Christian Bale on playing Bagheera in Mowgli, trying motion capture, and why he feels Netflix is rewarding

Devansh Sharma

December 06, 2018 14:59:43 IST

Duality has always dominated Christian Bale's career. For the most part, he finds himself either singularly spending time with his wife and kids, or solely invested in the diverse characters he portrays in his films. Duality is also what made him gravitate towards Andy Serkis' upcoming Netflix live action adventure film Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, particularly towards his character of Bagheera.

"Rudyard Kidling describes the voice of Bagheera in The Jungle Book as 'honey dripping from the trees.' But at the same time, he is old, cunning and reckless as well. Everyone in the jungle fears Bagheera, except Mowgli. So I ensured that I convey Bagheera has a soothing and avuncular voice so that he could comfort Mowgli whenever he's in distress. But he also needed to be ferocious and someone who's feared. But most of all, his defining quality was that he's someone who's very experienced," says Christian Bale in an exclusive interview to Firstpost, following the world premiere of the film in India.

Christian Bale as Bagheera and Rohan Chand as Mowgli in a still from Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle. YouTube

Christian Bale as Bagheera and Rohan Chand as Mowgli in a still from Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle. YouTube

Besides the micro portrayal of the friendly panther Bagheera, Bale could also relate to the film when he viewed it through a macro lens. Serkis' adaptation assumes a darker, more philosophical tone as it addresses the dilemma of nature vs nurture, and revolves around a 14-year-old boy who grows up among a pack of wolves and is torn between the jungles and the village. Bale, however, admits he has never encountered that conflict because of his malleable nature. But he does confess that since he has slipped into a wide range of shoes throughout his life, he could empathise with the central character of Mowgli.

"I've always had a practical approach towards this question of where I belong. I believe I don't belong anywhere, and that has only helped me as an actor. I've moved a great deal in my life so I don't think I have roots anywhere. That allows you to adapt very quickly as you feel there's no one place where you truly belong. That gives you a lot of freedom. But equally, I look at people who very much belong to a place. I do get envious of that, at times," says Bale.

Christian Bale during the promotions of Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle. YouTube

Christian Bale during the promotions of Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle. YouTube

While he is not clear whether his 'shape-shifting' abilities are inherent or acquired, he does acknowledge that physical transformation is a crucial entry point into the character. Since Mowgli marks his maiden tryst with performance capture technology, the motion capture devices on his body could have proved to be a hindrance in him getting into Bagheera's skin. Bale admits it was a challenge he could take heads on, and only under the guidance of good friend and fellow actor Andy Serkis.

"I've known Andy since I was about 19. He's a wonderful actor and has become a wonderful actor. I wanted to experiment with performance capture and he is a mentor in that technology (he played Caesar in the Planet of the Apes franchise and was a motion capture consultant in Avengers: Age of Ultron). He told me the things that were important and unimportant things in motion capture. That really helped me to invest my energy and efforts in the right direction. He had also studied panthers, and studied the book thoroughly. And then like every good director, he just freed me up and then directed me, nudging me into the right direction which fit the style and storytelling that he wanted," says Bale.

Rohan Chand in a still from Mowgli: The Legend of . image from Twitter

Rohan Chand in a still from Mowgli: The Legend of . image from Twitter

Besides his expertise in performance capture, Bale was also taken with Serkis' interpretation of Kipling's iconic tale. "He had a very fresh take on The Jungle Book but still managed to be truer to the source material than any other version. This contrast really fascinated me," says Bale, acknowledging that the multifarious jungle tail owed its pliancy to the land it belongs to.

"India is multiple countries within one. [There are] So many religions and so much history to this place. It is a land of many lands," says Bale.

Interestingly, during a previous visit to the country, he shot for the third and final instament of Christopher Nolan's iconic Batman franchise, The Dark Knight Rises, at Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur, in the midst of arid desert lands. "And now, I'm here to promote the jungles in Mumbai. How fascinating is that!," he finished my thought.

India, however, is only one of the 190 countries Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle will premiere in this Friday on 7 December. Though Netflix provides this tale with a universal theme the reach it needs, the spectacle film runs the risk of not being enjoyed on the big screen by viewers in most countries, as it will have a very limited theatrical release. This duality of a big screen experience being watched on a small screen could be worrisome to many, but Bale is hopeful.

Christian Bale at Mehrangarh Fort in a still from The Dark Knight Rises

Christian Bale at Mehrangarh Fort in a still from The Dark Knight Rises

"I think that the most important thing is anyone who collaborates with you has passion for the project. They need to believe in the project equally. It's a fascinating time for how movies are presented but I hope it expands the possibilities, rather than limits them. But in terms of what I do, I'm interested in the process of making films. It's a director's medium. I'm not editing the film or presenting it to the audience in any way. As an actor, what quite excites me about this platform is the advent of long form storytelling. Sometimes, we have so much to convey, which can now be done in a four-hour film or a six-hour film. That was not possible in theatres, but is now possible on this new platform," says Bale.

With the limited series storytelling format gaining traction on the digital medium, Bale could enjoy living much longer lives of the several characters he makes his own within a short time. As he moves from one life to another, moulding his body into different shapes and sizes, one hopes the long form format allows him to find that one character or show us where he truly belongs.

Updated Date: Dec 06, 2018 14:59 PM