WASHINGTON, April 6 (UPI) -- Garry Shandling voiced a considerate porcupine in Disney's upcoming live action remake of The Jungle Book ahead of his death last month.
Now, director Jon Favreau is speaking out about the late comedian's influence on himself and the project, calling him a beloved mentor to many in the film industry.
"He's always been a friend, not to just myself, but to many people in the filmmaking industry," Favreau said in a statement to USA Today. "He's quietly been a mentor to so many people. You're only seeing it now with the outpouring of affection, you're seeing how many people's lives he actually touched."
Calling him a "genius," Favreau explained how Shandling helped beef up his own projects, "Even on Iron Man 2, he would show up to offer joke punch-ups," he recounted. Their friendship ultimately prompted the director to encourage Shandling to take a voice-acting role in Jungle Book.
"It would take a lot of doing to get him to do something. He tended to want to operate behind-the-scenes," said Favreau. "I got him to do this role. I told him it was a porcupine. He thought it implied a certain emotional point-of-view where he was protective, defensive and scared of hurting others. He brought this really interesting take to this character that wasn't in the 1967 film, but was actually one of the original characters from Rudyard Kipling."
Shandling became specifically attached to the project, Favreau said, saying he frequently returned to the studio to make it better. Just weeks before his death, Shandling recorded new jokes for his porcupine character and received the opportunity to see an early version of the already-critically-acclaimed movie.
"For a person who was such a genius to be that generous, it's a rare combo," Favreau continued. "He gave me confidence at a time when you're feeling very self-conscientious and very insecure."
Garry Shandling, a famed actor and comedian, died suddenly on March 24 following a medical emergency. He was 66 years old.
Fellow comedians including Conan O'Brien, Seth Meyers and Jimmy Kimmel all honored Shandling after his death, with O'Brien outlining a personal story about one of his fondest memories opposite the late star.
During a rough time in O'Brien's life, the comedian said Shandling "counseled me, he cheered me up, he told me jokes, he talked to me about philosophy. He talked to me about how there are bigger things int he world and I was going to be fine."