Manhattan 5th grader talks lead role in 'The Jungle Book'

NEW YORK (WABC) -- "The Jungle Book" is a classic tale come to life in a whole new way when it hits theaters this weekend, and the young actor at the center of the film is from our area.

The film features voices provided by a galaxy of stars, including Idris Elba as the villainous tiger Shere Khan and Bill Murray as the beloved Baloo. But the bear he plays and the main characters voiced by the likes of Scarlett Johansson, Lupita Nyong'o, Ben Kingsley, Christoper Walken and the late Garry Shandling were all created in a computer, with one exception.

Neel Sethi was just an average fifth grader in Manhattan when a teacher suggested he audition for the lead role of Mowgli, a boy raised by wolves.

"We're both stubborn," Sethi said. "We're both adventurous and energetic."

But with so much of the action added later, Sethi had to make full use of his imagination.

"It was a little hard, like (director) Jon (Favreau) really helped me, like a lot," he said. "He would take a puppet and interact with me off camera. That would make it easier for me."

Sethi's parents, who are both dentists in the city, gave him crucial support and encouragement during the long months of filming in Los Angeles.

"And he's embraced it," dad Dr. Sam Sethi said. "He's
loved it. I see a smile on his face, and I feel like I'm doing the right thing then."

It was a new experience for everyone involved.

"Being a parent is really hard," mom Dr. Cheena Sethi said. "When you throw stardom into the mix, it makes it even harder. So I feel our job is to basically keep him grounded, and that's our biggest challenge. And we strive for that."

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