WHILE most people want to stay forever young, Andy Serkis is relieved his latest character has grown up. But then, it is an ape.
He first brought Caesar to life through motion capture in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes and reprises the role for sequel Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes.
“Playing young Caesar, scampering around on all fours, was the biggest thigh-burning experience of all time,” laughs the 50-year-old Brit, who first won plaudits for his motion capture performance as Gollum in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy.
“I’m very happy to now be playing the more mature and wise Caesar that can walk around.” !
The film picks up a decade after the first one ended with the apes breaking free from their human captors, as a deadly human-created virus spreads globally.While the genetically-evolved simians have continued to build a community, the lights of civilisation have dimmed and, for all intents and purposes, humanity has perished, bar a small group of humans struggling to come back from devastation.
“The story we’re telling will lead to Planet Of The Apes, and not Planet Of The Humans And Apes, so it’s about how this film fits into that narrative,” says director Matt Reeves, who helmed 2008’s monster thriller Cloverfield. But ultimately, the movie isn’t intended as a fantasy, he adds.
“What’s important is to find the reality, and take the one fantastical element and make that the only one. In this movie, that element is that they are intelligent apes. Everything else is completely realistic.”
The original Planet Of The Apes franchise began in 1968, with a memorable performance from Charlton Heston, and ran for five films until 1973. At one time, the concept of successfully rebooting the series seemed impossible — the 2001 attempt by Tim Burton is best forgotten — but 2011’s Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes became a global hit.
Serkis’s performance, along with the ground-breaking special effects, was central to that success. The actor, who co-runs the performance capture studio the Imaginarium and has taught the likes of The Hulk’s Mark Ruffalo the art of motion capture, has always approached Caesar as someone with a human mind trapped inside an ape’s body. “He’s learned human belief systems and he even thought of the character Will in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes as his father,” explains Serkis.
That means he’s now deeply conflicted. On the one part, he’s the leader of the apes and therefore responsible for the survival of a community but, on the other, “he has empathy for humans, and still, deep down, he feels a need to be able to communicate with them”.
While the apes only said a few words in Rise, they’re now at the dawn of their society and, ironically, the same experiments that drove Caesar and his community to escape are helping them become ever more intelligent.
“This time, there is an evolution in linguistic terms, but we had to strip down the dialogue in the script as if they were still finding language,” says Serkis. “The actors playing chimpanzees and orangutans and gorillas were doing ape vocalisation to start with, and then introducing the sign language Caesar was taught, which has become a unifying way of speaking with the other apes.”
Mimicking an ape is tricky, according to the Oscar-nominated Gary Oldman. “When you see Terry Notary, who plays Rocket and served as the ape movement coach do it, it looks effortless, but I guess it’s like anything, when you can do something well, people think anybody can do it.”
Fortunately for London-born Oldman, he doesn’t play a primate, but the leader of the human colony Dreyfus. Prior to the breakdown of society, he was a law enforcement professional and has now taken on an authoritative role intent on not only saving, but rebuilding what’s left of mankind. The 56-year-old describes the colony as “a melting pot of survivors”.
“The virus has just wiped out millions and millions of people. We’re just the lucky few that were genetically predisposed to be immune. As a community, we’ve come together and we’re trying to survive and restore our world.”
But Dreyfus isn’t Caesar’s principal human contact, it’s Malcolm, a former architect who lost his wife to the virus and is now raising their teenage son alone. “There’s a lot of mistrust and throwing of blame on both sides,” says Australian Zero Dark Thirty actor, Jason Clarke, who plays Malcolm. “From the point of view of the humans, there’s a lot of anger about how mankind has suffered because of the virus. The humans wrongly blame the apes for causing the virus, though humans actually created the virus in a lab a decade earlier.”
Helping him is Ellie, a nurse who worked with the Centre For Disease Control in its failed efforts to contain the viral outbreak.
“Ellie is strong and tenacious, because she has to be to survive in this world,” says The Americans star, Keri Russell, 38, who plays her.
“It’s a tough place that’s always on that verge of panic, as everyone starts to realise that this little society they’ve built is coming close to bursting at the seams.”
She, along with her fellow cast members, re-watched the 1968 classic before shooting began.
“You go back to these things because they’re so good,” says Clarke.
“And there are things that you pick up again and again, and you know they’re part of the lexicon of what you do and know,” says the 44-year-old actress.
Oldman, who was only 10 when the original film came out, remembers watching the movie at the cinema. “You have to pinch yourself sometimes because you are part of this legacy of cinematic history.”