Going Ape – Finding Bad Ape and Discussing CGI: A Conversation with Steve Zahn for the Release of War for the Planet of the Apes
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…
You’ve been one of Hollywood’s great character actors for many years now. What new challenges does motion capture bring to an experienced actor?
When I showed up in Vancouver I was paired up with Terry Notary, who plays Rocket, the movement coach. He’s the guy on set. With everybody he’s like, “no, yes, do it like this, a little quicker, you’re smaller apes!” With him, it scared me, man.
I realised with this technology, the beauty of it is, it doesn’t get in the way. The lesser technology, in the old days, got in the way. You were performing for the technology. You were in front of a green screen or whatever… you were double acting. You were acting that you were a person and there was a dinosaur chasing you, or whatever.
Now the technology is that now you don’t think about it, they just want you to give the best performance you can give.
What’s the audition process like for a very specific role like this? Do you need to go method and turn up in chimp mode? Seems like you’d need to show off a very specific set of skills…
That was crazy. I was in Puerto Rico shooting a TV show, Mad Dogs. I’m down there and I get word that they’re interested in me for this part. I’m like, “Great, what have I got to do?” They said, “Matt [Reeves, the director] wants to talk to you.”
Matt and I had a Skype conversation for an hour and fifteen minutes about movies. We just talked about westerns. He said, “Hey, will you read?” I said, “I’d love to audition.” He said, “I can give you a couple of days, is that cool?”
You know, talking on Skype is weird to begin with – it’s just bizarre – let alone auditioning for Planet of the Apes. I can’t go full-on chimp. I got to go about 33% of what I think being a chimp is, so I entered the frame and did this thing… so I Skype auditioned with Matt and got the part, and I was so excited.
Tell me about creating the character of Bad Ape. Was there a lot of research into real-life apes? Or was it more important to find his human qualities?
The good thing is, the character was really on the page when I read it. It was a brilliantly written character. Not knowing motion capture and the way that worked, I knew it would be a difficult job and I’d have to learn some things, but first it was just about who this guy was. They can make you look like an ape, but they can’t make you be one.
Because so much of this story telling is subtle, I realised embodying a chimpanzee would be that much harder because it’s minimal. It wasn’t about quadrapedding. I would watch videos over and over again of these chimpanzees in zoos. And I wasn’t interested in the ones throwing shit – I was fascinated with the dude who was just sitting in the corner and watching. How is that different to how we do it? I was fascinated with that, and spent two weeks watching.
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES IS AVAILABLE ON DIGITAL NOW AND ON BLU-RAY AND DVD FROM 27TH NOVEMBER