks like motion capture, he became a seasoned pro fast.
SAB – Songs were at a minimum but the score was fantastic.
JF – My job is to bring those elements together bringing in composer John Debney, we met on Elf. He grew up on Disney backlots, his father worked on Snow White and John actually played with the kid who voiced Mowgli in the original. It was a wonderful experience paying tribute to what Walt (Disney) had done acknowledging the classic songs tapping into those deep memories, we walked a fine line but proud.
SAB – Was it hard converting the photo natural Indian landscapes?
JF – We tried to maintain the aesthetic but be more accurate to the flora and fauna of the cartoon, we set up artists in there for months to get it right.
SAB – As part of the renaissance, what’s the best part of working for Disney?
JF – You don’t have to compete with other Disney movies (laughs), they are such a powerhouse right now between the Marvel movies. I just saw the new Captain America film, it’s mindblowing. The Pixar films without exception are spectacular and now the Star Wars canon. You have access to everyone for advice, the Pixar brain trust saw early cuts of my film which was of huge benefit to me. I can also go to Disneyland anytime.
SAB – Would you consider directing another Marvel film, possibly introducing a new character? Or seeing Star Wars is off and running again, taking the helm on a future instalment?
JF – Yes sure, don’t know which character it would be but would easily say yes to working with them again after such a great experience with Disney, all round extremely happy. As for Star Wars, you have to be asked so I don’t know, I’m just happy to be part of the family.
SAB – Would you change any effects on Zathura (2005) if you had the technology that you have now, then?
JF – It was what it was, maybe a better job on certain visuals but I had a great cast – Kristen Stewart, Josh Hutcherson, all good people around me. It didn’t do well but was well received and got me the job on Ironman.
SAB – Are we likely to see an ongoing adventure sequel for Mowgli?
JF – Hope so, let’s see how it goes. So much effort by an abundance of people to make so it will have to perform to assert Disney to move on with the story. I would certainly dive right in.
SAB – What about an Elf sequel, it is now part of the regular Christmas movie experience for families.
JF – When you first asked me that Shane eight years ago in our interview, I was happy to leave it be. However now I think of it as my baby as opposed to Ironman where the character has appeared in various other films. Elf is like an ornament that comes out once a year, I could easily now capture the spirit a second time round.
SAB – You have done so much in the industry, will you consider writing an autobiography?
JF – Maybe someday, it will be fun. There are so many great inspirational personalities, colleagues and family who have made me what I am.
SAB – Chef was a big hit here resonating with audiences, especially on empty stomachs. It seemed personal filmmaking for you, is it important to change up blockbusters to smaller projects?
JF – Indeed, I get recognised from Chef all the time. People think I will instantly toss something together to cook, which I obviously will (laughs). Yes mixing up my projects keeps me alert and my simple love of film lives.
SAB – Working with Mickey Rourke on Ironman 2 would have been interesting.
JF – He’s great, a completely unique experience. I might bring him into a Jungle Book sequel voicing a chihuahua (laughs).
SAB – As a director, what do you look for when watching a movie for pleasure and what is your snack of choice?
JF – Vince Vaughn taught me when we were young, mixing raisinets (a USA sweet treat) into a bucket of popcorn, I’ve done it ever since. Forgeting that I am watching a movie, getting my mind taken away from how they have done something, like eating food when you’re a chef. It’s hard not to be critical, so the ones I enjoy most are ones that take me on a ride into their world. Thanks Shane, nice seeing you again.
Shane A. Bassett
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