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Rise of the Planet of the Apes - Rupert Wyatt interview

Rupert Wyatt

Interview by Rob Carnevale

BRITISH director Rupert Wyatt talks about some of the challenges of making Rise of the Planet of the Apes and how he came to make the jump from a small independent British film such as The Escapist to a big Hollywood blockbuster.

He also talks about working with Andy Serkis and Harry Potter star Tom Felton.

Q. How did you get this job in the first place? The Escapist is a great film but nothing about it suggests you could make such a great success of a huge, CGI driven summer blockbuster? So, what did they see in you?
Rupert Wyatt: I don’t know [laughs]. They looked through me and enjoyed the view. It’s a funny place, Hollywood… I was developing a script with Fox and there were executives there that I had good working relationships with. But when you’re making films in Hollywood it’s all about a release date.

The studios have decisions to make and they have a number of films to put out each summer and once they’re a go, once you’re on a fast track, you’re moving. I had a predecessor, a director called Scott Frank who had worked on this project before. It was written originally by Rick [Jaffa] and Amanda [Silver] but I think Scott then took it over and took it in a certain direction. But he ultimately left the project because I think he wanted to take it somewhere else, which the studio didn’t. But the studio still wanted to make the film, so they brought Rick and Amanda back in and they re-worked the script again and they put out the call for directors. I was on that list and I went in for the experience to be honest with you. I knew I was up against many people, Oliver Stone I think was in the mix, and all sorts of directors like that who prompted me to book a ticket back to London to work on another film. So, I had to cancel the ticket! [Laughs]

Q. I bet you’re glad you stuck at it…
Rupert Wyatt: Right! But Fox, quite rightly, are very protective of this franchise. This is something that means a great deal to them on many levels and I feel like there were a lot of reputations at stake. If we had not got this right in any way, then it would have been the nail in the coffin for Planet of the Apes and that’s a huge responsibility for everybody, not just myself. And so I think they were very careful to get the right people on board who saw the same film as they did. That doesn’t always happen. You can very often end up working with people in these sort of arranged marriages where he wants to make this film, and he wants to make that film and it becomes a mess. It’s not because people are not talented, it’s because you’re pushing and pulling all the time.

And so with this, I had to go through any number of interviews. I met with my producers, who were integral to how this film was made. And so I feel like they wanted a director that was going to be collaborative and they wanted a director who was in a position in his career who they knew was going to have to be collaborative, which is logical to me. But then it was my job as a filmmaker, with my own beliefs and style, to bring all of that to bear, which they also encouraged. So, those meetings – me presenting visual examples of how I was going to tell the story, using clips from different films to sell to them and say: “OK, this is the tone of the film and these are the characters…” That’s what sold it for them because they obviously saw something.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Q. How do you choose the line between science fact and science fiction when doing something like this?
Rupert Wyatt: I think all the best science fiction is based in reality. I love Philip K Dick as a science fiction writer more than Arthur C Clarke or someone who is more about the dry science. That’s a bit of a generalisation because there are probably many fans of Arthur C Clarke who would probably shoot me down for saying that. But I think ultimately the best science fiction is always something that is grounded and something that we as a contemporary readership or audience can relate to or see a way into.

Q. Was the movie always going to be set in San Francisco? Were you on location there?
Rupert Wyatt: We did. We shot the majority in Vancouver and where possible we shot certain action locations in San Francisco. I would say that the idea, and I was never really conscious of this when I first started, but gradually became aware of how clever the writers had been in terms of setting it in San Francisco… because it’s one of the few cities in the world that represents a great juxtaposition between a very 21st century metropolis teeming with people and a large population and right across the bridge is this beautiful, bucolic, extraordinary wilderness that in many ways represents freedom for the apes and is very intrinsic to Caesar’s idea of what freedom is. And so the great idea of having The Golden Gate Bridge itself being the link between those two worlds and how that plays into our third act is a terrific one. So, I think they were right to set it there for that reason.

Q. Andy Serkis has said that any actor can do performance capture? Is that true from where you’re sat? He must have special qualities…
Rupert Wyatt: I think the special qualities that he has is that he’s a great actor and a great character actor in particular. He crafts these memorable characters and each one is unique and different and he puts his whole heart and soul into them and he’s got an incredibly expressive face and body movements and there’s nothing better than that, certainly for getting our digital characters to be believable, but also for just creating a memorable character period.

Q. Is it also the awareness he has for what a simple, subtle movement can give on-screen?
Rupert Wyatt: Yeah, I think some actors, when they first step into that motion capture suit, believe that they maybe need to over-act in order to put across. But actually it’s the opposite and he has the experience and the wherewithal to realise that and so he’s very subtle. He’s got that ability as a very expressive, physical performer, but also the reverse where he can go very small and very nuanced.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Q. Was there any pressure to stick to the facts from the original film?
Rupert Wyatt: Well, I think there’s still definitely an opportunity to examine the forbidden zone in terms of the nuclear explosion within New York. We can still go down that road in future films. The idea of a virus spreading a pandemic breaking out within our world could lead to any sort of unrest, to the point of nuclear attack and conflict and people fighting over depleting resources. And that’s all up for grabs in the sequel.

Q. To what extent were you counting on getting a sequel?
Rupert Wyatt: To be honest with you, there is an ending and a very complete ending to this story, which is the apes find their freedom… they find their paradise and that’s where Caesar, as their leader, leads them to. For me, and for all of us, we were very satisfied with that ending because we felt it was uplifting and conveyed the idea that, as an uprising and as a microcosm, it’s complete. [As for] where they’re headed from there is obviously for films to come potentially. But I remember very consciously reading the script and never once thinking about a sequel in terms of a part of the franchise or anything like that – partly because it’s such a different film from the mythology. I was obviously aware of the fact that there’s a huge amount of time and ideas to mine in terms of where we end off and where Charlton Heston crash lands on planet Earth in 3,000-plus years. So, we’ve got a lot to play with.

Q. How does it feel to work under the pressure of a release date and sometimes still be working on it when that date is only a month away?
Rupert Wyatt: Well, because of the way it all works, the weight of responsibility gets progressively put more and more on Weta, just because it’s them delivering all these shots at the 11th hour. That’s the last part. We were obviously doing our sound mix and we had Patrick Doyle, our composer, scoring up to the last minute. But because of this release date, there’s no lee-way. You can’t drop the ball. But at the same time, you can’t drop the ball creatively. So, every shot required absolute attention along with every element of the film. It was an amazing team effort.

Q. Did Tom Felton have fun with his role? He obviously didn’t mind being the bad guy again…
Rupert Wyatt: Yes, it’s a very different character. It was great. He got the opportunity to try a different accent. But he’s terrific. He’s a very, very professional, incredibly enthusiastic man… unbelievable. And I only say that because of my expectations of him. I don’t know him and I’ve never actually seen a Harry Potter! I’ve got to go and watch them [laughs]. But he was one of the actors that actually came onto the project very late in the day. We hadn’t cast that role and there suddenly in Vancouver was Tom. He’d flown [over], we met and we got on great and he seemed like he was completely willing to embrace the idea of playing that role.

I think he’s one of those rare actors who… obviously, he’s spent half his life on a film set but he loves every second of it. He could have gone the other way; he could have become some diva but he’s not at all. So, he was a pleasure to work with and he has this amazing ability to raise everybody’s game when they’re working with him. He’s technically very well trained. He also gets the line!

Read our review

Read our interview with Andy Serkis