‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ video: Serkis on being ‘in the moment’

July 07, 2014 | 1:54 p.m.

With a series of roles that includes Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” series, the title role in “King Kong” and now Caesar the chimpanzee in the two most recent “Planet of the Apes” films,  Andy Serkis has been redefining screen acting. Exploring what is now called performance-capture technology, in which an actor will perform with other actors and then be replaced with digitally created imagery based upon that performance, Serkis has given the process an unexpected legitimacy. Instead of limiting his range, he’s found a way to interface with the technology in an emotionally resonant way.

In the new “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” Serkis reprises his role as Caesar. As the new film opens some 10 years after the end of the previous film, Caesar has led a colony of apes to new levels of sophisticated thinking, communication and civilizations. When the apes encounter a band of humans for the first time in more than two years, both sides are wary of each other and a tentative truce collapses into all-out war.

Serkis appeared for a Q&A after a recent Hero Complex screening of “Dawn” alongside costar Gary Oldman, who plays the leader of the human resistance, and the film’s director, Matt Reeves.

Recently cast in the next “Avengers” picture in a performance-capture role, and in the upcoming “Star Wars” film in an as-yet unknown part that’s widely rumored to be performance-capture, Serkis stressed the technique’s relationship to more conventional acting, noting that he doesn’t worry about the digital work to come while shooting on-set.

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Caesar, the leader of the ape nation, performed by Andy Serkis, in a scene from the movie "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." (David James/20th Century Fox)

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Caesar, portrayed by Andy Serkis (right) (in performance capture suit) and Malcolm (Jason Clarke), a representative of a colony of human survivors, in a scene from the movie "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." (David James/20th Century Fox)

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Jason Clarke in a scene from the movie "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." (David James/20th Century Fox)

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Andy Serkis and director Matt Reeves on the set of the movie "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." (20th Century Fox)

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Jason Clarke and director Matt Reeves on the set of the movie "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." (David James)

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Caesar, portrayed by Andy Serkis (in performance capture suit), in a scene from the movie "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." (David James/20th Century Fox)

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Caesar, portrayed by Andy Serkis (in performance capture suit) in a scene from the movie "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." (David James/20th Century Fox)

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Caesar, performed by Andy Serkis, in a scene from the movie "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." (David James/20th Century Fox)

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Caesar, performed by Andy Serkis, in a scene from the movie "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." (David James/20th Century Fox)

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Caesar, portrayed by Andy Serkis (in performance capture suit), the leader of the ape nation, and Malcolm (Jason Clarke) in a scene from the movie "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." (David James/20th Century Fox)

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Caesar (Andy Serkis) ponders his next move as he faces a threat posed by a colony of humans in a scene from the movie "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." (WETA)

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Malcolm (Jason Clarke) is surrounded by apes as he tries to make peace in a scene from the movie "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." (WETA)

“There’s absolutely nothing to anticipate,” Serkis said. “There is nothing other than the moment and acting the part, playing the part working with the character and the other actors, being in the moment, inhabiting the character and living it. There’s no difference. You do that whether you’re playing a live-action role or a performance-captured role. The acting process is entirely the same. There is no magic.”

When “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” came out, many were awe-struck by the intensity of Serkis’ performance as Caesar. The character, and Serkis’ performance, have only deepened in “Dawn.” Serkis credits his performance partly to Reeves’ focus on the actors during production.

“The good thing about the movie is, with the pressure of the shoot and the scale of the production, that Matt, to his credit, every single day spent every single moment creating performances with actors on that set,” Serkis said. “With a huge film crew waiting to get the shots underway, set up the cameras and everything else, it wasn’t about that. And that is very, very unusual on a film of this size. It was entirely about the drama, entirely about mining every single moment for its dramatic content.”

– Mark Olsen | @IndieFocus | @LATHeroComplex

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