This Friday, Momentum Pictures is set to release Jungle, the latest from Greg McLean (The Belko Experiment, Wolf Creek 1 and 2), which tells the real-life story of Yossi Ghinsberg (played by Daniel Radcliffe), who traveled to the Amazon rainforest during the 1980s, and had to contend with the brutal dangers lurking all around him and his group of fellow travelers as they made their way through the unforgiving titular locale. Shortly after surviving his ordeal, Ghinsberg wrote a book about his experiences, which is also entitled Jungle, and McLean discussed in a recent interview with Daily Dead how he first discovered the autobiographical tale and knew that he needed to adapt it for the big screen.
McLean also chatted about what made Daniel Radcliffe perfect to portray Jungle’s hero, the challenges they all faced during the ambitious shoot, and more. Look for Jungle in theaters and on VOD on Friday, October 20th.
Congratulations on the film, Greg, and great to speak with you again. This is such an ambitious feat for you on so many different levels. I loved this gorgeous world that you bring us into, and Daniel is just astounding in this, too.
Greg McLean: Yeah. He's incredible, isn't he? It's a wild story and Daniel is the center of it really, but everyone involved took it very seriously. They were committed to telling it the right way, because we're honoring the true story. And as you know, two of the people are still alive, and two of the people were never seen again, so you've really got a responsibility to everyone involved with this story. The film is also dedicated to Marcus Stamm, because the book that it's based on is dedicated to him, too, so it was important to me to honor his memory as well.
When did this book first come on to your radar? And when did you realize this was something you wanted to adapt into a film?
Greg McLean: I think the book was written a year after these events occurred, so it was written probably around 1982. And Yossi spent a number of years after the book was published working on trying to get the film made. He had a couple of near runs with it, but it just never really came together.
Then it came to me, two years or so ago, and I was kind of aware of the story. I read the script. I was like, “Oh my God, this can't be real.” But I read the book, and I saw that this was a really phenomenal story. It was really moving and it was written in a very honest way, because Yossi admits that he's not really a writer. He wrote it at a time when he was in his early 20s and he just kind of blurted out everything that happened, very honestly and very directly. So because of that lack of pretense or lack of anything, it just reads very honestly and very directly, and it's very emotional because of that.
So that really informed the film, in terms of just trying to be honest, and trying to capture just really, exactly who these people were and how it happened in a straight a way as we possibly could.
The setting itself really sets the stage for this story, and I loved how you become immersed in this wild environment. Where did you guys shoot this? Did you guys go down to South America? Or did you guys shoot this over in Australia?
Greg McLean: The majority of the movie was shot in Colombia. So we shot in South America, and we shot there for a couple of months, and then after all that, we came back and shot all the villages and towns, and all of the jungle, all the river material, all the big stuff. After we did all that, then we relocated to Queensland in Australia, which also has a big tropical jungle, and we did a lot of the closer material, like walking through the jungle or sitting round the campfire at night.
There's a lot that is required of everyone on this film, but especially Daniel. How did you work with them to, one, make them comfortable with this grueling filming process, and then two, to really dig into these characters?
Greg McLean: For someone to play Yossi, we really needed someone who had incredible range as an actor, and basically had the range that you would need to go through this really extreme, emotional journey and transformation. But also, someone who as an actor was really committed to going there, going all the way, and giving 200 percent to creating this character, and telling the story of Yossi and what he went through.
When Daniel was considering the role, we had a couple of Skype calls just to make sure I could tell if he was totally up to the challenge, and totally up to the almost impossible task of pulling this off. This film was a really tough one to put together, in terms of locations and trying to get everything done. The river sequence alone took weeks to shoot, and it was really just a physically challenging shoot for everyone. But Daniel was up for it. And all the actors got very excited about the challenges and doing the film, and doing it in real locations and going for it.
We cast all the actors because of how good they were, but we also cast them because of just how committed they were all to being truthful to the story. They all read the book, and we all spent a lot of time talking to Yossi, who was with us down there in pre-production, and on the set in Colombia and Queensland as well. So he was there helping us, advising us about the real people that we only knew from his books, which was great for the actors.
We just recently chatted for The Belko Experiment, and you couldn’t ask for a more different follow-up than Jungle. Was it conscious on your part to challenge yourself in a completely different way from that film? It seems like with every film you do, you push yourself in very different ways.
Greg McLean: Yeah, definitely. I specifically chose Belko because I'd never done anything in that kind of setting before. And it was really a comedy, even though it had some extreme violence, there was a really comic aspect to it that I thought would be fascinating. I also enjoyed the challenge of visually making a dynamic and interesting movie within an office building. I thought that would be really hard and challenging to do, so that's why I did that.
So there were a couple of challenges to that movie which I'd never done before, which was why I was really drawn to it. The other thing I loved about it was that it was completely batshit crazy. It was such a crazy script and a crazy idea, I thought that would be really fantastic to do something that was so punk and different from everything else.
Jungle was the complete opposite. This is an outdoor set, a true story, trying to capture a time and a place and a set of characters and relationships that are very complex and interesting, in terms of dynamics and how they come together and dissolve and what happens to people in that scenario. Daniel's journey itself is an entirely different story as well that I thought would be interesting to try and capture. And to tell that, with as much detail as I could, was definitely a challenge. As a director, I'm trying to find challenging stories and ways to keep pushing myself, because then I can grow and develop as a director.