It’s a big summer for Tom Felton, who says goodbye to Hogwarts with the July 15 release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2.” But a few weeks prior to that big event, Felton is getting into some serious monkey business with “Rise of the Apes,” the Fox film that is enjoying renewed interest in Hollywood with the strong advance word on its Weta Digital visual effects and the career heat around leading man James Franco.
Felton, for one, is pulsing with excitement about director Rupert Wyatt’s “Apes” revival, which takes place in contemporary San Francisco and sets the stage for the events that took place in “Planet of the Apes,” the 1968 sci-fi classic that yielded four sequels as well as Tim Burton’s 2001 remake and several television shows.
“It’s one of my favorite scripts of any I’ve read,” Felton said. “It’s a brilliant script. It’s a prequel to the classic, ‘Planet of the Apes,’ so it explains how the apes came to power and it’s a fantastic story, really.”
Felton said he is leaving “Potter” and his sneering role of Draco Malfoy with plenty of good memories, but his supporting role in “Apes” might be the first step in moving his public persona beyond black suits, blond hair and magic wands. He says he’s not concerned about playing another vindictive fellow in the “Apes” film. “I love playing a villainous role, and I would happily be known for that. A lot of great English actors have been known for that, perhaps Ralph Fiennes and Alan Rickman and Anthony Hopkins being some of the finest.”
And what can Felton say about this new “Apes” film? He expressed excitement about the plan for Weta to create the apes through digital wizardry — as opposed to the makeup-and-costume approach that was at the core of monkey portrayals in the previous “Apes” installments — but he chose his words carefully in matters of plot and his own character, a research facility employee named Dodge.
“I have to be careful here because they haven’t given me a clearance to divulge the entire plot — as much as I’d like to. I can tell you it’s a great story. I’m amazed, really, that they didn’t do [the original films] in this order and start with this modern-day story. It seems logical to start with this story and then go forward from there. But here we are; they’ve come back and done this interesting story. It essentially follows one particular ape. The story follows this one ape as he ends up in a primate facility, a facility where my character works. Needless to say, I’m not that keen on the monkeys at my facility. I’m not the most pleasant person they’ve ever come across in their life. I show this one particular ape that there is a dark side to humans, and I’m not very nice. And that leads to a backlash …”
That ape is Caesar, and Franco plays the empathetic scientist who takes the ape home to spare him from the cruelties of Felton’s character. Caesar is one of the test subjects in a research program aimed at finding treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, but the work has an unexpected effect on him. Caesar is played by Andy Serkis, the actor who so memorably collaborated with the Weta team to create the Gollum character in “The Lord of the Rings” films. The “Rise of the Apes” cast also includes John Lithgow, Freida Pinto, Brian Cox and David Hewlett. The film hits theaters on June 24.
— Geoff Boucher
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