Andy Serkis interview

A couple of weeks ago, I trekked over to Beverly Hills to attend the press junket for Marvel Studios’ Black Panther and had the chance to sit down with actor Andy Serkis, who reprises his role as the villainous Ulysses Klaue in Ryan Coogler’s new movie. Klaue is funnier (and deadlier) this time around than he was in his brief appearance in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and I spoke with Serkis about the character’s motivations, being involved in some of the movie’s biggest action scenes, a fascinating tease about the future of his Star Wars character, and his interest in returning to Fox’s Planet of the Apes franchise.

Read our full Andy Serkis interview below.

(Ever-so-light spoilers ahead, so if you’d rather go into the movie completely fresh, save this article and come back to it.)

First thing’s first: aside from “What is Love”, what else do you think is on Ulysses Klaue’s mixtape?

Andy Serkis: (laughs) I think he’s probably got a little bit of Janelle Monae, he’s probably got some Burt Bacharach, he’s probably got a little bit of Pink Floyd. I think he’s pretty eclectic.

How did that “What is Love?” moment come about? Was it in the script that Klaue would be singing that specific song?

There was a scene which preceded that moment, where he’s chained and left alone. He just starts tapping his feet and setting up a riff, and I was just making all these noises and singing, and going to this kind of hip hop beat. And Ryan came in and said, ‘Why don’t we try…’ So we tried a few different songs and then ‘What is Love’ came out of that.

How much does Marvel tell you about your character’s backstory? Do you know, for example, if Klaue ever sold Vibranium to Howard Stark?

I knew about Klaue from the comics. Klaue from the comics is slightly different to that of the movies, so I didn’t want to get hung up on either version, in a way. It’s a bit of an amalgamation, I suppose. I’ve picked and chosen the things that I wanted to use for me as stimuli for the character.

I loved the single shot fight scene in the casino. Walk me through how you filmed that and what that experience was like for you.

It was an amazing week. I think it was about a week, or five days of filming, actually. It was choreographed in chunks, in sections. It was thrilling to be a part of. It really was. All the extras there. All the key players there, and the timing was absolutely crucial. Every single set-up obviously took time, and if you cut and it hadn’t gone, it was a big set-up. So we rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed, and then it was just having the confidence of having everyone be in the moment and have freedom with it. I really enjoyed those few days.

The rehearsal part, was that built into those five days? Or did it actually take five days of filming to capture it?

It was rehearsal and then shoot.

What was the most challenging part of that for you?

To be honest, for me, I didn’t have the greatest technical challenges. Some of them were – like Danai had obviously that stunt sequence, which is amazing. There’s the shot where I blow up – using the sonic disruptor – I send the Black Panther flying backwards, and the stunt guy who did that, I mean, they did that for real. I don’t know if you really see that in the shot. But it was an amazing stunt to be a part of, because this guy had the wires around him and he literally went from twenty feet up in the air, right across the room. So that was pretty incredible.

Was there anything else about that scene that stood out to you?

Getting the timing right when Danai’s character kicks that guy off and he lands on the pool table, so getting that timing into starting firing. Getting the bullet shots. For the technical guys, getting the bullet shots to time so that it hits the case. Lots of squibs and practical effects, as well as CG effects. And then the other section for me was up at the top with T’Challa and running away. Oh, that was the first time of using his arm. So it was like [figuring out] in terms of the shot and how that was going to work, and working out the choreography so it was rightly placed in the frame. And what happens to the arm when it fires, where do you feel the recoil, and all of that. The physicality of that. The size of it: how much it expands and extends.

And were you really hanging out of the side of moving SUVs in South Korea? What was shooting that chase sequence like?

No. The chase sequence, the way it was shot was the last part of it was the first part that we shot. The car doing that big tumble, coming to a screeching halt, and me falling out of it. So that was a night shoot, which kind of went on and on. And then T’Challa catching up and beating up Ulysses Klaue, which we did so, so many times. That was brutal. That was brutal. The rest of it was on a gimbal. The car was on a gimbal so it could be moved in all different directions for the jumps and the flips and all of that sort of stuff. We were strapped into the car and I had to lean out, but that was against – that was a blue screen shoot.

Klaue is a villain and does horrendous things, but we know he at least has some kind of moral code. We know he detests hypocrisy, for example. Did you have any conversations with Ryan and Joe about Klaue’s motivations in this movie?

We talked about him on the moral spectrum as being someone who is…this film is about isolationism, or it’s about sharing and inclusion, and he represents the world’s greatest taker. He is a consumer and a taker and a thief and steals stuff. He trades. He cares about no one. He has no empathy for anyone else. He’s like a sort of moral vacuum cleaner in a way, and that’s something we discussed. That he’s on the spectrum of characters in this movie, that’s what he represents.

I’d like to ask a quick Star Wars question if you don’t mind. Supreme Leader Snoke was seemingly set up as this ultimate galactic villain in The Force Awakens, so what was your reaction when you first read the script for The Last Jedi and discovered that your character would die in that way?

Look, it’s Star Wars, so you never know how life, or whether life can be come back to or not. Whether you can be resuscitated or brought back. I was shocked. Dramatically, it felt absolutely right for that moment in the film, so I didn’t question it. I just think it’s a very, very important scene, so I didn’t question it. But I do, I know it’s left fans feeling like, that they were really searching for something there. And what I’m saying is, who knows?

Have you spoken to J.J. about returning?

I’ve not spoken to him, no.

I want to congratulate you on War for the Planet of the Apes and the phenomenal work you did across that entire trilogy. I imagine you’re probably done playing Caesar, but are you interested or have you had any conversations with the people at Fox about the idea of coming back to that franchise in some capacity? Maybe playing another character or directing a movie set in that world?

Certainly both of those, in my mind, would be great possibilities. That’s the great thing about performance capture: you can come back and play anything else. And I love the world, I love the metaphor of talking about the human condition through the eyes of apes. I just think it’s really powerful. And there are still so many stories that can be told, and there are still a lot of chapters in the ape mythology that will get you from where we left off back to the 1968 version, the ascension of the apes. So I mean, yeah, if they were to happen, I’d definitely be interested.


Black Panther hits theaters on February 16, 2018.

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