In addition to his work on the Apes franchise, Serkis’ busy year has found him making his directorial debut (with the biopic Breathe) and wrapping his work on next month’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi (he plays Supreme Leader Snoke) and 2018’s Black Panther (as the villainous weapons dealer Ulysses Klaue).
I think they’re going to be very shocked at what they’re going to see.ANDY SERKIS ON NEXT MONTH’SU00A0STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI
He’s also deep into post-production on his second feature as a director — a new Jungle Book with Benedict Cumberbatch (Shere Khan), Christian Bale (Bagheera), Cate Blanchett (Kaa) and newcomer Rohan Chand as Mowgli. Serkis will also appear in the film as Baloo.
And, in the new year, he’ll join Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron in the comedy Flarsky.
With War for the Planet of the Apes now available on Blu-ray and on demand and the video game in stores, the shapeshifting Serkis spoke with Postmedia Network about returning to Middle-Earth, why motion-capture acting deserves more recognition than it gets and what fans can expect when The Last Jedi hits theatres in December.
What was it like to play Caesar for three Planet of the Apes movies and see the character go through this emotional narrative arc?
It was one of the most thrilling acting experiences of my life to play Caesar. It’s so a rare, as an actor, that you get to play the entire life of a character from birth to the end. Going all the way back to Rise (of the Planet of the Apes), I had to create this young chimpanzee … (an) orphan who was brought up by human beings. Then he morphed into this revolutionary leader who became someone who was able to galvanize all those apes towards freedom. So it’s been an amazing seven years and it’s been full of acting challenges.
Motion-capture performances have never gotten serious awards consideration. Do you think that’s about to change?
I hope it’s going to change. I’ve been using this technology for 17 years (since he first played Gollum in 2001’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) and there has been a lot of misunderstanding about what it is.
In some ways, it’s not considered acting and it absolutely is. There’s no question about it. I never draw a distinction between playing a live-action character and a motion-capture role.
There’s nothing different. You do the exact same process of building the character, working on the physicality, dealing with the emotion of the character; you go on set and film with your fellow actors and the director. People have a hard time understanding that. They’d have an easier time understanding it if I was wearing layers of prosthetic makeup like John Hurt in the Elephant Man or Charles Laughton in The Hunchback of Notre Dame or Gary Oldman playing Winston Churchill (in Darkest Hour). But the idea of doing something digitally is something people find hard to grasp.
The authorship of the role lies completely with the actors in these films. But I do feel that there’s been a big sea change this year especially with (War for the Planet of the Apes) and there seems to be more awareness that (motion-capture performances) is acting.
When you first started out 17 years ago playing Gollum in the Lord of the Rings, did you envision all this?
I had no idea where all this was headed when I first started out. I was very lucky to be at the beginning of a journey of what really, I suppose, helped redefine acting. Being part of a technology that allows you to play anything has been the most exciting. And now, I’m not just doing it in front of the camera, but behind the camera as well.
I founded Imaginarium in the U.K., which is pushing these types of performances not only in films, but in television and video games as well and virtual reality and augmented reality.
We’re also working on performance capture on the live-action stage. This year we worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company and had an actor in a motion-capture suit onstage playing Ariel in a production of The Tempest. They were able to shapeshift; and a real-time avatar was projected on the stage.
It’s opened up a whole new world for actors. No matter who they are, no matter their size, age, sex or colour of their skin … an actor can play anything. That is liberating and exciting to think about.
What made you want to get into gaming?
The metaphor of seeing the world through the eyes of apes worked so well for the movies that we thought we could take it further and make it more immersive for the audience. It’s a multiplayer game and you have to make choices very quickly. The choices can ramp up in complexity as the game progresses. It’s an emotionally intense experience, and that fascinated me.
How does Last Frontier stand apart from the movies?
The story takes place between Dawn and War. It doesn’t follow the same characters. It’s a completely separate group of characters and, as we see in War, there are apes that have survived outside of Caesar’s group. So the game follows both apes and humans, who are both on the brink of destruction. You can actually play as a human being or as an ape, which really fits in thematically with the movie in terms of empathy … and you get to see the world through both points of view. … You can set out to defeat the opposition or work with the opposition. It’s a very interesting approach and it takes place in its own universe.
How do you think the Apes trilogy will stack up and be remembered?
I’m sure there’s still more stories left to be told — we have yet to see the ascension of the apes to a very dominant position, where humans are their cattle and it truly is a Planet of the Apes and it’s closer to the 1968 version. But I think that the great thing about it is — this chapter or cycle as we have called it — has taken the origin story and has made it a mythic, Biblical-like trilogy where Caesar has become the seminal ape to lead the other apes to freedom.
We’re a month away from Star Wars: The Last Jedi, what can fans expect from that movie?
I think they’re going to be very shocked at what they’re going to see.
Are you looking forward to working with director J.J. Abrams again on Star Wars: Episode IX?
J.J.’s the most amazing director. He’s such a great choice and he did such an amazing job on the Force Awakens.
Amazon has announced that it is going to produce a TV series based on the Lord of the Rings. Would you consider returning to play Gollum?
I don’t think I actually would at this point in time. I feel like I’ve been part of Middle-Earth for a long period of time in my life and it was a great experience, but I can’t foresee that.