Going Ape – Exploring Caesar over a Trilogy: A Conversation with Andy Serkis
War For The Planet Of The Apes continues the wildly successful series of films that began with 2011’s Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes and 2014’s Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes. In the wake of the viral outbreak that devastated much of the human population, the simian community has grown more and more powerful. But simmering tensions between the two species has begun erupting into conflict, and the ramifications will be dreadful for everyone…
Andy Serkis has developed a reputation for fantastic acting work both using digital performance capture in films such as the Hobbit trilogy and Star Wars and without it in everything from Avengers: Age Of Ultron to Wild Bill and Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. For the modern Planet Of The Apes franchise, he has originated and brought incredible depth and heart to the main character, Caesar.
After encountering humans for the first time in years in Dawn, War finds Caesar locked in a conflict with the survivors, a battle that he doesn’t want to fight, but must to protect the future of his ape brethren. When tragedy strikes, an embittered, war-weary Caesar embarks on a mission of revenge, one that will forever change his life. Andy talks about finding this latest stage of Caesar’s journey, welcoming a new cast member and working with director Matt Reeves…
How rewarding is it to explore the same character over a trilogy of films?
One of the greatest challenges and one of the most enjoyable things I’ve done is play Caesar over the course of these three movies. It is very rare as an actor that you get the opportunity to play a role from infancy through to mature adulthood, with such a great arc, and so many great twists and turns, and all the emotional deviations. So in these films we’ve gone from Caesar the infant, to being a teenager, to being rejected by the human beings he was brought up with, through to going into a facility and learning to become an ape. Then he becomes a leader of a society. And now here we find him desperately struggling to keep his species alive. An event happens at the beginning of the film that pitches him into a journey of revenge. I could not have had a better opportunity as an actor to explore so many variations in the part of one character.
Caesar is really struggling with an internal conflict in this film; his natural compassion and leadership qualities are set against his desire for revenge…
The default Caesar is an empathetic character who was brought up with humans and therefore has the knowledge and understanding and ability to feel love and compassion towards them. But the thing that happens at the beginning of this movie is so horrific that it pitches him into this hatred that he didn’t feel he was capable of feeling. He begins to understand Koba, who was the ape that started the revolution and who had hatred, and starts to understand what that hatred means. And throughout all of that he was evolving physically, mentally and linguistically. So it was a very complex range of things to try and uncover and to play.
The film is full of dramatic moments and nuance, but it’s also a war movie. How much did you enjoy that side of the filmmaking? It’s a bit like the golden age of the war movies from the 1950s and 60s…
That was an amazing thing. When Matt [Reeves, the director] first sat me down and pitched the movie a couple of years ago, before we even had a script, he explained that it was like a cross between The Bridge on the River Kwai and a biblical, Moses-type of story. There are elements of mythic Western, and of Clint Eastwood films. It was so great to play this character on a huge canvas like that, and yet also to have those moments of intimacy.
Has the performance-capture technology shifted much over the years you’ve been playing Caesar and, if so, how does that aid your performance?
The actual technology has not changed hugely. We are still wearing head-mounted cameras and are still wearing suits with markers on them, and electronics strapped to our backs. What has changed is the skillset in Weta, the digital effects company, and their ability to translate our performances and to honour the actors’ work to a higher degree with each new film. So the software through which they are creating the rendering makes every single choice you have created as an actor with the director much more readable by the audience.
Can you think of any behind-the-scenes moments that really standout?
There is a particular scene that I had a horrendous time with — that required a real suspension of disbelief. There is a scene where I find a human being who is dying. And I was wearing a lot of weights as Caesar to make him feel much more held down and buried under the weight of what he was going through. And when I crouched down beside this dying man — it was minus-degree conditions, in the snow — the other actor was giving an amazing performance. But I found myself in quite an uncomfortable position when I realised that his hand was stuck between a rucksack and rock and it went right up in between my legs as I crouched down. He went full into his performance with all this emotion and I couldn’t get out of that position. So that was a huge moment of having to suspend my disbelief. He was looking at me like, ‘Why do look as though you are sucking a lemon.’ And I was thinking, ‘You’re giving a great performance and I can’t respond because you hands are clasped between my legs.’
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES IS AVAILABLE ON DIGITAL NOW AND ON BLU-RAY AND DVD FROM 27TH NOVEMBER