USA TODAY International Edition
The evolution of Andy Serkis’ Caesar in ‘ Planet of the Apes’
It’s ‘ hard to let go’ after growing up with character, Serkis says
When Andy Serkis saddles up as the horse- riding ape leader Caesar in War for the Planet of the Apes ( in theaters Friday), it marks the end of a six- year, three- film journey.
Playing the role via motion capture, which records an actor’s subtlest movements to be enhanced with digital technology, Serkis introduced Caesar as a laboratory chimp whose intelligence is greatly boosted by an Alzheimer’s drug in 2011’ s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Caesar turned revolutionary leader fighting for ape freedom in 2014’ s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a battle that continues in War.
“To have that opportunity to play a character, aging through twists and turns, but also evolving, is fantastic. And hard to let go of,” says Serkis, 53.
The actor shares his memories from each performance:
HE GREW UP WITH CAESAR IN ‘ RISE’ Serkis modeled his performance as the realistic title character in Peter Jackson’s 2005 film King Kong on silverback gorillas. But he took a different approach playing young Caesar, who grew up from infancy in a human household run by a caring lab assistant ( James Franco).
The actor was inspired by Oliver, a famous human- like chimp who died in 2012.
“Oliver was bipedal, rarely walked on all fours. He would sit in chairs. His facial expressions were very human- like,” Serkis says. “People believed he was almost the missing link. I based Caesar on Oliver.”
Young Caesar starts out joyous in his life, full of energy, often more hunched, and unaware he isn’t human. The ape’s youthful exuberance took its toll.
“It was killer playing him as a young chimp — on the knees, the legs, the thighs, very physically tiring,” Serkis says. “It became easier to play Caesar as he became more upright.”
CAESAR EVOLVED INTO AN APE LEADER IN ‘ DAWN’ Improvements in the performance- capture suit and headmounted camera ( to chronicle facial expressions) allowed Serkis and director Matt Reeves to take the ape performance out of the studio and into natural environments in Dawn.
Caesar grew more upright and used sign language as the leader of an advanced ape society. His human vocabulary grew, too.
“But I wore a mouth guard to stop me from thoughtfully forming words and overly articulating,” Serkis says.
HIS APE LEADER BECOMES ALMOST HUMAN IN ‘ WAR’ Serkis skipped the mouth guard in the third film, showing a human command of language, used sparingly. “We didn’t want it to become too casual,” he says.
Caesar is now fully upright, and his behavior is brutish in the third film because of the terrible way he’s treated. “He feels most human- like,” Serkis says. “But Caesar is the most animalistic in terms of his rage.”
Further suit advancements let filmmakers to shoot outdoors in snow- filled Canadian locations. But the form- fitting suits didn’t provide much warmth.
“We were in the Canadian winter, so it would get very cold and the suits are unforgiving,” Serkis says. “The snow and rain were very tough.”