Cul­ture

Andy Serkis

Esquire (Singapore) - - Contents -

Do E S you Q: You still ac­tu­ally paint? painted be­fore the whole act­ing thing?

sto­ry­board­ing, A NDY S E R K I’d I S : draw I do. them Not fre­quently when I di­rect. but I Oc­ca­sion­ally sup­pose when when I’m I get the time, I do pick up my oil paint­brushes and paint but it’s very rarely now.

E S Q: Are you good enough that you can stage your own ex­hi­bi­tion? A NDY S E R K I S : If I go back to it for a lit­tle while, sure. I’m a lit­tle rusty at the mo­ment but I go through phases of re­ally want­ing to re­turn to it, but you have to spend time get­ting into it.

E S Q: Given your ex­pe­ri­ence with mo­tion cap­ture tech­nolo­gies, are you a techy sort of per­son? A NDY S E R K I S : Ah, yeah. I’m fas­ci­nated by tech yeah. I’m in­ter­ested in tech­nol­ogy and how hu­mans choose to use it. For in­stance, I own and drive a Tesla.

E S Q: Re­ally? A NDY S E R K I S : Yeah, I’m in­ter­ested in sav­ing en­ergy and cre­at­ing sus­tain­able en­ergy at home. But I’m also in­ter­ested in tech­nol­ogy from a creative point of view. For ex­am­ple: I’m keen on next-gen­er­a­tion sto­ry­telling and us­ing tech like Magic Leap [a start-up that pro­duces head-mounted vir­tual reti­nal dis­plays]. I don’t know if you’ve heard but they’ve re­cently re­leased a de­vel­oper kit for mixed re­al­ity and we’re ex­per­i­ment­ing with that in terms of us­ing per­for­mance cap­ture and en­ter­tain­ment and how to bring those two worlds to­gether.

E S Q: What about other per­for­mance cap­ture tech like Deep­fake [a tech­nique to com­bine and su­per­im­pose ex­ist­ing images and videos onto source images or videos]? Are you fa­mil­iar with that? A NDY S E R K I S : Yeah.

E S Q: Do you think some­thing like that could be trou­ble­some? A NDY S E R K I S : Yeah, I think so. Like any tech­nol­ogy it can be used for good or bad, can’t it? One per­son can use tech­nol­ogy to help the med­i­cal in­dus­try, then [in­versely] some­one could use fa­cial cap­ture tech­nol­ogy to im­pli­cate some­one in a crime that they haven’t com­mit­ted or to play some­one into a sit­u­a­tion that they weren’t pre­sent at. Of course, with all the ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, robotic ex­plo­ration that’s go­ing on, all tech­nol­ogy can be used for pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive.

E S Q: Speak­ing of which, when you adapted The Jun­gle

Book, did you take into ac­count Ki­pling’s bag­gage of be­ing an im­pe­ri­al­ist?

A NDY S E R K I S : You can’t make The Jun­gle Book now without look­ing at the his­tor­i­cal, cul­tural roots of Rud­yard Ki­pling, the time when he was writ­ing it and who he was as a per­son. Be­cause Ki­pling was both viewed as some­one who was the new voice for the work­ing classes but he was also viewed as po­ten­tially bor­der­line racist and, later in his life, an im­pe­ri­al­ist. Again, this is a schism in his jour­ney as a writer and as a hu­man be­ing.

E S Q: How so? A NDY S E R K I S : Ki­pling was raised in In­dia; his first lan­guage was Hindi. He was then sent to a board­ing school in Eng­land where he was bru­talised and had a very un­happy child­hood… all of these in­ci­dents in­form the book and is more faith­ful to the tone of it as well. There are dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters and we fo­cus on var­i­ous as­pects of the book that I wanted to bring out. That was in­her­ent in the script when I first read it and, in a mild form, deals with this ‘oth­er­ness’, the class sys­tem, colo­nial­ism—in terms of the jun­gle be­ing taken over by man—I don’t think any other ver­sion has gone any­where near deal­ing with those top­ics. It un­der­pins the cul­tural speci­ficity of our ver­sion. Not in an overtly po­lit­i­cal way, but it’s there. It’s in the DNA of the film.

E S Q: The char­ac­ters you play are usu­ally peo­ple who live out­side of so­ci­etal norms. A NDY S E R K I S : Yeah. I re­alise there is a theme that runs through a lot of my work, which is ex­am­in­ing the no­tion of be­ing an out­sider. From Gol­lum [ The Lord of the Rings] to Cae­sar [ Rise of the Planet of the Apes], there are as­pects of those char­ac­ters that are on the mar­gins of so­ci­ety in a way—when Cae­sar was brought up he be­lieved him­self to be a hu­man be­ing, and then re­alised he was ac­tu­ally an ape. In the same way Mowgli is brought up to be­lieve that he’s a wolf, and then later re­alises that he’s not.

E S Q: Yeah, this ‘oth­er­ness’ you’ve men­tioned… do you iden­tify

with the movie, Mowgli? A NDY S E R K I S : I sup­pose it goes back to my grow­ing up and feel­ing that my fa­ther was from one part of the world and my mother was from an­other. My fa­ther was Iraqi so I spent some time grow­ing in Bagh­dad, but my mother was English. I think if any­one comes from a mixed parent­age you won­der where you fit in in a way. That has al­ways been some­thing that as an ac­tor I’ve al­ways reached for roles, es­pe­cially us­ing

[mo­tion cap­ture] tech­nol­ogy which al­lows you to be­come some­thing else. I find it per­haps eas­ier to say some­thing about the hu­man con­di­tion the fur­ther away you move away from it.

E S Q: You played Baloo in Mowgli. Why? A NDY S E R K I S : Well, we had al­ready cast all the other an­i­mals and then it was just Baloo that was left. Okay we’ve gotta find Baloo and we were search­ing and think­ing about lots of dif­fer­ent peo­ple who could po­ten­tially play him. We ap­proached a cou­ple of them and some on my team turned to me and said: ‘Andy what are we do­ing? You’re not go­ing to be in it, that’s crazy. You gotta be in it’. It quickly changed to, ‘why don’t you play him?’.

So, I had a think and I re­alised that if I was go­ing to do it, I wanted to take Baloo into a com­pletely dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion. I wanted to play him as more of a drill sergeant be­cause in The Jun­gle Book, Baloo’s very tough and he’s very hard on Mowgli. With Mowgli, Baloo pushes him hard in or­der to sur­vive. Baloo’s job is to teach the wolf cubs to sur­vive and Mowgli is part of the wolf pack, kind of. Be­cause Mowgli can’t run as fast as the other wolves, Baloo, like a sergeant ma­jor, treats him with tough love. E S Q: Given how things are to­day, do you think there is still hope? A NDY S E R K I S : [laughs] Yes, and I think the key thing is that we reignite our abil­ity to be em­pa­thetic. Our cur­rent cli­mate is a strug­gle be­cause, in a way, we’re be­ing ma­nip­u­lated to think about the dif­fer­ences rather than what binds us.

That kind of trib­al­ism is very much in the news. Us ver­sus Them. Build­ing walls, not bridges. I think sto­ry­telling is a great way of not only be­ing en­ter­tain­ing but also alert­ing our­selves to us find­ing vis­i­bil­ity to be em­pa­thetic again.

E S Q: You men­tion that you feel that it’s un­fair to have the re­spon­si­bil­ity of be­ing the guy to spear­head mo­tion cap­ture per­for­mance. A NDY S E R K I S : Look, I love the tech­nol­ogy and I’m very evan­gel­i­cal about it as I see its po­ten­tial. I have be­come the de facto spokesper­son for it… but I don’t see my­self as a spe­cial ac­tor in any way. I think, I’ve been lucky enough to play these ex­tra­or­di­nary roles and I’ve cho­sen to take them be­cause, y’know, I’m not afraid of dis­ap­pear­ing into a char­ac­ter. It’s a dou­ble-edged sword re­ally—I don’t feel that I de­serve to be sin­gled out as any­thing spe­cial be­cause I’m just do­ing what any nor­mal ac­tor would do: to play a char­ac­ter. I’m just lucky enough to be on a ride which has en­abled me to come into con­tact with this tech­nol­ogy that’s en­abled me to play said char­ac­ters.

E S Q: How far long down your act­ing ca­reer do you think peo­ple will for­get that you played Sméagol or Gol­lum? A NDY S E R K I S : [laughs] That’s a re­ally good ques­tion be­cause it is 20 years later and ev­ery­day, peo­ple come up to me and talk to me about Gol­lum. Who knows? Gol­lum will prob­a­bly live with me for the rest of my life. That’s part of the deal and I have to ac­cept it.

E S Q: Is there still pres­sure with the as­so­ci­a­tion with Gol­lum? A NDY S E R K I S : There’s no pres­sure. It’s just… I mean, peo­ple are so en­deared to that char­ac­ter that they felt such a con­nec­tion. It’s in­ter­est­ing be­cause peo­ple come up to me and talk to me [about it].

But, again, it’s about the work, the char­ac­ter, an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the char­ac­ters like Cae­sar and the other char­ac­ters, but pre­dom­i­nantly Gol­lum. So look, I’m proud of the work that we did on that and I re­alise that the books oc­cupy such an im­por­tant place in the world and a large pop­u­la­tion of the world have read those books or seen those movies. I feel lucky to be part of it re­ally.

I did have an in­ter­viewer once ask me what I wanted to be writ­ten on my tomb­stone, and I prob­a­bly said some­thing like, ‘I’m not the guy who just played Gol­lum’ or some­thing. The next day, a lot of peo­ple were ask­ing me, ‘did you not like play­ing Gol­lum?’ I’m, like, ‘no no, I love the fact that I played Gol­lum but I pre­fer not to be only known for that’.

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