Andy Serkis to Direct 'Jungle Book' for Warner Bros. (Exclusive)

Andy Serkis - H 2014
Jonathan Short/Invision/AP
Serkis is stepping into shoes initially filled by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu ("Babel"), who fell off the project due to scheduling conflicts.

Andy Serkis, the actor best known for playing the CG-created character Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies, has come on board to direct Warner Bros.' live action take on The Jungle Book. It is unclear if he will take a part in the movie at this stage.

Serkis is stepping into shoes initially filled by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Babel), who fell off the project due to scheduling conflicts. Ron Howard was briefly in talks to take the helm, but they did not get far along.

The move puts Warners back in the Jungle Book race, as Disney also has a live-action Jungle Book project, which is already in the casting stage. Idris Elba is on board to voice the man-eating tiger Shera Khan in a version to be directed by Jon Favreau, who previously directed Elf and Iron Man.

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Putting Serkis in the director's chair is outside-the-box thinking, yet not far-fetched. Jungle Book would be Serkis' feature directorial debut after directing second unit on Peter Jackson's The Hobbit movies, the third of which Warners is due to open in December. Some of the shoots involved the creation of elaborate and lively action sequences. For example, Serkis helmed the widely praised barrel-chase sequence in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

Jackson entrusted Serkis with the job after Serkis developed a command of CG technology through his acting work not only in LOTR, but also in Jackson's King Kong, Steve Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin and the new Planet of the Apes movies.

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Serkis will be in prime position to navigate a project, whose live-action nature will involve plenty of CG and motion capture.

Jungle Book is based on the short stories written by Rudyard Kipling and centers on Mowgli, an orphaned boy raised by wolves who befriends Baloo the bear and Bagheera the black panther as he spars with the ferocious tiger Shere Khan. Callie Kloves wrote the script. Her father, Steve Kloves of Harry Potter fame, is producing.

Warners is sticking closely to the source material, which is darker than most people know, seeing as how most of the knowledge of the material is distilled from Disney's 1967 animated classic. The Warners movie hopes to explore life-and-death issues and be true-to-life in portraying animal behavior. Hiring Serkis, who has pioneered lifelike animal behavior and characterization with his performances in such movies as Rise of the Planet of the Apes, is seen as an important first step.

Jonathan Cavendish, Serkis' partner at his company The Imaginarium, will also be involved as a producer on Jungle Book.

Serkis is repped by CAA and Gotham/Principal.

John Berg is overseeing for the studio.

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