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Looking to Past Films to Inspire War: A Conversation with Woody Harrelson

War for the Planet of the Apes

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…



What did you enjoy most about shooting War for the Planet of the Apes?

What I most enjoyed about shooting this Planet of the Apes was getting to know Andy Serkis. I think he is an extraordinary actor, one of the greatest I’ve worked with, with the most expressive eyes I have ever seen. He could literally say nothing in a scene and what he does is so powerful. And he’s also just a great guy. We had a lot of fun together, hanging out socially, drinking a little wine, having a laugh. It was great.


Where did you take inspiration from your character? I was reminded a little of Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now?

Because there is so much in this story that is similar to Kurtz, I didn’t want to try doing any Brando-esque things; it was more like the opposite. I think probably that film [Apocalypse Now] inspired the idea of the character.


How important is it for the bad guy in the movie not to think he’s the bad guy? Your character is motivated by what he regards as a sensible logic…

I think that any time you are playing a character you have to find the humanity, the thing that makes him tick. You have to sympathise with whatever his philosophical stance is. In this case, I have to come to believe that the Colonel is doing the right thing. Or at least he believes he is doing the right thing in eliminating the apes. It is sometimes hard to see that. You can easily look at it from the other perspective — that this guy is just evil.



How did you find working with actors who are wearing performance-capture suits? Does it take a bit of getting used to?

It takes a little time to get used to the motion-capture thing. They’ve got the grey suits that are kind of funny looking, with these things on them, and then all these dots on their face. They’ve got a camera about a foot in front of their face pointing back at them. It is a little odd at first. I’d never experienced anything like that before because I’d never worked on anything with motion-capture. But after a while you just get used to it. It becomes how it is every day.


When director Matt Reeves first spoke to you did he say he was going to try and make an epic war movie?

When I initially talked to Matt Reeves, the director, I was very keen to be a part of this and to figure out how I would fit into it. I think Matt Reeves is an amazing director with tremendous focus and great vision but I had no idea that it was going to be this epic scale. It is a really huge movie, and it does hark back to some of the great epic war movies or Westerns from years ago.


Other than working with Andy was there any particular moment that will stay with you as a really fond memory of this movie?

The first time you meet my character — it’s the first time my character has contact with Caesar — it’s really amazing. There is a lot of CG going on but when you see it all cut together on the screen it is a really special moment. Matt Reeves’ vision is extraordinary. I don’t know how he put this stuff together but there is a lot of imagination on his part because we are doing things with green screens in the background and there are these humans who are later going to look like apes. When he puts it all together it is astonishing.



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