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Sugarhouse - Andy Serkis interview

Andy Serkis in Sugarhouse

Interview by Rob Carnevale

ANDY Serkis talks about playing the character of Hoodwink in Sugarhouse, how the performance drained a lot of energy from him and why he received a surprise slap in the face from a co-star at the end of the shoot!

Q: You’ve played some dark characters [such as Ian Brady] but Hoodwink is terrifying. Were you worried about how you could give him humanity?
Andy Serkis: No, because people like Hoodwink are very much out there, although he’s flamboyant and quite an extrovert in many ways. People have said: “Well, he’s a bit pantomime-ised, a bit larger than life…” But no, he’s based on a couple of people that Gary [Love, director] knows personally and that I know of in terms of the way he dresses and so on. But the thing is with all the characters, they’re all morally ambivalent; they all want something, or they’re all striving to survive in a particular way, and Hoodwink is a product of his environment. He grew up in Belfast, he was part of the UDA and he fought for what he believed in – or was brainwashed into believing – because of the people that surrounded him.

But he got out of that, came to live in London and he’s doing what he knows best to survive, which is making money in the way that he can. So he starts off in the beginning of the film on a pretty good day, things are looking good, he’s about to have a child with his wife, he’s managing to control his anger, he does have anger management issues, but this event happens and from then on he’s a man under a serious amount of pressure. You know people are out there driving cars and there’s a hair trigger that can go at any time. I’m always amazed there isn’t more violence in London quite frankly; it’s only a hair’s breadth away almost all the time. So what I’m saying is people like Hoodwink are not kind of evil villains, they’re part of humanity. We can choose to disassociate ourselves from them and we can choose to pretend they’re not there, but they are. We’re all together in this.

Q: Did shooting digital help with the spontaneity of the performance?
Andy Serkis: There is this thing of being aware that you can take ‘real time’. But 35mm film isn’t ticking away so it’s subconscious – performances are allowed to breathe in a much more real way I think.

Q: Did you keep the accent up when the camera wasn’t running?
Andy Serkis: No I didn’t; I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare to be honest, not as much as I would normally have on a film but that’s how everything was done – the pace of the film was so fast. When I got cast I was away on holiday and the intensity of this character seemed a million miles away. I didn’t know how I was ever going to achieve it given that it was two weeks away. I had to get all the tattoos done, which was like a 20 hour session to get all the tattoos done, and I had to have my head shaved and all that. As for the accent, I was on a beach in Italy and Gary said: “Now do you think you’re going to be able to nail this accent?” I said: “Look, I’ll give it my best shot. I’ve got 2 weeks.” And he said: “Look I want to put a big red hand of Ulster on your back, can you do it, it’s quite important?’

Penny Dyer, who’s a voice coach, sent a tape out to me on holiday. But I suppose the biggest strain was that Hoodwink is a high-octane character and he’s up there like all the time. Once he’s on his journey there’s no let up for the man, so I actually found it a massively exhausting job to keep that level up. There wasn’t any down time to let the air out of it during the shooting of the film, so by the end of the day we were f****d.

Q: How did you psyche yourself up to that level of terrifying violence, for the scene in the lift?
Andy Serkis: It just comes from when I plug in to a kind of pressure cooker thing, which is really present in the character of Hoodwink all the way through. He can’t talk about things – it comes out violently. I mean, he has a kind of poetry about him; I think if you took the potential of a guy like Hoodwink and plugged him into something positive, he’d get a lot done in a day. He has got a phenomenal amount of energy! But that scene in the lift, I’d been cranking myself up to do it all day and we did it through once.

Normally I can keep going, I’ve got a lot of stamina, but I couldn’t move a muscle after I did one take because I went at it so hard – and the camera just seemed to be going on and on! It kept on rolling, and I was thinking: “This is ridiculous!” In the end, it went on until I couldn’t get one more stroke out of that machete into that lift. I crawled out of the lift at the end and said: “Gary, don’t make me do that again. Don’t make me do that again.” That said, you do rise to the occasion because you know where the character’s got to go, and you know that you’ve got only one go at it because there’s only one lift. There’s no second take, so you just find it, that’s what you do as an actor – you just plug into what you need to do for the scene.

Q: What’s the best or worst memory from the shoot?
Andy Serkis: The very, very first day I came into this I had to hit Ted Nygh [who plays Gary]. I had to get up to an incredibly high octane because it was the scene with the three lads where Hoodwink’s asking where the gun’s gone. Teddy is this really energetic, enthusiastic young actor who I thought was going out of the remit of his character because he was trying to front up to my character, which I didin’t think he ever would have done. So I kind of had to put him in his place. I was wired to get this scene right and I went storming down and pinned him up against the garage door, and I couldn’t control myself. I grabbed him and shoved him on the floor and I just started smacking him, saying: “Are you fronting up to the Hoody?”

But suddenly he was gone, vanished. We went to do another take and he’d gone round the corner and he was crying. He said he thought his character would take me on. So, I went round the corner and said: “Teddy, look mate, we’re just acting and it gets a bit like that, it’s a bit rough.” But the dude was crying and I felt really bad and went a bit soft… I went a bit gay for a moment trying to calm him down and he was OK. But then on the last day he came up to me in the dressing room and Ashley was there and he said: “Andy can I just ask you something? I really respect you man, and I’ve loved working with you, do you mind if I just do this?” I said: “What, yeah…” And he went and smacked me as hard as he could around the face!

Read our review of Sugarhouse

Read our interview with Ashley Walters