Posted on Friday, December 9th, 2016 by Peter Sciretta
While on the set of War for the Planet of the Apes, we chatted with Andy Serkis and Terry Notary, who play the performance capture Ape lead characters Caesar and Rocket. We learn about the set-up of this third Apes film, how the Apes have evolved through the series leading to this new confrontation, the struggle to get the Academy to recognize motion capture performances, the introduction of Steve Zahn as a Chimpanzee, the difference in the approach of acting for live-action vs. performance capture, and much more. Hit the jump to read our Terry Notary and Andy Serkis War For The Planet of the Apes interview.
Where is Caesar when we first meet him in this film?
Serkis: Caesar at this point of his journey, if you remember where we left off at the last story, the apes had become divided under the leadership of Koba and he was carrying an enormous amount of guilt going against one of the primary tenets of their belief, which is that you shall not kill apes. He’s killed the person who was his core [collaborator]. So two years have passed and the ALZ drug has continued to enable Caesar to develop. He’s there now living in a situation where both apes and humans are at war and there’s a sense that this is the crux, this is the climactic moment where both species are under huge threat and it’s pretty apocalyptic. So they’ve weathered… both sides are worn out.
Caesar’s side had to leave the encampment in the woods and lead them up higher in the hills and set up a temporary base. You’ll remember Caesar as a character — one of his main characteristics, having been brought up with human beings, was to be empathetic to both sides but an event happens at the beginning of this movie that sets him off on a track that almost eats him up and he does set off on a revenge mission after this event happens without giving too much away. Through this story he goes through this incredible journey very much going to the dark heart of himself, probably the darkest he’s ever encountered. This voyage of self destruction to the point where… And then again the set that we’re on here is where he claws his way back from this very dark place through reconnecting with his tribe who have been holed up and taken prisoner here. So by the end he’s able to redeem himself and to lead the exodus of the apes to freedom once more. So it’s a fantastic journey.
An amazing arc that Matt [Reeves] and Mark Bomback have written. What they’ve managed to do each time with Dawn and then with this one is to amplify the stakes emotionally and scale-wise. It’s very epic. It’s on a massive scale not just because of its title… but because the stakes are just so much higher. And the global understanding… the apes find out there are other apes outside of the smaller group in Muir Woods who are evolving and changing and discovering how much the virus is effecting humanity and bringing them to… The virus is having a rebirth and is actually becoming much more aggressive and attacking the humans in another way too.
Where is Caesar physically and emotionally?
Serkis: He’s a wartime leader. He’s bearing that weight at the beginning of the movie. Physically — he’s much more upright, much more human like. He’s continued to evolve linguistically. He’s much more fluid. Caesar’s… he becomes almost human like. If you remember in the last movie, the apes were discovering language. They were finding a prototype language and it was a combination of sign and ape vocalizations and the odd human word. For Caesar now, the human word becomes his primary form of expression.
So that was a very big challenge for me personally in this movie in terms of charting the next version of Caesar – Caesar Part Three. It’s interesting because we were looking at some pictures the other day, some photos of Rise and how much younger we all looked and how our bodies were far from trim and now we’re all bent and twisted and out of shape. I think of this movie like ‘Boyhood in the Jungle’. We’ve now come together all these times with all these changes for the character. There are moments that resonate back to the origin. Great moments that we’ve been able to play.
Terry: Yeah — that journey has been real for us as well – so we’re carrying the journey of all three movies with us and it’s influencing the characters.
Are we going to question the apes’ actions in the film?
Serkis: We do know that further down the line we get to a point where the planet is dominated by apes. That doesn’t happen in this movie and there’s still room for that to develop. Again what Matt has done with the movie and what he and Mark have concocted and written is a very balanced world-view. It isn’t judgmental either way. These two species are fighting for survival and it isn’t necessarily picking a side despite the fact that it sees the world more emotionally from the ape’s point of view. It still doesn’t become black and white. The humans are not out and out villains. We all have lives and they are all equally valid.
Terry: Like in Dawn, I think they did that well, giving the audience a chance to decide whom they liked and whom they didn’t like and giving validity to both sides. The same is happening on this one.
Serkis: I mean the stakes are higher this is a much darker, much more brutal, harder, tougher, very very brutal film. As brutal as you can get within a PG-13. Not in an overly graphic way but in its emotions and context. There’s a real sense of foreboding in this movie.
Terry: It’s heavy.
As the apes have grown and evolved, have you had to adjust your choreography and movements?
Terry: Yep — we are. Every film seems to have a little bit more of that. That human consciousness and awareness of the self and the battle between the instinct driven ape and the conscious awareness, the tether that holds the primal instinct at bay. It’s that balance where before it was eighty-twenty primal consciousness, now it’s starting to balance itself out. That influences the movement as well. They’re much more up right. Just the way they articulate. It’s going from the first film – we’re really in it being eighty percent ape to now where it’s pushing the consciousness forward. That influences everything.
Drawing a Clint Eastwood comparison, we saw some concept art of Caesar on his horse — what is Caesar’s relationship to the horse and is he aware of the irony in subjugating an animal to his will?
Serkis: It’s an interesting question.
Terry: We brought that up.
Serkis: There is a sense that as animals they are working together. Caesar as a character would never… you get humans who treat horses with respect and humans who treat them as work animals and treat them badly. Caesar is much more [humane] with his horse.
Terry: We were trying to find a nice spot in the film where we could have a moment where the apes were connecting in a way that was different than the way a human would connect with a horse. It was almost this animal to animal synergy and this wordless way to communicate. This connection that they had. The ways they go under them and come up and have a little moment. We were trying to have a piece there for that – so people go oh okay this is a different relationship than commanding an animal to take you from A to B.
Serkis: It’s interesting as well because we’re working with the most amazing wrangler. [Danny Virtue?] is a real horse-whisperer. He’s an extraordinary human being who has taught us so much about respect and working with these horses. It’s a real art what he’s doing. Such subtle things, such subtle movements and subtle changes and just a way of being – the way his horses have grown up with him. They’re really connected.
Terry: They’re not afraid. They’re not fear driven. They’re reward driven so that helps with the relationships we have with the horse. It feels like a team rather than something that’s doing something because they’re going to get whipped or kicked.