Andy Serkis says learning ape behavior was just a small part of his 'Planet of the Apes' role
Andy Serkis was the most-talked about actor on the "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" red carpet premiere, but you might not recognize his face from the film's trailer.
Serkis portrayed the film's lead chimp, Caesar, using "performance capture" technology created by the Weta Digital special effects team and was universally praised by his live action co-stars. Serkis previously worked with Weta on "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," where he played Gollum. He also played the behemoth King Kong in Peter Jackson's 2005 film.
The actor performed while wearing a motion capture suit and a head rig ( or "gray pajamas" as the star James Franco called it), which were used to capture his movements and facial expressions.
"But performance-capture technology is really only a tool to enable you to do that," Serkis told OnTheRedCarpet.com co-host Rachel Smith at San Diego Comic-Con. "I think people get hung up on it but in a way, it's only another way of capturing an actor's performance. You're not reliant on anything but what's in here - your imagination and what you can do physically and vocally, so you don't have any help from costume or makeup or anything - all that is overlaid after the fact. What it does, brilliantly, is help actors play off of each other and make it believable for each other. If you get other actors to believe in you, it's the same as any kind of live-action acting."
Weta Digital won Oscars for their visual effects in all three "Lord of the Rings" films and for "King Kong."
"We needed the audience to understand what Caesar was feeling with no dialogue," Joe Letteri, senior visual effects supervisor at Weta told the Los Angeles Times. "Andy had delivered the performance with his eyes, with his whole body, and we had to preserve that performance."
"Rise of the Planet of the Apes," which hit theaters on August 5, is a prequel to the film franchise, which depicts the power struggle of apes whose intelligence was boosted via human experimentation.
The film also stars "Slumdog Millionaire" star Freida Pinto, "Harry Potter" actor Tom Felton and John Lithgow.
The prequel is set in present-day San Francisco, where a man's experiments with genetic engineering lead him to the development of intelligence in apes, who begin a war for supremacy.
"Becoming an ape for me was only the first step in the process, it was more about Caesar's (the part I play) personality," Serkis told OnTheRedCarpet.com. "He's got an amazing journey in the film, he goes from being this infant who's inherited this super-intelligence drug, he's brought up by humans, he then has a moment of self-awareness where he realizes he's a kind of freak and he doesn't know whether he's an ape or a human and then he's literally thrown into a sanctuary with other apes who he doesn't relate to and he's alienated by and then eventually he leads them to revolution, so as a character in itself, that was the big challenge. Learning the ape behavior is only sort of the first rung on the ladder."
London-born Serkis got his start on British TV and in the occasional film role. Peter Jackson originally cast the actor for "Lord of the Rings" as the voice of Gollum, which turned into a five-year job as he eventually created the character's movements and expressions.
When Serkis took on the role of King Kong, he studied gorillas in captivity at the London Zoo and traveled to Rwanda to see them in the wild, training which undoubtedly helped him in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes."
Reporting by Rachel Smith, co-host of KABC Television's entertainment show "On The Red Carpet" (check for local TV listings).
Check out a trailer for "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" and a behind-the-scenes video below.