In Disney’s Jungle Cruise, the headstrong and adventurous explorer Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) will have to get along with the equally stubborn and stoic skipper Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) if they hope to explore the Amazon jungle and unearth its ancient secrets. Coming along for the ride, while supplying plenty of comedic commentary and looking rather dapper while doing so, is Jack Whitehall‘s McGregor Houghton, a gentleman by every definition of the word who just so happens to be Lily’s brother. But don’t be fooled by McGregor’s proper demeanor and numerous wardrobe changes; when push comes to shove, he’s got our heroes’ backs. Whether he truly wants to be dragged along on this adventure or not, however, that’s up for you to discover when Jungle Cruise arrives later this month.
We had a chance to chat with Whitehall while on set at the film’s Hawaii location. We learned quite a bit about McGregor as a character and his on-screen relationships with the film’s two leads, as well as what Whitehall’s previous filming experience was like compared to the big-screen adaptation of Jungle Cruise. Read on below for much more.
More about Whitehall’s character, McGregor, and why he’s on this adventure in the first place:
Jack Whitehall: Yeah, so McGregor is a kind of very savvy, snappily dressed, very dapper gentleman in the traditional English sense of the gentleman, who is really dragged on this cruise, I think, by his sister, and is very much a reluctant party on it, and finds it all very stressful and traumatic, and probably not a million miles away from how I would behave if I was in the situation that the character is in. So yeah, he sort of provides, I guess, some of the comic relief throughout it, although it’s all quite… It’s got a lot of comic relief from every direction, but … I think he has sort of dragging his heels, reluctance, he’s probably quite cowardly at the beginning of it, and very ill-prepared, turns up like this, turns up with far too much luggage. He’s definitely not in the right mindset for this jungle cruise. So I think the writer’s done an incredible job, because they’ve gone, “Who is the worst person to throw into this environment?” and McGregor might just be the worst person that you could have in this environment.
So why is he there, exactly?
Jack Whitehall: I think he wants to be there for Lily. I think they’re very close, there’s reasons to do with the rest of the family that sort of become apparent, they’re a bit of a team. And also McGregor is very much the voice of reason, so where Lily’s very gung-ho, headfirst, ask questions on the way down, McGregor is always the person that’s there to question whether it’s a good idea, and the voice of sanity in a lot of these situations. So I guess he certainly sees that as being his use, yeah.
I love characters like this, which are of that great… There’s a sort of rich history, especially in British comedy, of playing these slightly highly strung men that are just on the tipping point at every moment. And a lot of my heroes, John Cleese, Rowan Atkinson, people like that, Peter Sellers. Those are the characters that I love on film when I was growing up and I read this and I was like, there’s elements of that and if I could borrow or be even close to some of the characters that they’ve created then I’d be over the moon. So, it’s that kind of character that I love. And so, yeah. That’s what kind of attracted me to it.
I’ll tell you one of the influences, and this is a strange influence, but it’s been so helpful, is actually there’s a lot of elements of this character that I based on my dad, because… And I do this show with my dad on Netflix called Travels With my Father. I travel around the world with him and he doesn’t want to be there. I literally dress like him. I sent a picture of myself on set to my dad, he went, “Oh my God. Finally, you’re dressing like me. I’m so proud.” And so, definitely I’m channeling a bit of my dad and thinking how he would react if he walked into a tavern full of terrifying people like that and people playing with scorpions and spiders on the table. And it’s really helpful because, on occasion, I’ve thrown in a line which is something that I’ve definitely heard him say. I think you do that a lot with characters, you base them on people that you know, or bits of yourself and you have to do all of that, but when it’s someone that I’ve spent a lot of time with, especially in a scenario where we’re trying to create comedy, it really helps.
Whitehall on his Jungle Cruise audition:
Jack Whitehall: I read the script and it was one of those things where I read the part, I was like, “I have to play this part. This is just so me. It’s just the kind of character that I love playing, and I know that I could bring so much to it,” and so I put myself on tape. I actually put myself on tape with my mother [Hilary Gish], who, my mother was an actress, so she read opposite me. So she read Emily, and she also, in one scene, read Dwayne. So I didn’t tell her the first time, I was like, “You know, you’re playing in this scenario, Dwayne Johnson?” So then she tried to do her version of Dwayne Johnson. This footage exists somewhere, I may have to show Dwayne at some point. Your mum playing Dwayne is kind of weird, but it worked, because they liked it, and then I met Emily, and we got on really well, and Jaume [Collet-Sera], and so, yeah. It all just seemed to just sort of click.
On wearing a three-piece all-white suit in the muddy fields of Hawaii and the sweltering heat and humidity of Atlanta:
Jack Whitehall: Well, I thought it would be awful because they fitted me out for all these costumes, and I’m in three-piece suits all the time, and but actually, it’s been fine, but I’m told everyone says don’t feel good because the minute you get to Atlanta, then you will start fainting on set and feeling it. But it’s a lot of clothing to wear in this climate. The mud is a nightmare. It’s like walking through a minefield every day, and I just feel so guilty every time I get soiled that the costume department will kill me, so. It’s very good. I’m living the character.
Do McGregor and Frank get along?
Jack Whitehall: I think when he first meets Frank, he’s probably very skeptical and quite judgmental of him, and over the course of the movie, I think he realizes that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and that there’s a lot more depth and surprising aspects to Frank’s character than he probably suspected when he first met him, so they form a bit of a bond as well over the course of the journey.
Whitehall on stuntwork:
Jack Whitehall: I think McGregor gets put through the ringer a bit, and there are a few stunts that I’ll have to do. I don’t know how much I’m doing of them. I’m very much, because I’m relatively new to movies, very much like, “Oh yeah, sure. I’ll do it.” I think once people have done a few more films, they go, “No way, let someone else do it,” but I haven’t quite hit that level of experience yet.
On working opposite animal co-stars (and actors in a leotard playing an attacking jaguar):
Jack Whitehall: There were real animals in Nutcracker. Well, some real animals. There was a lot of stuff with horses. This is a man pretending to be a jaguar in a leotard, which is great because a man dressed in a leotard pretending to be a jaguar at no point just opens his bowels in the middle of the scene, whereas an actual horse in The Nutcracker, every time I had a close-up, it would just poo everywhere. I’d have to carry on doing my close-up as it was just unfeasible amounts of excrement. Sorry, I’ve gone quite vulgar there, but that’s a genuine thing I thought today. I was like, “It’s so good that this is not a real jaguar.”
Jungle Cruise opens in theaters and on Disney+ Premiere Access on July 30th.
Britt-Gibson also highlights the stellar list of directors he’s worked with, which now includes ‘Fear Street’s Leigh Janiak.
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