The big standout performance in Rise of the Planet of the Apes isn't James Franco or John Lithgow — instead, everybody's buzzing about Andy Serkis' brilliant motion-capture acting as the ape, Caesar. People are calling Serkis the first mo-cap movie star.
Just check out this amazing behind-the-scenes video, showing how Serkis created a character with his body and voice. We were lucky enough to talk to Serkis exclusively about his process — and he revealed the hidden Ape romance that never made it to the screen.
Is there any sort of hat tip in Apes or fun thing that you pulled from Roddy McDowell's performances?
I can't say that we borrowed from Roddy Mcdowell's performances.
What he did was absolutely brilliant and actually left an indelible print on me when I was watching the films during my formative years. That first Planet of the Apes movie was a really big one for me, and so to get the chance to play a forefather of his was an extraordinary kind of thing.
Of course, we didn't have to endure the makeup that those guys went through and I remember watching some behind-the-scenes footage of them talking about wearing that kind of makeup and how much they had to really over-animate their faces to keep that kind-of rubbery latex — that very heavy duty stuff in those days — to keep that alive. We're fortunate, using performance-capture technology, that you don't have to deal with any of that, the cameras can very subtly pick up the slightest facial expression or thought. It really is very sensitive to that, so I've always admired his performances, but, to cut a long story short, I can't say I borrowed from him.
It would be amazing if someone had that accent that he had throughout all of the films.
Oh, I know. [Laughter]
I read that you based a lot of this performance on an actual ape with superior intelligence?
Yes, there was an ape, who was called Oliver, and he was known as the "Humanzee." He was around in the 70's and everybody said — and there's youtube footage too which you can look at to back this up — everyone said that whenever they encountered him, there was something completely "other" about him. He walked bipedally, and no chimpanzees walk bipedally, not just for more than a few steps, this one just walks upright. If he came into a room, you would think that he was someway between human and chimp. He didn't just display chimp behavior, but you could sort-of sense — maybe it was projectional or not, but we didn't know — but it felt like he was this other, like a real hybrid. And so I based that on, that was a sort-of touchstone for Caesar, particularly his journey as well.
Caesar goes through this incredible sort-of arc, of being rescued from a lab, having inherited this super-intelligence drug, being brought up by human beings, and loved and cherished by human beings with a very clear kind-of father figure that's guiding him, teaching him to sign, teaching him how to relate and then he becomes this sort-of gifted child like a child who can play concertos or Beethoven when he's four years old, or know how to solve complex mathematical problems. And then he reaches a point in what would be his teenage years, where he realizes he's actually not human and that he's a freak, that he's just an absolute outsider to this nuclear family that he's brought up in, and, at the same point, an event happens whereby he's taken away from the family and thrown into this, what is in effect, a kind-of a prison, a hardcore prison, it's an ape sanctuary.
And then he's forced to confront other apes and his own kind, but they're not his own kind, he can't communicate with them because he has this superior intelligence, so to then try and bring them together and he has to really kind-of understand whether he's going to reject the humanity that he was brought up with, in order to enable himself to join his own species or not or what elements of humanity he wants to have. And so it's quite a complex journey, really.
There's a very interesting thing that you said, and I think you're touching on it now a little bit, and I would like for you to elaborate more on it if you can. You said: what do you do with an animal that has superior intellect, and why do we force the idea that this makes it more human? It was very interesting, why does it make it more human?
Yea, that was the challenge for Rupert, the director, and myself. We really wanted to get to grips with, If you are demonstrating that this ape has superior intelligence, does it necessarily mean we have to make him more kind-of anthropomorphized or not? Or is that insulting? Because actually, he would have his own way of communicating that intelligence or understanding, so emotional intelligence plays a part in it and a kindof empathy.
And so we had to invent a kind-of language for him and tip-toe between something recognizable, because there's a lot of this film which has no dialogue in it whatsoever, and a lot of it is conveyed through visual storytelling, through visual performance, so it has to be something that the audience have got to recognize what's being thought and felt and said, communicated, so it was a very, very interesting time.
Is there a love story for your character in this? There's a few scenes [from the trailer], and I don't want to spoil anything, but it looks like there is a moment or two [for Caesar].
There was. [Laughter] Well I haven't actually seen the finished movie yet, so I'm not kind-of sure entirely of how much of it remains, but I think it was felt that perhaps that would happen if, perhaps, there was a sequel.
Well, they've made more than one Ape movie in the past, so it could happen. I'm curious, also, when you're playing the many performance-capture roles that you've played, how do you change your overall? Like a smile? Like a smile in Gollum and a smile in Kong and a smile in this, how much of your whole body do you work with that and change your mind and your attitude?
That's a really good question. Because what you're saying and what you're kind-of correctly understanding, I suppose, is that an actor's performance — you can't really break it down into component parts, or at least I can't. There are people who are great voice actors or great mimes and all that, but in terms of playing a role, and this is no more than playing any kind-of conventional rule in the sense that, and I have really never drawn the distinction between performance-capture roles and live-action roles, it's still the same process of embodying that character physically, psychologically, vocally.
And so the physicality is kind of constructed at the same time as [the facial expressions and voice]. It's kind-of a holistic approach really, you know, but they all inform each other, so Caesar's uprightness and his sort-of bipedal nature will affect the way that his throat is and, therefore, his grunts and his vocal communications will be different to Kong's who is obviously quadrupedal and much heavier. When we were doing Kong, for instance, he was a hundred percent gorilla, Kong. With Caesar we have got this, I had the liberty to take it as more or less away from chimp behavior, and having that always as a benchmark, but a smarter smile, again going back to what I was saying earlier about communicating, it might be more human in this case. We did experiment with lots of different ways of communicating various different emotions.
For even more Apes goodness check out this amazing behind-the-scenes video from Weta (from which the above images were nabbed).