Interviews Movies

From Theme Park To A Swashbuckler: An Interview With The Cast of Jungle Cruise

From Disney comes Jungle Cruise, a rollicking thrill ride down the mighty and untamed Amazon inspired by the classic Disney theme-park attraction, and starring Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt.

With gruff , wisecracking skipper Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) at the helm of the La Quila—his ramshackle-but-charming boat, the adventure of a lifetime is about to begin! At the height of World War I, determined researcher Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) enlists Frank’s questionable services to guide her down the deepest and most dangerous parts of the Amazon River. She hopes to uncover the mystery of an ancient tribal artifact—a legendary relic with the power to change the fate of humanity. With rival riverboat tour operator Nilo out to get Frank and a relentless European prince on their heels, the unlikely duo, who are at odds, find themselves thrust on the epic quest together.

With Lily’s brother MacGregor, a proper English gentleman along for the ride, they encounter innumerable dangers, from wild animals to formidable foes and even supernatural threats, all lurking in the deceptive beauty of the lush rain forest. But as the secrets of the lost relic unfold, the stakes of Lily and Frank’s search reach ever higher as enemy forces close in and their fate—and mankind’s—hangs in the balance.

In celebration of The Jungle Cruise’ release Disney held a press conference that explores the adventures of movie with Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Edgar Ramírez and Jack Whitehall.

(L-R): Emily Blunt as Lily Houghton, Dwayne Johnson as Frank Wolff and Jack Whitehall as MacGregor Houghton in Disney’s JUNGLE CRUISE. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2021 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Jungle Cruise‘ is about adventure and about life, and living a full life,” says Dwayne Johnson, who is also a producer on the film. “And being aware of that and breaking through barriers by doing things beyond what people think are your limits. Jungle Cruise’ is an adventure: it’s fun, it’s magical, it’s mystical, it’s dangerous, it’s exciting.”

Jungle Cruise was inspired by the hilariously pun-fueled riverboat adventure ride that has resonated with kids of every age for close to 65 years. “People love the Jungle Cruise attraction because of its rich history and its tradition,” says Dwayne Johnson. “There’s a unique quality to Jungle Cruise that still feels as if it were fifty or sixty years ago. But that’s the charm of it. When you go around the world to some of these other parks, you see their iterations of Jungle Cruise that are just spectacular. I feel there’s a wish fulfillment factor for the audience that happens with the Jungle Cruise ride. That wish fulfillment, I believe, is the idea that you are being transported, and you are going on truly the adventure and ride of a lifetime.”

There was palpable excitement to translating the famed ride into an eye-popping action adventure as special and unique as the ride itself. Moving forward, the filmmakers’ philosophy was simple: satisfy the dedicated Disneyland fanbase by respecting and honoring the integrity and intent of the Jungle Cruise mythology, while exciting a savvy global film audience with an enriching and entertaining cinematic thrill ride.

“The script was in a really good place, and I immediately just saw the potential of the opportunity. And that opportunity was to take a beloved and iconic Disney ride, uh, since 1955 when the park opened and there
were a lot of elements that I felt comfortable with saying ‘yes, I will come on board, I’ll partner with you guys and we will develop this thing. And we got it to a really great place. The next step after Jaume, finding our director [and] finding my co-star The female Indiana Jones.

Emily Blunt as Lily Houghton in Disney’s JUNGLE CRUISE. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2021 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Says Johnson of his partner in crime Emily Blunt, “I was a big fan of Emily Blunt even before we worked together. Her acting speaks for itself. She’s award-winning, and she has all these wonderful things she brings to the table from nuance to tone to inflection. There’s nothing she can’t do. She’s one of the most diverse and multi-talented actresses. She can sing, she can dance, she can go deep, she can do darker and she can go lighter. It was so special to have Emily come on and be my co-star.”

“I knew when we met. We had this rapport that, like, ping pong back and forth so quickly. And I just thought we’re gonna have a good time. I knew it,” Emily chimed in.

“It’s very true. It’s very true. And then you you hope to get lucky. You like to have try to have some chemistry and Emily and I have been talking a lot about chemistry these past couple of weeks doing press, and a lot of times you you fake it cause you’re acting,” said Dwayne.

“He’s been faking it for years,” interrupted Emily.

“I have been faking. I will continue to fake it too. Big faker. Especially with us,” Dwayne said with a laugh.

Dwayne Johnson is Frank and Emily Blunt is Lily in Disney’s JUNGLE CRUISE.

Dr. Lily Houghton is a determined British scientist and explorer who is as brilliant as she is fearless. Driven not only by her ideals but by an unrelenting desire to prove herself, free-spirited Lily is a force to be reckoned with. When it came to finding an actress for the role of strong-willed Dr. Lily Houghton, the filmmakers did not have to look any further than actress Emily Blunt. And luckily for all, Blunt was immediately drawn to the character of Lily Houghton when she read the script.

“I was just so struck by Lily’s determination and tenacity, and the fact that she was so ahead of her time, considering that the film is set in 1917,” says Blunt. “There was so much inequality between men and women and what was expected of her at the time. But she doesn’t subscribe to what was appropriate for her sex. And I found her really funny. She’s very reckless and heedless and adventurous. I admired her spirit.” While the Jungle Cruise script was her entrée into the world that Disneyland fans hold so dear, it was her meeting with the auteur director, Jaume Collet-Serra, that would seal the deal for her.

“When I met Jaume, I sat down with him, and he became the reason why I did this film,” states Blunt. “He said to me in his very Spanish way that this film is just about love. And I was like, oh, I love a romantic. You need a romantic person to direct this film.” She adds, “Jaume has great emotional depth. He is so capable. He is so determined. He has stamina for days, which you need with a film of this scale. It’s just so demanding and so many elements, not only the emotionality of the whole thing, but CGI and special effects and huge action sequences. You need stamina and focus and vision. I just thought he was divine. He was beloved by everybody on set.”

For Blunt, Jungle Cruise “has been immensely rewarding. [It] was made in the spirit of the films we all grew up watching. And just, I mainline those movies into my veins. I just loved Indiana Jones and Romancing the Stone, African Queen. They are just joy bombs, and they’re nostalgic, and I think we just needed to pierce people’s hearts directly with the spirit of those films we all loved as children. It just took a lot of tempering and Beautiful conducting from Jaume who was just extraordinarily free-spirited with us In this massive spectacle of a movie. Such a world builder which you need for those adventure movies. You need it. When Dwayne and I first met Jaume, we both asked him the same question: ‘What do you feel this movie’s about?’ And I always ask a filmmaker that before I’m about to sign on and he goes, ‘You know, it’s about love.’ And it was so perfect, cause you could’ve talked about all the action, the spectacle and the myths and the legends and all that but that’s when I knew in Jaume we had an innate romantic.”

Dwayne Johnson is Frank Wolff in Disney’s JUNGLE CRUISE. Photo by Frank Masi. © 2021 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

In the romantic action-adventure, Lily’s brother, MacGregor, joins her and Frank on their expedition down the Amazon. Dapper MacGregor likes to enjoy the finer things in life—stylish fashion, fine dining and elegant living—even in the middle of the rain forest. Joining Johnson and Blunt on their jungle voyage is British comedian/actor Jack Whitehall as MacGregor Houghton, Lily’s dapper brother whose well-meaning but often inept attempts to take care of his sister result in some of the film’s more hilarious moments.

Although he and Blunt had never met, they soon discovered some unexpected overlaps in their backgrounds growing up in the same part of London. The pair easily fell into a familial rapport, which Whitehall attributes to those weird coincidences. “Our backstories are very similar,” notes Whitehall, “so Emily and I playing sister and brother just seems so right. I think we’ve been able to transfer all of those weird connections we have onto the screen in the best possible way.”

Whitehall, who considers himself a “Disney super fan,” visited Disneyland in his youth and is very familiar with all things Disney. His obsession is well known to his fans, who have seen firsthand how deep his fascination runs. He once dedicated a full comedy show to The Lion King, acting out the final scene in its entirety. “It’s so special to be a part of a Disney film,” enthuses Whitehall. “I grew up on these films and loved them all. I am obsessed with Disney, I have always been obsessed with Disney.”

Upon first meeting Sean Bailey [Disney’s president of production] I begged him to be in The Lion King, which didn’t pan out. But now I’m doing Jungle Cruise and I’m just overjoyed to be part of the Disney family. Whitehall also was captivated by Collet-Serra’s grasp on every element of the film. “[If you look at the] Jungle Cruise ride that I like the most, is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I think that is definitely something we took over into the movie. And it has such ambition and scale, and it’s beautiful, and the sets are incredible, and the set pieces and the action. It’s got all of that. But at the heart of it as well, it’s not a movie that takes itself too seriously. It has wit, it has humor. It’s got some of the best puns I’ve ever heard. It’s got Dwayne Johnson doing a standup comedy routine.”

(L-R): Dwayne Johnson as Frank Wolff, Emily Blunt as Lily Houghton and Jack Whitehall as MacGregor Houghton in Disney’s JUNGLE CRUISE. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2021 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

“The fact that there’s even a single line [of dialogue for me] is an improvement on the Frozen debacle, and I’m so excited to actually be a speaking part in a Disney film. There was [even] a fair amount of improv. The script was amazing, but then also, we were given the space to kind of improvise and add stuff to it, and [they] created this environment where we were able to do that and it felt like such a safe space. There were probably a few jokes that ended up on the cutting room floor for the right reasons. Some of the great moments you see in the film are genuine moments we sort of came up with in the moment, and Jaume was so good at encouraging that as well.”

Rounding out the cast is Captain Aguirre is the fearsome leader of a cutthroat crew of soldiers. These cursed men are powerful fighters who carry a personal vendetta that makes them even more of a threat to Frank and Lily on their quest. Venezuelan-born actor Edgar Ramírez was drawn into the suspenseful unpredictability of the adventure.

“I loved it. It is exciting. It keeps you guessing,” says Ramírez. “I always relate the film to some sort of board game, where you go forward and then you go back, and then there are setbacks and then you overcome them, and then you have to start all over again. When you’re about to reach the goal, you’re set back a few squares. All the players are trying to get the same thing, but they all get in each other’s way. That’s what the film is like, and I love that dynamic.”

Coming on to the film, Ramírez says he felt like he was “being invited to a fun, great party. This movie has so much color and different textures and different characters, and it is very classic in many ways. If you add the tone of the movie, the adventure and the mystery and the humor, these are the types of movies that I grew up watching when I was a kid. Big, adventurous films. So, it was a dream of mine to be part of a movie like that.”

Quim Gutiérrez
as Melchor in Disney’s live-action JUNGLE CRUISE. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2021 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

He adds, “I also love the mystery of my character, Aguirre, and the duality of the character. To play a character like Aguirre, who walks that very thin line between good and evil, is very interesting. “Offering further insight into Aguirre’s character, Ramírez remarks, “My character has a sorrow that the rest of the characters don’t necessarily share, so in a way my character lives in his own opera. He’s been suffering for so long and accumulating so much need for revenge against Frank. But he will learn that nothing good comes out of revenge.”

For Edgar, there was a lot of visual effects involved that forced him to transcend the technical aspect of the visual effects to deliver an incredible performance. “I was very happy that those snakes weren’t anywhere near me during the shoot cause I’m super-afraid of snakes, and we encountered some of them when we’re shooting in Atlanta. We shot in real locations and we dressed them to look like the Amazon. It’s incredible.”

“I come from an Amazonian country, and I saw the movie for the first time two days ago at the premiere. And guys, I’m so happy. To be in a movie that is based on the most iconic attraction from the most iconic entertainment universe in history such as Disney, it’s so special. And to be with these amazing people, is incredible. That tone, to be witty and romantic and funny and snide but cute at the same time, that is a very difficult. We as actors, we know that tone is very difficult to achieve, and [EVERYONE] killed it.”

“I was a little bit jealous when I was watching the movie. It’s like, ‘Ugh, I wish it was a little bit more on that boat [but] Edgar was a great character, a beautiful character to play [and very] complex. I’m very happy, it’s very special to be in a movie like this and to play a character like this because what I love about the movie in general is that it has so many beautiful and great characters that allow you to be on a journey. And what I love about the Conquistadors and Aguirre specifically, is that it really puts you in a journey into the past. And that is beautiful.”

Dwayne Johnson is Frank and Jack Whitehall is Macgregor in Disney’s JUNGLE CRUISE.

“You have all this fantastical elements and that’s what I go to the movies for. I want to be on a journey. I want to be disconnected from reality and be able to dream of fantastical places and fantastical characters and creatures. So I’m very happy. And the fact that I’m Latin American and this is such a diverse cast, and we have people from all over the world; we have Ireland here with Jack. So representation of Ireland was very important to us. I think it’s a beautiful reflection of the world that we’re living in.

To learn more about Jungle Cruise check out the video of the full press conference above.

Jungle Cruise is available now in theaters and on Disney+ Premium Access.

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