Behind the scenes: War between apes and humans
When Rise of the Planet of the Apes first came out in 2011 as a reboot of the long-standing franchise, Andy Serkis took the world by storm with his portrayal of the king of the Ape Colony, Caesar. Serkis has since gained a reputation for his digital-capture performances in films such as The Hobbit trilogy and Star Wars, and without the tech trappings in everything from Avengers: Age of Ultron to Wild Bill and Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll. Ahead of the third installment, War for the Planet of the Apes, the 53 year-old actor talks about Caesar’s journey, welcoming new cast member Steve Zahn and working with director Matt Reeves.
What’s new for you? What’s new for Caesar?
Having played him all the way through, from an infant to this point, it’s like a boyhood, or in my case, apehood. The saga continues and Caesar continues to evolve. What has been extraordinary about all of these movies, as they’ve progressed, is this incredible balance between the humans and the apes story.
He thought of himself as a human until that point in the first film, where he was cast out and thrown in with the apes. He finds himself now a commander, a leader that is starting again. There’s an exodus where the apes are beginning to move out of Muir Woods, and he is about to leave that when this cataclysmic event happens that sends him off on a trajectory that he’s not expecting, which is much more about again losing himself, and his internal compass.
It always seems as though he has to suffer and deal with things…
Yes. It’s this constant balance between family and what you would do to defend your family and your kind. Versus the bigger picture and keeping this balance between both species, so that everyone can survive.
On his journey this time, he meets Steve’s (Zahn) new ape character. He’s a loner, living in an old ski lodge?
That’s right. What’s extraordinary about that is that what he represents is a character not of their tribe. We realise that the effects of the virus we now know are much further ranging and that’s a shock to the apes of Muir Woods.
And does Caesar see something of almost a kindred spirit in Steve’s character?
Yes, he’s seen terrible destruction and he’s been to very dark places. Caesar views him as a sort of an oddball that he comes across until this common ground is felt between them, which then does unite them. There’s this kind of moment where Caesar looks at him in completely different light and realises that he’s been through what are the same sorts of tragedy that Caesar’s been through.
Steve is the new person in the performance capture gear. How has he been coming in?
It’s like water off a duck’s back to him! He’s just such a brilliant actor first, which is all that’s required. It’s nothing to do with anything apart from understanding your character and playing it, and he’s terrifically physical anyway. And he’s a great comedian. He’s perfectly suited for this role. I mean, he has brought such a lot to it. It’s great working with him. He’s a theatre actor, and there is that sense of really vibing off the situation, with Matt’s excellent direction.
We’ve seen Steve play dramatic before. But this seems to be a different level from him. Would you agree?
Absolutely. What it requires from you as an actor is a big suspension of disbelief, but it’s also very nuanced. I think as people become kind of savvy about what performance capture is, they realise it isn’t just about pantomiming. It’s not just about huge physical performances.
In terms of getting that, has the technology changed much from Dawn?
We come in the mornings, we go and get our gear on, which is very much streamlined. The facial cameras are evolved. But in essence, the big leap was, I suppose, from Rise, when we started to shoot on location. That was significant. And it’s more robust since then, but easier to move cameras around.
And you all keep setting yourself new challenges…
The beginning of Dawn was pretty challenging, because we were in very, very wet conditions the first few days. Actually, for quite some time, and then we were in New Orleans, which was boiling hot. And this one is cold!
Is the scale bigger this time?
When you think about it, Rise was quite an intimate piece. It was in a domestic situation, and then a slightly bigger family in the atrium, with all of the other apes. Then Dawn grew, and built on that to a larger community. And now we’re in this situation where it’s huge, landscape and epic.
And shot in 65mm?
It looks incredible in 65mm. It really does. I saw some camera tests and it’s going to look phenomenal, actually. Matt’s palette, and James Chinlund’s incredible designs and Mike Seresin of course as cinematographer. It’s just the combination of those three.
Is it nice being with Matt as director again?
He knows the story like the back of his hand. He writes with Mark Bomback and he knows them. Not only that, he’s quite a good actor himself, in the sense that when he writes, he writes from the inside. When it comes to shooting as well, it’s very subtle in the direction that he gives and creates space around the actors, which on films of this scale, you don’t always get.I’m so excited to be working with him again. I love his company and love his energy and he is the real deal. He totally understands the metaphor of these movies in turn, and he’s passionate about them. He’s smart as anything.
It sounds like he has a lot more rehearsal time than some other projects do. I mean, you have the time to really go in and you can keep shooting and finding things?
The joy of digital performance capture is that you can go back, and you can hone it. And so, once you’ve got the plates, and we shot all the environments, we inevitably have periods where we can go in. I mean, that seems to be the way now in performance capture. You can go in reiterating and revisiting moments, beats, shots and characters.
War for the Planet of the Apes releases on July 14.