Deep in the Amazon jungle, along a riverbank hiding more dangers than you could ever imagine, lies a Brazilian port town bustling with activity. Traders and merchants from all over the early 20th-century world barter in the marketplace, travelers and laborers alike kick back with a hard drink in the hotel or taven, and tourists travel up and down the river to take in the exotic locale. It’s a place as alive and thriving as the jungle surrounding it. And just as dangerous, too. Nilo, a shrewd and opportunistic businessman, owns this town and just about everything in it, but it’s the one thing he doesn’t own that has his full attention when we arrive.
Nilo, as you may have guessed, is not the hero of Disney’s Jungle Cruise. That title falls to the leads of the action-adventure picture, with Dwayne Johnson stepping up as Frank Wolff, the captain of the ramshackle river cruiser La Quila, and Emily Blunt traveling abroad as the secret-seeking explorer Lily Houghton. They cross paths with the antagonistic Nilo early on in the upcoming Disney picture, but we had a chance to catch up with Johnson and Blunt just as the hard-working crew was prepping that very action piece in the heart of the Hawaii-based set.
From their very first introduction — Johnson in his signature captain’s getup complete with suspenders and cap, Blunt in her fashion-forward jodhpurs and a rather large belt — we could tell that the leading duo’s chemistry on set and on screen was something special. Much of their conversation with us can’t be captured here since the timing and tone of their banter loses something in translation to the printed medium. Needless to say, if they’re as fun on the big screen as they were in this brief chat amidst even more brief rain showers, moviegoers are in for a fun experience this July 30th.
What follows is our set visit interview with Johnson and Blunt about their characters, their sense of Jungle Cruise as they were filming it, and more from their experiences as Hollywood veterans, but do keep in mind, for context’s sake, that these answers come from a pre-COVID world roughly three years ago.
Emily Blunt on playing Lily Houghton, a tough and progressive character in the late 1910s:
Emily Blunt: You know, I look for characters that I have an in with, and that’s always the first thing. Even if they’re delusional and crazy, it’s like you have sort of some in with them. And there was something about this character. She is delusional, crazy. She just was so tenacious and exciting, determined, completely free-spirited, and kind of weird, and a really interesting character, and not just the kind of damsel in distress that you would imagine in this kind of genre, or the sort of straight-laced, British person, which I was not wanting to do either. So there was something. I think the time period, where she is, very unusual for the time, she is a trailblazer, and I think that that sort of determination and tenacity is really exciting for me.
On what genre, exactly, Jungle Cruise really is:
Emily Blunt: Well, I think there’s a lot of films that have tried to emulate films like Romancing the Stone. Everyone’s like, “Oh, yeah. We’re making Romancing the Stone,” and it never is that, it’s that film. And I think that this film has those qualities, but it’s got qualities that are sort of supernatural, similar to Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s a huge, action-packed adventure film, a lot of practically-shot, big Hollywood-
Dwayne Johnson: Kissing.
Emily Blunt: What? No. None. There’s none.
Dwayne Johnson: Shit.
Emily Blunt: So there’s also that at some point… perhaps, but I think at the core of it is this relationship, this unlikely duo, this unlikely couple initially sort of rub each other the wrong way and drive each other insane, but there’s this chemistry between them, and this rapport between them that was so attractive to me when I read the script. It was so nostalgic, and I just don’t think people are making these films which feel uncynical and fun and big. It’s not a superhero film, respectfully. I can say that.
On keeping Jungle Cruise separate from Jumanji:
Dwayne Johnson: Oh, it’s different in so many ways. I think that we got lucky with Jumanji, we made a good movie that a big amount of people like, and it did well, but I think that’s always the fun challenge about making movies like this, whether they’re jungle-themed, or jungle in the title, but also-
Emily Blunt: Dwayne’s only making jungle movies from now on.
Dwayne Johnson: Jungle everything, yes. Jungle and the Furious.
Emily Blunt: Just wait for the Hobbs jungle movie.
Dwayne Johnson: Jungle-back Mountain is going to be… [back to Jungle Cruise] It’s very different, you know, with a movie like this. And also, I think, leaning into what Emily was talking about, about the adventure, about the fun, about the romance… And there are the movies that truly inspired this movie; Romancing the Stone, certainly Pirates of the Caribbean, because we have an opportunity here to make a movie that’s based off an iconic Disney ride that has been beloved for generations and generations, and the responsibility of that, and also there’s The African Queen, as well. That was our inspiration to make movies like this, and as Emily was saying, these movies aren’t made that often. People try, and sometimes they talk about making movies like Romancing the Stone and things like that. “We’re going to do a little bit of Pirates,” you know. Well, it is that kind of movie.
Dwayne Johnson on Jungle Cruise as his favorite Disney attraction:
Dwayne Johnson: I mean, I love Disney and going to Disney. The very first time I was able to go to Disney, I was 26 years old, and this was Disney down in Orlando. I was just so amazed, because I had always dreamed about going to Disney. We just never took family vacations when I was a kid. I finally went, I fell in love with the ride, and I fell in love with the park, and years later, we have this really amazing opportunity that I’m really grateful for.
In terms of the research, the research was deep, man, but that was the fun part about doing a movie like this, where you’re able to go, and you’re able to not only meet with the executives at first, that’s at one level, but then you’re able to go spend time with the Imagineers, a very special group, very creative, and go into the vaults of Disney. You guys may know, or may not know, but Jungle Cruise was a high priority for Walt when they opened the park in 1955, and he was the very first skipper. So, for us, that’s pretty cool.
What makes a great Disney film?
Emily Blunt: I will say the process of working with Disney is so thrilling. We were talking about that the other day, because they’re a studio that is just doing so well, and they’re winning. They have just such a confidence in what they do. They allow for such collaborative, exciting projects that think outside the box, that carve out new space for themselves. They’re not derivative of other films. They’re not faithful films, and that’s really exciting for us, because we’re given, throughout the whole experience, the opportunity to create something completely individual.
I think I found that in Mary Poppins, that even though we pay homage to the original, it’s very much the next chapter. It’s courageous in that movie to be able to stand alone, without even seeing the first one, if you don’t want to, which you’re insane, because you should see it, but I think that the experience, for me, and I know for Dwayne as well, it’s just really personal, and it feels really exciting. I think that Disney films are those kinds of films that are seeded into your nostalgia. Certainly as a child, I have just such lasting memories of Disney movies. Those were the films I grew up watching, and so it’s completely surreal to be now in a few of them.
On movie-making technology and bringing a sense of adventure to the movie:
Dwayne Johnson: Well, I think the technology is always impressive, and I think when you’re able to witness something like that, it’s always impressive. I think it’s one of the impressive elements or components of our business.
I think, first of all, when you step on a set like this… We had heard that the set was spectacular, for months, as they were building it. But then, when we finally stepped on set, we stepped on set together, and we were just blown away, very inspired, had goosebumps. It was really amazing.
Emily Blunt: Yeah, it was amazing.
Dwayne Johnson: It’s an incredible set. So, I think, you combine this kind of set, this kind of story, as she obviously so eloquently talked about Disney, and what they bring to the table, and just in terms of movies and trust with audiences and families worldwide, regardless of culture, class… When you make a good Disney movie, there’s heart-
Emily Blunt: Universal, yeah.
Dwayne Johnson: It’s universal, there’s fun, there’s adventure, and there’s also good lessons as well. And the crew, by the way, great. We’ve really assembled just this tremendous crew, but it’s great. I think when you read the script, and the crew comes together, and when we have all the department heads, and everybody, producers, actors, and everybody, it’s just, everybody comes on, and-
Emily Blunt: People want to be here. It’s just really lovely.
On collaborating and creating their characters:
Emily Blunt: So, I think I enjoy collaborating. I enjoy stretching the scenes around. I enjoy not knowing. I think the best idea wins. I loved the prep week that we had, of just going through the script and just finding all of the nuances that make it personal to us and how we saw the scene, and that was really thrilling, actually.
Dwayne Johnson: Yeah, absolutely. Let’s see. It started with, “How I can create something that’s fun and something that’s a little bit different from what I’ve played in the past?” And [then] remembering that I think the legacy of what the ride is, and the responsibility of it, and then also watching Romancing the Stone. We talked about Romancing the Stone months ago and how important of a reference that was. African Queen, had to watch that a bunch of times too as well.
And then, when you get in the vaults at the Imagineers, there in Burbank, which is a very nondescript building, it’s really an amazing place. Really just phenomenal. And then, I think, when you get in that spirit, the creativity just kind of opens up.
Jungle Cruise opens in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access on July 30th.
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