Andy Serkis Interview For ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’
An origin story in the true sense of the word, ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ is set in present day San Francisco. The film is a reality-based cautionary tale – a science fiction/science-fact blend where mankind’s hubris leads to the development of intelligence in apes and the onset of a war for supremacy. Oscar(R)-winning visual effects house WETA Digital -employing certain of the groundbreaking technologies developed for ‘Avatar’ – will render, for the first time ever in the film series, photo-realistic apes rather than costumed actors.
‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ arrives in cinemas August 5th in the US and August 11th in the UK. The film stars James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Tom Felton, Tyler Labine, Brian Cox and Andy Serkis. In the film Serkis plays Caesar, a chimpanzee whose mother was injected with a new drug designed to combat the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. As a side effect of the procedure, Caesar is born with an enhanced level of intelligence and is raised, in secret, by scientist Will Rodman (James Franco).
This is such a unique role, what was your reaction when you first read the part?
Andy Serkis: When you get offered a role like this, one could easily think, “what is this? Where’s the dialogue? What’s the role? Where is the role? What’s the personality?“ But actually Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa wrote the most incredible script. When I read it, immediately I thought this is a fantastic character for any actor to play. It has a huge emotional range, basically I play Caesar from infancy through to the leader of a rebellion. Charting his development, finding and pitching how much Chimpanzee he is, and how human he is, that was really really interesting and exciting.
He doesn’t really understand what he is, he’s like a Frankenstein, he’s become a Frankenstein. He’s entirely loved as a young infant, surrounded by human behaviour, so he responds emotionally in that way and believes that that’s the right thing to do. He learns manner, socially he behaves like a human.
How do you approach performance capture?
Andy Serkis: Performance capture, in my mind, it’s always been that I never think of performance capture as any different to shooting a performance with a 35mm camera, or any other type of method of recording an actors performance. It’s about getting inside the soul, the mindset of whatever character you are playing – whether it’s human, whether it’s a creature, an ape, or whatever. Performance capture allows you to do that, in the same way being filmed does, it’s about believing that you are that thing, or that person, or that animal. And totally inhabiting it, in the same way you would any screen character you would play.
What’s changed over the years since ‘Lord of the Rings?’
Andy Serkis: In terms of the performance capture and how that’s developed since ‘Lord of the Rings and my sort of co-joining the performance capture world, I mean the perception’s changed hugely – I’ll just run you quickly through how it worked on ‘Lord of the Rings.’ My performance was shot on 35mm so I acted with all the other actors. And then I had to go, and we always shot a blank slate, and I had to go and re-shoot all the performance capture or we could expand with the character in the performance capture volume, only in a very tiny volume. You know, there were not many cameras and the markers didn’t quite work in the real-time – they kept breaking down. So it was in its very, very early days.
When we started to work on ‘King Kong,’ it was the first use, really, of facial capture because up until that point with Gollum all my facial expressions had been key framed matched to 35mm footage, which was used as the definitive reference, but never the less, it was key framed matched. With ‘King Kong,’ it was really in earnest the first time facial capture where I was wearing 132 markers on my face that were driving all the facial muscles of Kong. Then in the years after that, around 2005 when ‘Avatar’ started to be testing, the whole change started to be using multiple actors. You could suddenly put multiple actors, not just one actor, in a performance capture suit in the volume. You could suddenly group them together and with head-mounted cameras so that you could film. You didn’t need markers on faces – you could use head-mounted cameras to capture facial expressions. And then the whole shift really happened around ‘Avatar’ where the centre for production, virtual production, is happening and the entire principal production is taking place in a volume about the size of this room. That’s how ‘Avatar’ was shot and in fact how ‘Tintin’ was shot.
On ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes,’ it’s the first time that performance capture has existed outside of a volume on live-action sets. So we were shooting in a live-action environment, and we didn’t have to go back and repeat anything. We did some pick ups, but not many. But every single scene we were shooting with live-action actors and with the other actors playing with performance capture. We’re in the real locations with physical sets that were shot on film, and so it’s very much has become about, along with the perception changes, that it is much more a tool. I think that’s the important thing to remember about performance capture is that people aren’t so much wanting to celebrate the technology anymore. Really, that’s passé, you know? It’s over, it’s now an industry tool. It’s something that we need to get over really. It’s now here and it’s a magnificent way, and it’s basically another way of recording an actor’s performance. And that’s all it is. It needs no more to be hailed in a way. Although it’s a great technology, it’s actually returning us to the ability to do something really simple, which is to record an actor’s performance.
What are your thoughts on James Franco’s character, Will Rodman?
Andy Serkis: He has a personal quest in that he’s trying to cure his father who has Alzheimer’s. In many instances in our lives we come across people who are searching for the greater good, but actually it’s obviously driven by a personal quest – perhaps that can be the best way, you understand it from the inside, that’s Will’s journey. It only really dawns on him in the latter part of the film what he’s done, whether what he’s tried to achieve – actually who’s it good for at the end of the day? What is this quest about? Is it a selfish pursuit? Is it really for humanity? If it is for humanity, what is his relationship to other species? It’s a cautionary tale, Caesar is the child that he has brought up that is staring him in the face and saying, “is this the right thing that you’ve done?” And if it is, you have to accept the consequences of your actions.”
Can you tell us a little about the sanctuary, that environment?
Andy Serkis: The back history of the Ape sanctuary is that it was set up as a refuge for ex-lab chimps, or ex-entertainment industry chimps, Gorillas, Orangutans. They’re all damaged in some way, all of the inmates are fairly damaged, abused or abandoned in some way. Caesar finds himself in an a almost ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ environment of imprisoned and unloved chimpanzees. He’s walking bipedally, when he greets other chimps he goes to shake hands with them, he’s like this total alien. Yet he’s connected to them and he doesn’t understand why. Throughout the second act he learns to communicate with them. Once he does, through one stand-off with a chimp called Rocket – who’s the alpha-male of the group, Caesar then begins to assert his authority and take over.
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