Posted on Friday, December 9th, 2016 by Peter Sciretta
While on the set of War for the Planet of the Apes, we had an extensive sit-down interview with Planet of the Apes series producer Dylan Clark. Clark is the mastermind behind the last three Ape films and has a lot of information and insight to share about the franchise and the upcoming film. Hit the jump to read our Dylan Clark War for the Planet of the Apes interview.
How many years after Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the film set?
Clark: We’re calling it two years. It’ll probably be documented in the movie as two years… And that’s because one of Matt [Reeves]’s great strengths was to come in after Rupert [Wyatt] and say here’s what you did really well on Rise and here’s why I love Apes: “You really immersed me in the ape’s world and I really want to experience everything that’s going on with apes and humans and the world that you’ve created with these characters.”
What we never wanted to do was jump too far down the road so that we weren’t watching really detailed chapters into where the apes were in their intelligence. The fun is watching the next year of evolution. What’s happening now? We know somewhere down the road the original Ape franchise got us to walking and talking apes. They were sitting around a tape like this, with recorders, and were drinking out of their cups and there was a lot of gesticulation and you’re like, “Jesus — this is crazy.” We’re not quite doing that. We’re actually trying not to do that.
We really want to create an ape society and culture and mythology and characters where we’re seeing them be apes. And what does it mean to grapple with intelligence? How do you start to become the leading species on the planet? That’s the fun – so two years felt like a good chunk to go ahead. Another thing — and we never really talk about this Matt, Peter [Chernin] and I but the truth is a lot of audience members are looking at films like episodic television. So you have all these great cable TV shows. Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead — and you get to really document minute-by-minute segments of these people’s lives and they love it and it’s shot like movies now. It’s just great stuff. Film has started to take note.
There’s a lot of cynicism about “oh god another redo of this or another chapter of this” but the truth is once you have great characters, the audience wants more. We really do believe Caesar is a great character. We love him. We love Andy Serkis. We love the ape family that’s been created. We love Maurice. We even love dopey Rocket. Rocket’s going to do some great things in this movie. We have some other apes as well we’re developing. Another thing that was important to us — on Dawn, Matt has this great opening shot pulling out on Caesar’s eyes and we said to the audience this is going to be a different looking movie and there’s rain and it’s in 3D and it’s pretty cool. And then the end of them movie, we push in on Caesar, a different Caesar — much more pensive. He has been told by his human best friend Jason Clarke that they’ve made contact up north and that a significant military threat is coming. Not just colonists with pitchforks and bb-guns. That’s going to be a major complication. And hopefully, you see that drama and conflict in Caesar’s eyes.
Another thing is that Caesar has broken one of his main tenets. He’s killed an ape. He killed Koba. And despite Koba going completely off the rails and fucking it up for the entire ape and human communities. Co-existence was almost achieved until you had crazy Koba on one side and crazy Gary [Oldman] on the other. Caesar had to do something but that act was not lost on him and not forgotten. So when we push in on him that was a key moment. So when we start this movie two years later, there’s a serious thing going on. They’re fighting armed forces — guys in military fatigue and assault rifles and weaponry. This isn’t a ragtag group of militia and Caesar’s had to have this horrible war against the humans — a war he didn’t start. Koba started this thing. He just feels responsible for it. What happens in this because of ape losses and human losses and just chaos and pain, Caesar is at some point not fit to lead the apes and goes on a dark journey to end this war. We’re always striving not just for great entertainment but quality entertainment. We’re trying to give the audience something that resonates from the character. There are themes. This is also a war inside of Caesar. All the things that have happened under his leadership from Rise to Dawn to this movie. Over the course of this movie, he’s wrestling and grappling with how to make that right.
Since it is called War — at the beginning of the film are we already at war?
Clark: You are right at war at the beginning.
So it’s not the beginning of war…
Clark: I don’t want to give it away because I honestly feel… I believe we have the best opening of all of the movies. What I really like about it is — I think the audience has been waiting for this kind of fight to happen but I also think they don’t want to just see human army vs. ape army. You can’t have an entire movie of that. What I love about it — is that the journey really is the war inside of Caesar. We’re in the apes’ point of view. We’re experiencing this movie through Caesar. Last movie — Koba took a lot of the stuff. Koba was fantastic. The narrative weight is now on Caesar’s back for this one.
Originally Rise was called Caesar — and I asked you then is Caesar the main star of this movie and you stopped it off and said no it’s about James Franco…
Clark: Well I was tricking you. I think I was lying to you. Because the best thing that ever happened to me was when I read that script and I thought ok — this is about James Franco — neurosurgeon. Crazy! And I love James Franco but… crazy. And the audience is watching that movie of Franco trying to cure Alzheimer’s and then he adopts this little baby chimp and he’s testing it on the chimp. He loves the chimp and then something happens at the end of the first act. The plot is Caesar goes away but the thing that happens is that the movie becomes Andy’s movie at that point and I had never seen that in a script. I had never seen a movie like that with a radical departure like that and it works. So I was manipulating you.
It still seems like humans were a part of the last movie. For this one, it doesn’t feel like they’re have been many human actors that have been announced….
Clark: Woody Harrelson, Gabriel Chavarria, Amiah Miller…
Are the apes now finally the stars of this movie?
Clark: I would say they’ve been all along. I didn’t answer the question completely. I didn’t lie to you [in reference to James Franco as the star of Rise] but I think I was holding back because I really felt like when people saw Rise… A lot of people came up to me press and friends and said that’s a great narrative device. And James Franco is a big deal — a great actor. John Lithgow is no slouch. And you think you’re following the humans and then you go over here and you’re like whoop this is the craziest movie ever and it’s Andy Serkis doing all this stuff and you’re watching him have to deal with regular apes at that point. It’s cool… emotionally cool. What I love about these movies is that when I come in and sit down with smart guys like yourselves… I love that everyone is bringing their own interpretation of what it means that we’re saying to the world because I think there’s a lot of shit going on in the world and the apes are a good mirror into what humans are doing today. There are more apes in this movie than there are humans but I will say for balance — we wanted the human characters to provide as much obstacle and conflict and resistance to what Caesar is trying to do. And so we really looked at the movie almost in Western terms or great epic terms. Who could be paired against Andy Serkis on the human side that would give him a run for his money? And we liked Woody Harrelson.
How much are you looking to replicate the original films?
Clark: In the first film, we did some easter eggs. We shot the Icarus up. It wasn’t my taste but we even used some dialogue from the original. There were some fights about that one. Look there are certain characters and things you will see in this movie too. Again — we pay some homage. Some of it’s just cool for the mythology. But we’re never sitting in our story meetings, going how do we link up to what they did in Beneath or God they did that in Conquest — can we do a version of it better? never!
We love most of those movies — some of them are not so good. We revere them. they were a great five-run but they’re over here… And I think that’s what the audience wants. A contemporary audience doesn’t want to relive the old mythologies. Those movies were made at a certain time for a particular audience about different things. These are different characters and we have the ability to realize them in authentic ways. We want to create our own films and further the mythology.
How has the ape language evolved?
Clark: We bring you in two years later… What would they have learned in two years? Would Rocket learn how to speak? He’s not the smartest guy in the world. He leads with his fist. He’s been kind of a thick dude but he’s emotional. So we’re more interested in how he expresses his emotions through actions.
That’s the other thing — it’s a great silent movie. And Terry [Notary] is so brilliant at physical movements. He’s a vaudevillian actor. He’s off the charts great so he can communicate more with a gesture and a huff than a piece of dialogue so we’re constantly thinking about it.
Look some of the younger apes probably speak more because if you look at any generation — immigrants come over and their kids pick up the language in no time. My parents can’t even email anymore. The only thing we did think about — Steve Zahn is in this movie. Steve Zahn is amazing. Steve Zahn plays an ape — a cool ape.
Like a chimpanzee?
Clark: Yeah. He speaks in a great way.
Does he wear sunglasses?
Clark: No — we don’t really want to see apes driving cars or putting on robes and gesticulating with their index fingers. We’ve seen that — what we haven’t seen is again apes trying to figure out how to do all this stuff. And meeting new apes that all of the sudden where did this guy come from? how is he able to talk? are other apes in the world smart? so we are constantly looking ahead for what else we might want to do in this world. How else can we show the evolution of these characters? Who else can we bring in both on the human side and the ape side?