Andy Serkis has made quite a name for himself through some larger than life performances using motion capture technology.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes premieres nationwide tomorrow and Andy stars as Caesar (above), a chimpanzee who is a subject of genetic engineering and ends up leading a revolt of apes against the human race.
Andy is also the man behind Lord of the Rings‘ Gollum and gave life to the biggest monkey of them all in 2005’s King Kong. Check out our interview with Andy as he discusses why he chose the role, the challenges of creating a realistic yet emotional and sympathetic ape character, and the real-life inspiration for Caesar!
GG: Andy, you’re playing a great character once again, but nobody gets to see you because it’s the chimp we see. What was the attraction in doing this movie?
Andy: I took the role because it was a fantastic role, an amazing story and something I totally believed in from when I read the script. It was a real challenge, totally different as a character from anything I’ve done before, regardless of the fact that it’s a similar species to a certain character I’ve played before … an amazing challenge.
We should make this very clear for everyone from the start that all the scenes that you see in the movie are co-acted by everyone that you see, so there’s no differentiation at all between live action actors and performance capture actors. It’s all acting. There is actually no difference. It’s probably a good time to say that performance capture has a bit of a misconception and it’s perceived in a strange way.
All it is really is a tool … in terms of the action process, what happens after the performance is a whole other area of wizardry, but in terms of acting there is no difference between acting and performance (capture) acting … except for the fact that, you know, I’m playing a different species.
But if I was to play a human being in a performance capture role, we’d be sitting here being as natural and acting the same as a live action set and that’s a big significant leap for this production, that we were on live action sets together rather than on a virtual stage. But every single location, the performance capture actors worked with the live action actors.
How did you balance the ape qualities with the anthropomorphic qualities?
Andy think the greatest challenge for all of us in terms of Caesar’s journey, Caesar’s character was how to convey his emotional journey without over anthropomorphizing him and without assuming that because he’s showing more human qualities, human behavior, therefore that equals he’s being more intelligent, because that’s rather arrogant on our behalf.
The whole physicality of Caesar was one thing and when you’re doing a character like that, that’s really the first rung of the ladder, the behavioral aspect. What it’s about ultimately is personality and trying to find Caesar’s emotional intelligence, as well as his cognitive intelligence. That’s sort of a given and you understand that through story. You see that. But what Caesar has beyond that is an emotional intelligence.
We were very conscious that we didn’t want to just make him more human-like to equal looking more intelligent. So he’s based on, there’s a particular chimpanzee that Rupert and I both researched, a chimpanzee called Oliver, who in the 1970s was believed to be, he was called a “humanzee” and there’s footage of him that you can look at. He had an extraordinary gait, he was bipedal, very upright and there was an otherness about him which made people believe that he was literally like the missing link. He underwent a lot of scientific experiments and was treated like a freak, he became a bit of a media freak so he seemed to be a very good touchstone character so I think we were always conscious. We didn’t want to over pantomime him, over-cartoonize him, make him too sweet. He has to be dark as well and it was finding that balance at every single turn.
Did your performance capture acting begin from Caesar’s newborn stage? If not, at what point in his life do you start?
My work really started at the toddler stage where Caesar is beginning to learn, where he’s at the table looking through books when he receives his injury when he climbed over the fence into the neighbor’s garden and his fascination with the outside world. That curiosity, the early stages of his relationship with Will and Charles and that sense of being loved and nurtured and then witnessing Charles’s going further into the disease.
The actual baby stuff was fully animated, then when we actually went back and recorded the vocals, I think we did some vocal stuff for that as well and the physical stuff was from when Caesar was a toddler.
Andy Serkis at the L.A. premiere of Rise of The Planet of The Apes.