Disney’s Jungle Cruise has its roots in history, but it’s focused on being a little more female-forward. The movie focuses on two leads, curmudgeonly steamboat captain Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) and scientist Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt). Inspiration for the film comes from both the original Disneyland theme park ride and the 1951 film The African Queen. In both, a tenacious woman hires a cynical man to help her travel down a dangerous river. In The African Queen, they’re running from German soldiers, in Jungle Cruise, they’re running from the henchmen of a German prince (Jesse Plemons).
The African Queen character that Houghton is loosely based off of was portrayed by the inimitable Katharine Hepburn, who was a trailblazer for women in unusual film roles for her time. Now, Blunt has a chance to make an action-adventure heroine all of her own. In an interview with /Film’s Hoai-Tran Bui during a visit to the set, Blunt detailed the differences between her character and all of those other action movie damsels.
Not Just a Damsel in Distress
“You know, I look for characters that I haven’t been with. That’s always the first thing is even if they’re delusional or crazy, it’s like you have sort of some ‘in’ with them. And there was something about this character, not that she is delusional or crazy, she just was so tenacious and exciting, determined, completely free-spirited, and kind of weird, and a really interesting character,” Blunt said. “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.”
While Blunt has had plenty of practice playing characters who are serious heroines (just look at A Quiet Place: Part II and Edge of Tomorrow), she hasn’t gotten to mix that kind of toughness with comedy, romance, or historical fiction.
“So, I think the time period [makes her] very unusual for her time. She is kind of a trailblazer. And I think that that sort of determination and tenacity was really exciting for me.”
Dressing the Good Doctor
While on her set visit, Hoai-Tran Bui also spoke with costume designer Paco Delgado on dressing Blunt’s character.
“I was thinking in the aviator, Amelia Earhart. But it was because one of the main problems we had is how do you depict a woman in trousers in this period? And I was really…let’s say a little bit excited about the idea, but in the sense I’m mortified, because it was really hard to see any example of a woman that couldn’t wear trousers at the period,” Delgado said.
Hepburn was notorious for wearing pants before most women were allowed, which makes the decision all the wiser. Delgado had a different inspiration in mind, however.
“And then we can, little by little we start thinking, well, maybe she could be a little bit like Amelia Earhart,” he said.
He noted that it was important that Dr. Houghton be able to stand on her own, and not crumble when trouble hits.
“… Normally, when you have an adventure romantic movie, you always have for example, we have movies like Indiana Jones. Where the original first one, the woman is very fierce and very independent by herself. Then suddenly Indy comes and she becomes this whole classical soul girl, running and screaming. We didn’t obviously want to do that because we wanted it to have very strong character that showed respect to women and also it showed a completely different version of a woman in an adventure movie.”
Jungle Cruise releases simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access on July 30, 2021.
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