Shandling, who died on March 24 of an apparent heart attack, has a small role in the new star-studded Disney film – appearing as an amusing porcupine. It was one of the beloved comedian’s final roles.
“Of course I was there when he was recording,” Favreau told PEOPLE Thursday at the Disney and Samsung screening of The Jungle Book in New York City. “He was not just a wonderful performer, but he was always the person I would show scripts to or cuts of movies and I am delighted to have known him.”
“It hasn’t been that long. It’s still very sad,” added Favreau. “I’m glad we had the opportunity to work together again.”
The New York premiere of Jungle Book was attended by Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka; Brooke Shields and her two daughters; Ashley Greene; and Josh Lucas with his son and ex-wife Jessica Ciencin Henriquez.
After Shandling recorded his voice-over lines for the CGI-heavy film, he insisted on going back and doing them again, Favreau revealed.
“We had recorded his voice for this role and several months later he called me back and said, ‘I want another shot at the porcupine,’ ” said Favreau. “And I said, no, we did it. You were funny. And Garry said, ‘Please, let me come in.’ And I said, ‘No, the animation is done. We can’t really change it at this point. It’s a technical film, and it’s hard to change things.”
Finally, Favreau relented. “I said, ‘Okay, come back in.’ And he said, ‘I’ll make it fit within the animation that exists. And sure enough, he came in and redid his performance and matched the lip sync, and ended up adding more jokes.”
“So, he was a guy who always thought you could make something better,” the director said. “He was a perfectionist and took tremendous pride in performing and demanding a lot of his own work and to help other people rise to be the best they could be by inspiring them and offering advice.”
In retrospect, in the light of Shandling’s tragic death, was Favreau thrilled he allowed his friend to return to perfect his final role onscreen?
“Sure, of course,” he said. “I always listened to his instincts and I miss him and miss that he was a wonderful guy to ask for advice. He really was a mentor to so many of us.”
The Jungle Book is due out in theaters April 15.