Serkis bases ‘Planet of the Apes’ leader on real humans 

click to enlarge Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  • Andy Serkis, who plays ape leader Caesar in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” has pioneered a form of acting called motion-capture performance.
Andy Serkis has acted Shakespeare and Dickens, worked with directors Mike Leigh and Tom Hooper and received a Golden Globe nomination for his performance in Hooper’s TV movie “Longford.” Yet he calls the ape Caesar “one of the most complex and interesting roles I’ve ever played.”

The English actor reprises the role in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” the sequel to 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” opening Friday.

Serkis, who visited San Francisco for the film’s red carpet premiere, studied ape movements and sounds for the previous movie, but says he took a different approach in the new film.

“I was thinking of the progression of Caesar more into the human realm,” says Serkis. “So his whole physicality, his countenance, his gait, everything is moving towards human. But then the animal flares up occasionally.”

Serkis based his performance on someone very human: Nelson Mandela. “I was really thinking of him more as a leader who is conflicted and has complex challenges,” he says.

Worldwide, Serkis is probably best known as the actor behind Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” movies. In a sense, he pioneered a kind of acting known as motion-capture performance.

Since “The Lord of the Rings,” the process has become more streamlined. Today, Serkis acts in front of the cameras with the other actors playing humans, and then the visual effects team adds the ape features.

There’s no fixing his performance later. “The emotion, the heart and soul of Caesar, is created on set. You either get it in the room or you don’t,” he says.

Looking back at actors such as Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter in the original 1968 “Planet of the Apes,” Serkis is amazed at how much the creative and technological processes have evolved.

“They really had to fight against the latex and rubber, push their faces around, to get some sort of expression into their masks,” he says. “Whereas we can just internalize our thoughts and allow that stillness to play.”

Not solely an actor, Serkis has a company, Imaginarium, which is designed to develop the art and craft of motion capture. He also is moving into directing, with plans to make a combination live-action, performance capture version of “The Jungle Book.”

He hopes his career continues to be filled with many different types of projects. “People are strange aren’t they?” Serkis wonders. “As soon as you start to do something, they get threatened: You should just do that. That’s what you can do.”


Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Starring Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell

Written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Mark Bomback

Directed by Matt Reeves

Rated PG-13

Running time 2 hours, 2 minutes

About The Author

Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jeffrey M. Anderson has written about movies for the San Francisco Examiner since 2000, in addition to many other publications and websites. He holds a master's degree in cinema, and has appeared as an expert on film festival panels, television, and radio. He is a founding member of the San Francisco Film Critics... more
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