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Rohan Chand on playing the boy hero in Mowgli and working with a ‘bucket list of stars’

'Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle' might be the multistarrer of the season, but it’s 14-year-old lead actor Rohan Chand’s stellar performance that holds this epic together

By Karishma Upadhyay

  • Published 1.12.18, 1:19 AM
  • Updated 1.12.18, 1:34 AM
Rohan Chand in Mowgli
Rohan Chand in Mowgli A still from the film

Andy Serkis’s mammoth Jungle Book adaptation Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle might be the multistarrer of the season, but it’s 14-year-old lead actor Rohan Chand’s stellar performance that holds this epic together. The New York resident’s management consultant father and banker mother knew little about showbiz when he was first discovered at a Little League baseball game. “I am the first one in my family to act,” he said when t2 met Rohan in at JW Marriott in Mumbai recently.

After making his debut in Adam Sandler’s 2011 film Jack and Jill, Rohan has landed parts in Homeland, Bad Words and Love Survivor. Playing the title role in Mowgli has been the highlight of his (short) career. His grandfathers who live in south India even flew down to Mumbai to attend the film’s premiere. “It was so nice to have them here. They really enjoyed the film,” he said. Mowgli releases on Netflix on December 7.

Karishma Upadhyay:

How did this film come your way?

Rohan Chand:

I think Andy saw my previous work in either Bad Words or Lone Survivor, and I think he wanted to have a Skype session with me, which was really incredible because I knew of his past work and watched some of it. He said he’d send over some audition sides, and said it was super-secret and I wasn’t allowed to know what it was. So, he sends over the sides and on the paper it said ‘Untitled Jungle Book Project’ (laughs). So, we had a good idea of what it was, but he was in England and I’m based in New York. So, the audition had to be done on Skype. Space is a bit of an issue in New York homes. So, my mom was standing on the couch, tilting down the camera so that Andy could direct me through the scene while I’m on the ground, on all fours doing lines. It was real fun actually, and I think he pretty much offered me the role there and then. He said he’d love to work with me and I was thrilled. 

Karishma Upadhyay:

Have you watched any of the other adaptations or read the book?

Rohan Chand:

Yeah, of course. I actually loved reading Rudyard Kipling short stories when I was really young and Mowgli was almost like my hero, because he’s the boy who grew up with wolves and I just thought that was so cool. Being able to bring Mowgli back to his roots in India is really great and to bring it to the people who love him most. Because I know there is the Japanese-produced series here that is super loved, even I watched it and really loved it.

Karishma Upadhyay:

What was it like to shoot the film? It would have been completely different from whatever you’ve done before...

Rohan Chand:

I got involved with the project in 2014, when I was just 10 years old. The way it worked was I went over to England to shoot with all the actors and actresses who were there, and this was to primarily capture their performance. I’m sure people have seen pictures of the actors with dots all over their faces and the headgear and everything, and everyone was wearing that.

The amazing thing about performance capture is that you can really see Christian’s (Bale) face or Cate’s (Blanchett’s) face through the animal, and that’s really great from the audience perspective. And six months later, after we’d captured their performance, we started principal photography. This was in 2015, just after I’d turned 11. We came back with other motion capture actors who weren’t Christian or Cate, and I would have to play off of them remembering how Christian, Cate or Benedict (Cumberbatch) played the scene. I still had to keep my performance organic, so it was pretty complicated; and I was pretty young at the time as well. 

Karishma Upadhyay:

Who were you most starstruck by?

Rohan Chand:

Yeah, it’s like a bucket list of a cast, it was really amazing to work with them. I’m a huge fan of Christian because he’s Batman. It was a great opportunity to be able to work with him and to learn from him. I got to learn so much from each and every one of them as well, it was a really great opportunity for me to enhance my acting performance.

Karishma Upadhyay:

You were in Hollywood Reporter’s ‘Top 30 Under 18’ actors to watch out for. How cool is that?

Rohan Chand:

That was pretty cool. I flew over to LA to do a photo shoot for that and it was a lot of fun, I got to meet a lot of the young actors as well. It was really great to be able to meet them as well.

Karishma Upadhyay:

Acting is not something that you wanted to do right from the beginning. You wanted to be a rockstar or a paleontologist...

Rohan Chand:

Right, yes! (Laughs) It’s the most random thing. I was a huge rock fan but I also loved dinosaurs at the time but the way it all worked out was completely random. I was playing Little League baseball over in New York and one of the moms on the team was a casting director for all of Adam Sandler’s movies. It was really funny because she went over to talk to my parents, and they were like, ‘What do you mean? He has no past experience in this. Are you kidding?’ I ended up actually flying to LA to meet Adam and it was really great to be able to work with him. I was just six then and neither my parents nor I really understood what what was going on back then. My parents probably thought it would make for a great family album, because I’ll never be going to do this again, but turns out it worked out pretty well. I’ve done a decent amount of work since.

Karishma Upadhyay:

How does it work? Do you shoot during school breaks?

Rohan Chand:

What happens normally is, I fly over to location and the tutor on set keeps tabs with the school curriculum and the teachers back home. The only thing that’s tricky is if there’s a time difference between the location and my school. Otherwise, it all actually works out pretty well because there are times when I even come back ahead of the rest of my class.

Karishma Upadhyay:

Do you enjoy acting?

Rohan Chand:

I love acting, and would love to continue it and venture into writing and directing later. 

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