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Andy Serkis talks “Apes,” Comic-Con, “Tintin,” “The Hobbit” and much more! – EXCLUSIVE

By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: The whole planet’s going to the apes, and Andy Serkis wants to make sure you have a front-row seat for Earth’s annihilation.

As the title suggests, Rupert Wyatt’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” explains how a scientist (James Franco) trying to invent a cure for Alzheimer’s creates a race of hyper-intelligent apes that turn our planet into the alternate universe introduced in the 1968 sci-fi classic.

Serkis, for his part, plays Caesar, Franco’s pet ape who eventually leads the revolt against humanity. But the actor best known for playing Gollum and King Kong for blockbuster director Peter Jackson couldn’t be more cordial when he called HollywoodNews.com to talk about “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” his time spent at San Diego’s Comic-Con, and the work he’s putting into two anticipated features from Jackson and director Steven Spielberg. Here’s Andy Serkis:

HollywoodNews.com: You just got back from Comic-Con in San Diego, where you screened “Apes” footage. How did it go?

Andy Serkis: Oh, Comic-Con was awesome. It was absolutely brilliant. We had a great time. It was thrilling being in Hall H and presenting all of our “Apes” clips. The fans seemed to really be behind it. And then the following day, I was there with Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson for the “Tintin” panel, and that was awesome. My family was there, so I took my boys onto the floor where they went crazy. I just had such a great time.

HollywoodNews.com: Do you think Comic-Con’s still an important stop on a film’s marketing campaign?

Well, you know, for something like “Tintin,” which in the United States so far as a kind of limited understanding, that was very relevant. But also, Comic-Con is for the fans. It’s for people who love these kinds of genres and dig into popular culture. I think that it’s a treat or a reward for all of those guys.

HollywoodNews.com: When it came to “Apes,” did you even have to audition, or did you just hand them a Blu-ray of Jackson’s “King Kong?”

[Laughs] You know, the job actually came to me from Joe Letteri, the senior visual effects supervisor at WETA. They had just been brought on board to create the apes, and he suggested me. Rupert Wyatt, the director, got in touch. By then, I had read the script and just thought Caesar was a brilliant role. Despite the fact that I have already played a primate, I didn’t for a second not want to do it for that reason. People have asked me, “Why are you doing another ape?” But that’s like saying, “Why are you doing another human?”

HollywoodNews.com: Right, so long as there is something different in the character that you can dig in to.

And with this, there’s just no comparison, whatsoever. Caesar is a character. I get to play this innocent young chimpanzee who evolves into sort of Frankenstein’s monster and then has this moment of self-awareness where he doesn’t know which species he belongs to, even though he has been raised by humans. That’s not King’s story, by any stretch of the imagination.

HollywoodNews.com: Andy, I’m curious if you have seen the “Project Nim” documentary that’s out now?

No. Obviously, you know, I’m aware of it, and people have talked a lot about it in the press that we have been doing. Seemingly there is a lot of crossover with what we are doing, so I am dying to see it. Clearly Nim is a chimp brought up by human beings. But I think the main difference is that with Caesar, we go that one step further to present an ape who is the recipient of this super-intelligence-enhancing drug, which is a test that is a cure for Alzheimer’s. So there is that layer that separates it from Nim’s story.

HollywoodNews.com: Is there anything, from a performance standpoint, that you could lift from the original “Apes” films?

No, no, this is a completely fresh start because we are talking about apes that we know of today. They are not humanoid apes who have evolved at any point. There are nods and homages to the very first “Planet of the Apes” movie in our film, but nothing in terms of performance that I could lean on.

HollywoodNews.com: That’s curious, though. So much is written about the technology of motion-capture, but it’s your performance driving Caesar. Which actors did you admire as you honed your craft, and do you pull from them?

Well, now you’re talking about Charles Laughton as the Hunchback of Notre Dame, which to me is an indelible character. There’s John Mills in “Ryan’s Daughter.” These are all great character performances. Obviously a lot of Robert De Niro’s early work I’m really riveted by, the level of dedication for the physical change and the way that he could manifest himself in so many different roles.

HollywoodNews.com: Peter Jackson’s short films from the set of “The Hobbit” show you doing a lot of second unit direction.

Yeah, that has been a massive challenge, particularly because I’ve never worked in 3D before and haven’t worked with such a big crew. Having said that, it’s remarkable that, even for a film of that size, there’s an intimacy. Perhaps it’s because I know the crews very well and I’ve worked in New Zealand a lot, so I have a shorthand with a lot of them. Because I’m working as a set of eyes for Peter, I’m working to his tastes. Which I share, because I have learned a lot from him. I guess I feel that each day is presenting a new challenge, but I am up for it, because there is a heck of a lot to do.

HollywoodNews.com: I’m glad you mentioned 3D. As someone who has been at the forefront of some cutting-edge technologies, what are your thoughts on 3D? Is it here to stay?

Well, I love it. I absolutely love it. I’m now used to directing with 3D glasses on in front of a big monitor and it’s just beautiful. It’s like everything. We all balk at a new technology. Much like performance-capture. Actors are still convinced computers are going to take jobs away from actors rather than understating that it is a liberating tool. With 3D, it’s all working toward what I am interested in … really this is all about the future, figuring out how we are going to receive stories in 10, 20 or 30-years time? My children are growing up. We might be watching a 2D image in a dark room with other people, or we there might be something that’s more visceral or immersive, a combination of 3D, holographics, performance capture and gaming. I’m sure all of those thing will converge.

Andy Serkis co-stars with James Franco and Freida Pinto in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” which opens everywhere on Friday, Aug. 5.

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