Andy Serkis dons his motion-capture suit once again to play the genetically-evolved chimpanzee, Caesar, in Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes.
An expert in the performance capture field, Andy Serkis has brought to life memorable characters including the pitiful creature Gollum in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, the tender-hearted but gargantuan gorilla in King Kong and the pipe-chewing Captain Haddock in The Adventures Of Tintin.
His track record continues with Caesar, the genetically evolved super-intelligent chimpanzee, whom we first met in the 2011 release Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes.
In the sequel – Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes – Serkis gives another astounding performance as the older and wiser Caesar.
There is little wonder that Serkis is the co-founder of The Imaginarium Studio in London, a studio that specialises in performance capture. The studio is already handling two literary projects – Animal Farm and The Jungle Book – which Serkis is set to direct.
The 50-year-old actor is also a consultant on the upcoming big-budget films The Avengers: Age Of Ultron and Star Wars VII; he has said that he will play a role each in the two movies although it’s unclear what characters exactly.
In a transcript provided by Twentieth Century Fox, the distributor for Dawn, Serkis admitted that the same application of acting rules apply for every character he plays, regardless of the face he wears.
“(As Caesar) I am just playing a character in a movie which has a different set of cameras filming me in order to achieve the aesthetic. That’s the difference. That’s all it is. In terms of playing a role, the embodiment of the character, the psychological investigation, everything to do with building a character, is all exactly the same,” Serkis explained.
Dawn is set 10 years after the events of Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes. With the Simian Flu outbreak threatening the humans, the apes have gone into the forest near San Francisco to make a home there. All the apes flourish under the leadership of Caesar, showcasing intelligence in language and way of life (there is an Ape Village!).
Meanwhile, the number of humans have depleted with only a few left who are desperate to gain back some semblance of civilisation.
Dawn begins with a small group of humans coming in contact with the ape community as they search for resources and means of power to sustain them. Unfortunately, only a few like Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Ellie (Keri Russell) acknowledge there is more to the apes than meets the eye.
Ultimately, the film’s theme is family; here it’s two distinct groups, each wanting to protect their families. Only thing is, whether everyone is willing to share the same space or not.
When he was offered the role of Caesar in the first film, Serkis was excited because of the story arc for his character. According to him, Rise was a complex process to pull off as he had to play Caesar from infancy to adulthood.
Well, Dawn proved to be even more difficult, from an acting point of view, because of the articulation required, both in terms of emotions and language.
“The way the film was scripted, Caesar is the most philosophical of them all and what we discovered when we were rehearsing was that it’s very, very hard to pull off the scenes which are philosophical or reflective or intellectualising a situation, without sounding like you’re over-articulating a thought,” Serkis said.
“So, we had to find ways of skimming back on them or simplifying the thought, but also allowing Caesar to be the most articulate of the apes. It was a conundrum, it was a real conundrum. Which I think we’ve achieved.”
Director Matt Reeves didn’t want the apes to be seen chatting like humans. Together, the director and Serkis had to figure out how the apes communicate with each other in a more believable manner.
Serkis explained: “So it is apes’ vocalisations – various different apes, chimpanzees, orang utans and gorillas, with their own forms of vocalisation – plus gesture, sort of slightly more human gesture.
“And there’s the sign language, which obviously Caesar was taught. And there’s the ability to use human words. Matt was very specific about not wanting to land too far down the line in terms of their evolution.”
When asked if Serkis or his children can see his real face in Caesar, the English actor answered: “Yeah, they do. In all the roles I’ve played. Because they know my facial expressions. And (VFX company) Weta know all my facial expressions – my face has been scanned so many times that they must know every single millimetre of every pore of my face.
“I can see it and read my thoughts, my acting choices, my timing – all of those things come across. It’s quite bizarre. It is like wearing a mask that moves to every single muscle movement that you’re making.”
Despite the technological advancements which enable actors to portray apes, director Reeves acknowledged that no amount of special effects would work as well if the audience doesn’t believe in the characters.
He said, it is credit to Serkis’ performance that we are so invested with what’s happening with Caesar.
Reeves concluded: “In this movie, Caesar goes from being a revolutionary to a leader and a father and someone who has to lead through very difficult times. In that sense, the ambition is for him to be an ape Lawrence Of Arabia. And Andy is someone who has the gravitas and the depth to play that.
“The fun of the movie is to have the scale of it and never lose sight of the intimacy or the soul of it. (Serkis) is our ace in the hole. He’s just amazing.” (Source: Twentieth Century Fox)
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