Gollum, King Kong, Caesar the Ape – Andy Serkis is known for playing some of cinema’s most fantastical larger-than-life characters, but he also likes doing things on a far less epic scale, he tells TARA BRADY
ANDY SERKIS and I have matching pieces of paper. The World’s Pre-eminent Performance Capture Artist will feature in two films this coming fortnight: Ian FitzGibbon’s Irish weepie, Death of a Superhero and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
Guess which one we’re not allowed to talk about? In case we forget, we have it writing: ‘Please Do Not Discuss The Hobbit.‘ Not talking about The Film Which Must Not Be Named isn’t as easy as you might suppose. As Serkis points out: “I can’t tell you enough and I can’t stress enough the impact that Pete Jackson has had on my life.”
Jackson, in turn, has adopted Serkis as the unofficial Mickey Mouse figurehead of the filmmaker’s special effects powerhouse, Weta Workshop. The actor and Lord of the Rings director have been frequent collaborators – King Kong, The Adventures of Tintin – since Serkis first signed on to play Gollum in 2001’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. In the upcoming, unnameable, unmentionable trilogy, the actor has reprised the role that made him a household name and also headed up the Second Unit.
“You’re responsible for somebody else’s vision and a big crew,” says Serkis. “It’s as challenging and satisfying as it gets. You know. Without going into too much detail.”
From the get-go, Serkis has been a multi-tasker. As a visual-arts student at Lancaster University, he got involved with theatre so he could design posters, but soon found he was just as happy swapping over to do lighting and directing on college productions.
His course options were, he notes, already a cause for concern for his gynecologist dad and schoolteacher mum when he rang home from what he calls his “what are the hell are you going to do with your life activity course” to tell the folks he wanted to give acting a shot.
“Oh, the silence at the other end of the phone. It was monumental. I understand why. Nowadays celebrity is democratised. It’s not unrealistic to want to act or sing. But at that point – 25-odd years ago – it sounded like a precarious occupation. I think we now know it’s no more precarious than anything else.”
He was still at university when he gained his equity card through Dukes Playhouse where Serkis studied the Theatre of the Oppressed under director Jonathan Petherbridge.
“My entire attitude to acting back then was that I was there to serve humanity,” recalls the 48-year-old. “It was a politicised job. We studied practitioners like Augusto Boal. It was all about affecting change politically. British drama and film was rooted in social message. Acting was about small settings and huge real-world problems.”
He laughs. “And now I’m in these big, huge worlds like Rise of the Planet of the Apes and The Hobbit.”
Last year, in an effort to expand the already sizeable Serki-verse, the actor and producer Jonathan Cavendish founded The Imaginarium Studios. The creative multimedia lab has already provided performance capture for Rise of the Planet of the Apes and is developing a new version of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.