Wednesday, July 2, 2014


   His isn't a face that's well known but the characters he plays most certainly are. And, according to Andy Serkis, a lot more people recognise him than you would think. 
   It happens a lot, he says, and frequently during rush hour on a packed Tube train.
   “People will come up to me and try and be secretive and say, ‘Can you do the Gollum voice for me?’ And I’m like, ‘Are you kidding?’ It’s 8.30 in the morning on the Victoria Line,’”
he laughs as he tells me the story.
   He does, however, do voicemail messages for friends in the croaking gurgle he adopted for the voice of Gollum, the piteous and treacherous creature he portrayed in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.
   His use of performance capture technology---a technique in which an actor wears a skin-tight suit with markers which allow his movements and expressions to be electronically tracked and translated into computer generated imagery (CGI) to bring a film character to life---has helped him rise from being a dependable though obscure British actor to one with a specific talent that has earned him industry-wide recognition and a dedicated fan following.
   He used performance capture techniques for the title role in King Kong and has continued in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the soon-to-be-released Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, in which he stars as Caesar, the dignified and almost-human leader of the band of apes.  
  It is the latest and most costly entry in the Planet of the Apes saga which began back in 1968 with the science-fiction classic which starred Charlton Heston and his immortal line, “Take your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape.” It spawned four sequels until 1972, and then came a one-off effort in 2001 which was directed by Tim Burton and featured Helena Bonham Carter in an ape suit.
   Rise of the Planet of the Apes in 2011 rebooted the franchise with Andy Serkis, performance capture and groundbreaking digital effects. It depicted a simian uprising on earth led by a biochemically enhanced chimpanzee named Caesar and grossed nearly 300 million pounds, making a sequel inevitable.
   I met up with Serkis in San Francisco because although the film was made on location in cold, rainy Vancouver, it is set in San Francisco where the survivors of a fatal pandemic of Simian Flu are holed up in a derelict Chinatown while the apes have formed a community in the woods above the city. 

 It is Serkis’s first visit to San Francisco and when we talk he has just returned from wandering the streets with his camera, taking pictures to show his wife, actress Lorraine Ashbourne and their three children back home. 
  When he has finished promoting the apes, he will direct The Jungle Book for Warner Bros., he has a major role in the new Star Wars movie and is planning to both direct and produce a new version of George Orwell's Animal Farm as well as providing the voice of the drink-sodden Captain Haddock in Tintin 2.
  But there is something else he plans to do as soon as possible. "Climbing has always been a huge passion for me," he says. "I climbed a lot in the Alps, I've climbed the Matterhorn and now I'm 50 one of the things I want to do this year is climb the Himalayas."

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