Andy Serkis Interview For ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ – Talks Gollum & Second Unit Directing
‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ follows the journey of title character Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who is swept into an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). Approached out of the blue by the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), Bilbo finds himself joining a company of thirteen dwarves led by the legendary warrior, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). Their journey will take them into the Wild; through treacherous lands swarming with Goblins and Orcs, deadly Wargs and Giant Spiders, Shapeshifters and Sorcerers. Although their goal lies to the East and the wastelands of the Lonely Mountain, first they must escape the goblin tunnels, where Bilbo meets the creature that will change his life forever…Gollum (Andy Serkis). Here, alone with Gollum, on the shores of an underground lake, the unassuming Bilbo not only discovers depths of guile and courage that surprise even him, he also gains possession of Gollum’s “precious” ring that holds unexpected and useful qualities … A simple, gold ring that is tied to the fate of all Middle-earth in ways Bilbo cannot begin to know.
From Academy Award-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson, ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ is the first of three films based on ‘The Hobbit’ novel by J.R.R. Tolkien. The trilogy of ‘Hobbit’ films are set in Middle-earth 60 years before Jackson’s ’The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. The release schedule for the three ‘Hobbit’ films are as follows: ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ is set for a December 13th release; ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ arrives in cinemas December 13th, 2013; and ’The Hobbit: There and Back Again’ concludes the trilogy on July 18th, 2014. My other interviews for ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ can be found through the following links: Andy Serkis, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Martin Freeman, Aidan Turner, Dean O’Gorman and James Nesbitt, and Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving (more to come).
I can imagine it was slightly peculiar reprising this now iconic role for ‘The Hobbit’? When you were portraying Gollum 12 years ago on the ‘Lord of the Rings’ it was new, the audience didn’t know what to expect….
Andy Serkis: Definitely. The strangest thing about it was that when we did the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, I couldn’t have been prepared to how Gollum was absorbed into the public consciousness so much. And also by how many people would come up to me on a regular basis and ask me to do Gollum, or for them to do their impersonations – I’ve seen some great ones and greatly terrible ones (laughs). So owning him again, possessing him….as an actor you have to reign it right in and feel it from the inside, and I almost felt like I was doing an impersonation myself on the first day. But I pretty soon got back into it.
And in the time between the ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit,’ there’s been great developments in motion capture/performance capture – something you’ve been a part of with ‘King Kong’ and ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes.’
Andy Serkis: Yeah. In a nutshell, what we used to do in the ‘Lord of the Rings’ days, we used to film my performance on 35mm with the other guys, Elijah Wood and Sean Astin, we’d all act together. But then I’d have to repeat the process on a separate stage at a later date in a motion capture suit. This time round, 12 years later, the scene I did with Martin Freeman I’m wearing a head-mounted camera, it’s full performance capture as apposed to motion capture, which means it’s capturing my facial expressions at the same time. So we only had to ever do it once. All the interaction was therefore much more connected and feels much more real. And of course the look of the character, the muscles, the way they work, that has been refined over the years as well. So there’s a real fidelity to what I’m doing with the underlying performance.
Gollum, he’s a spring chicken, he’s 60 years younger in this one….
Andy Serkis: He’s so sexy now. It was nice to play the heartthrob for a change (laughs).
The “riddles in the dark” scene with Gollum and Bilbo, that was Martin Freeman’s first scene shooting as Bilbo, what was that experience like? He told me how much that helped him find the character….
Andy Serkis: Martin, he’s such an inventive actor, he’s brilliant. We had great fun, and like you said, in 276 days of shooting it was day 1. We shot for 2 weeks on that scene. Every time we did it we shot it as one long take, so it was really like doing a piece of theatre, you know? Because of that we could be inventive. And Martin, he can really move around and change. He was trying to define the role of Bilbo while we were doing that, so it was really exciting coming up with new stuff every single time, with different inflections, different meaning, and different ways of playing each moment. It was great.
And getting to direct some of ‘The Hobbit as Second Unit Director, that must have been an amazing experience on a film of this magnitude. Feature film direction is on the horizon?
Andy Serkis: It was great. It was 200+ plus days of shooting with the most extraordinarily developed technology, a huge crew, great cast. Then also shooting aerially, battle sequences as well as drama. I couldn’t have wished for more. Literally a month before ‘The Hobbit,’ I got the most amazing call and the most amazing opportunity, which was Peter Jackson asking me to come down and be his Second Unit Director. I think it’s probably true to say it’s unlike any other Second Unit Directing in the sense that the scale, scope and variety required for the Second Unit Director was pretty huge.
Directing, it’s certainly something I’m heading for. I have a studio now in London, The Imaginarium, which is a performance capture studio. It’s also a development company where we’re creating our own projects. That’s the next thing I’m doing. It’s exciting (laughs).
What would you say was the most challenging thing as Second Unit Director on ‘The Hobbit’?
Andy Serkis: I would have to say that it was probably the logistics everyday, moving schedule. It was like, “You’ve got 13 dwarves, but we need 6 of them on main unit. You can have 6 stunt doubles” It was shifting sands all of the time. You had to be really prepared, looking at pre-visualised animatics of the scenes that we were shooting. Also just having to set things up at a pace, it was a big challenge. Overall I would have to say the logistics.
These characters and these stories have been so embraced into the public consciousness, from the books to the movies, why do you think that is?
Andy Serkis: I think the ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies happened at a time of a huge kind of world change, as did the books. And I think again we’re going through seismic shifts in the world again now. I think at those times we turn to stories like this, which are very archetypal, they’re big, mythic journeys. And although they are a form of escapism, they actually say so much about the world we live in. The characters are incredibly rich.
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