‘Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies’: Andy Serkis on leaving Middle-earth

Dec. 16, 2014 | 12:09 p.m.
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Martin Freeman as Bilbo and Ken Stott as Balin in "'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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John Bell as Bain and Luke Evans as Bard in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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Dean O'Gorman and Aidan Turner in a scene from "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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Smaug, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, in a scene from "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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Lee Pace as Thranduil and Ian McKellen as Gandalf in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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Orlando Bloom as Legolas in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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The orc Azog, voiced by Manu Bennett, appears in a scene from "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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Cate Blanchett as Galadriel and Ian McKellen as Gandalf in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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Hugo Weaving as Elrond in a scene from "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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Martin Freeman as Bilbo in a scene from "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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Ian McKellen as Gandalf and Billy Connolly as Dain in a scene from "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel and Orlando Bloom as Legolas in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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Luke Evans as Bard, Mary Nesbitt as Tilda, Peggy Nesbitt as Sigrid and John Bell as Bain in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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Peggy Nesbitt as Sigrid and Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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Bolg, performed by John Tui, in a scene from "'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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The Keeper of the Dungeons, performed by Conan Stevens, in a scene from "'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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Richard Armitage and Aidan Turner in a scene from "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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Mary Nesbitt as Tilda, Peggy Nesbitt as Sigrid and John Bell as Bain in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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Luke Evans as Bard in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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Ian McKellen as Gandalf in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Todd Eyre / Warner Bros.)

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Richard Armitage and Aidan Turner in a scene from "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Todd Eyre / Warner Bros.)

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Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel and Orlando Bloom as Legolas in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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Luke Evans as Bard in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel and Orlando Bloom as Legolas in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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The orc Azog, voiced by Manu Bennett, appears in a scene from "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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Ken Stott as Balin, left, and Martin Freeman as Bilbo in "'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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Lee Pace as Thranduil in the fantasy adventure movie "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny/Warner Bros.)

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Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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Ian McKellen as Gandalf, left, and Luke Evans as Bard in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny/ Warner Bros.)

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Cate Blanchett as Galadriel and Ian McKellen as Gandalf in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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John Callen as Oin, Dean O'Gorman as Fili, Aidan Turner as Kili, William Kircher as Bifur, James Nesbitt as Bofur, Adam Brown as Ori, Jed Brophy as Nori, Graham McTavish as Dwalin, Ken Stott as Balin and Stephen Hunter as Bombur in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Todd Eyre / Warner Bros.)

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Martin Freeman as Bilbo in "'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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Richard Armitage as Thorin and Martin Freeman as Bilbo in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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The Keeper of the Dungeons, performed by Conan Stevens, in a scene from "'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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Luke Evans as Bard, left, and Orlando Bloom as Legolas in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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Graham McTavish as Dwalin, Jed Brophy as Nori, Ken Stott as Balin, John Callen as Oin, Dean O'Gorman as Fili, William Kircher as Bifur, Aidan Turner as Kili, Adam Brown as Ori, Peter Hambleton as Gloin, Mark Hadlow as Dori, Martin Freeman as Bilbo and Stephen Hunter as Bombur in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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Director Peter Jackson, center, and Martin Freeman on the set of the fantasy adventure movie "The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny/Warner Bros.)

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Peter Jackson, left, and Ian McKellen on the set of "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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Peter Jackson, left, Luke Evans and Ian McKellen on the set of "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny/ Warner Bros.)

Few actors have been a part of as many celebrated genre stories as Andy Serkis. Following the success of the sequel “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” the English actor is slated to appear in next year’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and Marvel’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

But if there were a pivotal moment in Serkis’ career, it was his portrayal of the tragic creature Gollum in Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy more than a decade ago — a role that paved the way for the next chapter in his career and pioneered the performance-capture acting and technology that served as a launchpad for his London studio, the Imaginarium.

Actor Andy Serkis is photographed in San Francisco on June 26, 2014. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Actor Andy Serkis now has his own performance-capture studio, the Imaginarium.(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Now, Serkis’ work on “The Hobbit” marks another turning point in his career — the transition from the screen to the director’s chair. In addition to reprising Gollum in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” Serkis was the trilogy’s second unit director, serving as Jackson’s second set of eyes, ears and hands on all three films, including last year’s “The Desolation of Smaug” and the Middle-earth saga’s capstone, “The Battle of the Five Armies,” in theaters Wednesday.

Hero Complex chatted with Serkis about directing, working with Peter Jackson, the end of his time in Middle-earth and what’s next.

Hero Complex: You and Jackson have been working together for a long time. Has your collaborative process changed throughout your time together in Middle-earth?

Andy Serkis: The thing is, I suppose so many things have changed in terms of for one, being that I started working with Peter as an actor and of course for “The Hobbit,” I then continued to work with him as his second unit director. So we’ve traveled a long road and had lots of other projects in between, obviously, with “King Kong” and “Tintin” and then of course my association with Weta in films like “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and so on. So I feel very connected to him. He’s a wonderful, groundbreaking filmmaker, but also he’s a great friend, and he’s been a brilliant mentor. He’s taught me so much.

Peter Jackson, left, and Andy Serkis attend a ceremony honoring Jackson with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Dec. 8, 2014 in Hollywood. (Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images)

Peter Jackson, left, and Andy Serkis attend a ceremony honoring Jackson with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Dec. 8 in Hollywood. (Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images)

HC: What has your experience as second unit director been like?

AS: It’s so funny. I was going to go down to New Zealand to reprise the role of Gollum when literally a matter of weeks beforehand, Peter emailed me and said, “Andy, I’d really love you to come down and direct second unit.” So the job went from what was going to be a very short trip down to New Zealand to a year and half’s work, which was kind of amazing. He’d known I’d wanted to direct for a long time, and basically he wanted me to be there with the actors because there was going to be a lot of to-ing and fro-ing for the principle cast between main unit and second unit. So he wanted somebody who could understand performance and help the actors, really. But I just learned a huge amount, you know, shooting at 48 frames per second and 3-D and all of those things, and I never thought I’d be learning so quickly in my directing career.

HC: How has directing affected your acting and vice versa?

AS: I think acting really helps as a director. It’s just no question, because you totally understand the acting process. The great directors that you work with, and Peter is one of them, elicit performance from actors. So rather than overly stating stuff, it’s allowing them to find where they would place themselves in a scene, or you know, allowing them to arrive at a performance. Because I know that feeling as an actor. I think that’s something that you’re able to do. It’s always better if the actor generates it emotionally rather than being blocked through something.

Andy Serkis arrives at the Hollywood premiere of "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" on Dec. 9, 2104. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images)

Andy Serkis says acting has really helped in his transition to director. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images)

HC: Is there a particular scene or moment you directed that you’re most proud of?

AS: So a lot of the opening sequence I was involved with in the destruction of Lake-town. That was amazing seeing all of that come together once Weta had done their wizardry on those scenes. That was quite thrilling. It’s very brutal, it’s very dark, it’s very terrifying and the recognition is there as well, with all these families trying to escape. It was really, really exciting to shoot.

All three films were shot over the period of 2011 to 2012, so I shot with the second unit for 200 days during that period. Peter then regrouped the following year, and the battle itself, the battle of the five armies, the final battle, he shot everything. We shot some plates for it, the aerial plates, but that was all his work.

HC: How does it feel to come to the conclusion of this saga?

AS: It’s a strange one, really. I mean, these characters have been so much a part of our lives for such a long period of time. There’s a sense of very, very pleased to be moving on and doing other things —  and it’s not like we haven’t been doing other things, because Peter, obviously, and I have been doing lots of other things since. But with “The Hobbit” coming up, it was always like, OK, we’re waiting for it. You know, the period in between “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit,” there was the anticipation of doing that. And then with each of the years going by, with “The Hobbit” at all the premieres and the press junkets, we were always going to see each other again. And I suppose this is now the last time we’re all gathered together as the extended family that we have been for such a long time. That’s quite strange. “The Hobbit” premiere in Los Angeles is probably the last time that we see each other as a group until maybe a 10-year reunion. That’s quite weird.

Actors Billy Boyd, Orlando Bloom, Andy Serkis, Elijah Wood, Evangeline Lilly and Lee Pace attend the Hollywood premiere of "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" on Dec. 9, 2014. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

Actors Billy Boyd, Orlando Bloom, Andy Serkis, Elijah Wood, Evangeline Lilly and Lee Pace attend the Hollywood premiere of “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” on Dec. 9. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

HC: Is there a particular memory you’ll take from “The Hobbit” that encapsulates your experience working on those films?

AS: Living in New Zealand. You know, I’m from London, and the huge amount of great friendships that were made over the course of the last 14 years. Families that have grown up, including my own, spending time at school down there. Living our lives down in New Zealand. And the country itself, it’s such a beautiful, amazing place. There are parts of New Zealand that I absolutely fell in love with that I will miss going back to, but I kind of think that is the part that can continue and will continue on. I don’t imagine I’ll stop going back to New Zealand, because I feel part of the fabric there, really.

HC: You’ve done “Planet of the Apes,” a Marvel film, “The Lord of the Rings,” “Star Wars” — what’s it like to have been part of some of the most celebrated stories on film?

AS: It’s incredible. I really couldn’t have ever anticipated that my life would have ended up in this sort of arena, really. And a lot of it obviously stems back to Peter Jackson offering me Gollum. The whole performance-capture evolution has been such a big part of my career to the point where I have my own performance-capture studio in London, the Imaginarium. I am very passionate about the art form, and about using it in lots of different ways in the future in terms of next-generation storytelling for film but also for television and live theatrical events and so on. But yeah, it’s wonderful that the technology is part of the industry standard, and when we started with Gollum, it really was one of the first characters to transition from visual effect to character. So to be part of all the franchises and great mythic stories is a real thrill. A wonderful, exciting ride, and it just is a ride I never thought I’d have.

Frodo (Elijah Wood), "Gollum" (Andy Serkis) and Sam (Sean Astin) plot to enter Mount Doom in "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King." (Pierre Vinet / New Line Productions)

Frodo (Elijah Wood), “Gollum” (Andy Serkis) and Sam (Sean Astin) plot to enter Mount Doom in “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” (Pierre Vinet / New Line Productions)

HC: Can you tell us about “The Jungle Book”?

AS: We have the most amazing cast, which I’m sure you know, including Benedict Cumberbatch and Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale. We’ve shot with some of our cast with performance-capture, and it’s really exciting. We have some amazing performances. It’s a great story. It’s a wonderful script. It’s very dark. It’s very close to Rudyard Kipling’s original tales, and I’m super excited about it.

– Noelene Clark | @NoeleneClark | Google+

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