Going Ape and Silent Performances: A Conversation with Steve Zahn & Amiah Miller
War For The Planet Of The Apes continues the wildly successful series of films that began with 2011’s Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes and 2014’s Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes. In the wake of the viral outbreak that devastated much of the human population, the simian community has grown more and more powerful. But simmering tensions between the two species has begun erupting into conflict, and the ramifications will be dreadful for everyone…
Andy Serkis has developed a reputation for fantastic acting work both using digital performance capture in films such as the Hobbit trilogy and Star Wars and without it in everything from Avengers: Age Of Ultron to Wild Bill and Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. For the modern Planet Of The Apes franchise, he has originated and brought incredible depth and heart to the main character, Caesar.
After encountering humans for the first time in years in Dawn, War finds Caesar locked in a conflict with the survivors, a battle that he doesn’t want to fight, but must to protect the future of his ape brethren. When tragedy strikes, an embittered, war-weary Caesar embarks on a mission of revenge, one that will forever change his life. Andy talks about finding this latest stage of Caesar’s journey, welcoming a new cast member and working with director Matt Reeves…
Amiah, how difficult was it to act for an entire movie without speaking? And Steve, how impressed were you with Amiah’s performance?
Amiah Miller: Well, for seven months I had to act with only facial expressions. I’ve always been super expressive, so while it was challenging at first I really got used to it. And now I can do so many different expressions.
Steve Zahn: I thought Amiah was brilliant. It is a very difficult job to be a part of everything in that movie and to not speak. And yet to have such a compelling, honest, simple character, it is truly a feat for an actor. I thought she was brilliant.
AM: That was so nice!
SZ: It is true!
And how did you find the experience of performance-capture — acting opposite it in your case, Amiah, and then actually performing that way, Steve?
AM: I am still mind-blown by how these people in grey suits with dots on them are now apes in the film. During filming I had little pieces of tape with different colours to represent different apes. I had to do this thing by myself and react in the scene the exact way I did with them. So I learned a lot while filming.
SZ: I thought that when acting with motion-capture there would be different kinds of hurdles than there actually were. I thought there would be technical things that blocked the way you normally worked and that you’d have to get used to. In reality, it reminded me of doing theatre at the American Repertory Theater in 1990, doing things with huge production values in a crazy world and yet being completely honest. In other words, it was purer than I thought, as far as the acting was concerned. But it was really difficult on many levels.
Where did you draw your inspiration from for your performance, Steve, because I particularly liked the clipped speech and fast movements?
SZ: That really developed. I worked so hard at the physical performance, and it’s almost like you’re not playing an ape; you’re playing this weird kind of subculture human. That really developed in the first week when I did my first scene with the others. Working opposite Andy Serkis, it just kind of happened. I don’t even recall if it’s in the movie but I remember every time I said ‘Oh’ I was thinking that he was taught to speak in the zoo, and his handlers would say ‘Oh’. It was just crazy stuff that you’d come up with. And Matt [Reeves, the director] was so great at letting you come up with stuff.
Could you see the humour in Steve’s performance, Amiah, even as he was doing it in his performance-capture suit?
AM: Yeah! When he was filming I was trying my hardest not to laugh. I recently went to a theatre at Fox Studios with my mum to watch the full movie and we were dying with laughter at Steve’s performance. He did really good.
Amiah, do you have a favourite ape?
AM: In the previous films it was Maurice. But with the apes when I was filming I have different bonds with each of them. And then in the actual movie my favourite was probably this one [points to Steve, Bad Ape].
SZ: I like you with Luca. That’s a beautiful storyline. It is really subtle. There are so many subtle things in this movie.
Are you able to pick some of your favourite memories from shooting this film?
SZ: We had such a great time. I loved Whistler — that was fun, messing around and throwing snowballs. It was a great set. There wasn’t one bad day. I really looked forward to going to work every day and I can’t say that about a lot of movies.
AM: One thing about our experience was the jellybeans. Andy and me had a Candy Club. We had these jellybeans, where some were a good flavour and some were a bad flavour and you didn’t know until you had one in your mouth. One, we called Barf, which was peach. Another was like dog food. Everyone had to eat them and it was like Russian Roulette.
SZ: We also had a swear jar. I filled that! There was a lot of money in that jar. Christ! Oops, that’s another 50 cents…!
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES IS AVAILABLE ON DIGITAL NOW AND ON BLU-RAY AND DVD FROM 27TH NOVEMBER