Andy Serkis, the actor who brought Gollum and King Kong to life, explains getting under the skin of a super-intelligent ape to Jan Gilbert
Andy Serkis is the prince of performance capture. He doesn’t get the coolest costumes on set (he usually wears a lycra bodysuit covered in markers), but he does get some of the best parts. Serkis is the real-life presence behind some of the screen’s biggest effects – from Gollum and King Kong to Tintin’s Captain Haddock. We spoke to him about his brilliant turn as Caesar, a chimp who develops super-intelligence in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, now out on DVD.
What training did you do to play Caesar?
We had a fantastic movement coach, Terry Notary, who worked on Avatar. He had the equivalent of ape boot camp so we could learn to move quadrupedally [on four legs]. We had someone teach us sign language, but Caesar doesn’t just use signs. He uses a more facial way of communicating, because chimpanzees reflect human behaviour more in captivity.
Did you find muscles you didn’t know you had when you knuckle-walked like a chimp?
Absolutely! We also had to decide when Caesar would become bipedal. It seemed fitting around his adolescence. Caesar was based on a real chimpanzee reared by humans in the 1970s called Oliver. Oliver was extraordinary because he only walked bipedally. Everyone thought he wasn’t 100% chimpanzee, and was perhaps the progeny of man and ape.
When you look at Caesar’s face, do you see yourself?
The look of the characters is like digital make-up. So when I look at myself on screen, I see my acting choices, my reactions. Those things are crystal clear to me.
The misunderstanding about performance capture, or CG characters, is that the character is generated by computer… that buttons are pressed and the character’s emotional content is driven by something other than an actor’s performance, which it’s not.
Rupert Wyatt directs the movie on a live-action set with myself and James Franco acting the scenes. He doesn’t see the visual effect of it until months down the line. So he’s got to be certain the performance he gets on the day is real because you can’t manufacture that.
Performance capture’s normally done on an enclosed stage, but this time you’ve done it on a live-action set. What was that like?
Early on the crew weren’t used to the performance capture process. We were shooting a scene where Caesar has a picnic [with James Franco and Freida Pinto], and I was making some vocalisations. The sound recordist came over and said, ‘Andy, do you mind keeping your noise down. I’m trying to record the actors.’
I could feel everything welling up and I said, ‘Caesar communicates through vocalisations and breath, so this is my dialogue.’ And he went, ‘Yeah, I know, but can you keep your noise down?’ So that’s an example of having to educate a crew when you’re shooting in a live-action situation.
** All text and images are subject to copyright and may only be used with express permission.