The Cottage - Andy Serkis interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
ANDY Serkis talks about appearing in horror-comedy The Cottage, getting into character for the role and why he thinks that director Paul Andrew Williams has a very bright future ahead of him.
He also talks about reuniting with Peter Jackson for Tintin and other projects he has coming up, including plans to direct…
Q. What was the biggest challenge with The Cottage?
Andy Serkis: When I first read the script, the thing I loved about it… Paul wrote this five years ago and it was prior to Shaun of the Dead and the modern stream of comedy-horror flicks. I just thought it was brilliantly written and a great character piece. You cared about the characters. It didn’t feel like it was a horror film – it felt like it was a real film with real events happening to real people. So, I think the biggest challenge when we came to shoot it was to keep that as a straight arrow and to allow the comedy to come out of the emotional truth of the relationship of the characters and so on. There’s a difference between reading it and actually pulling that off on screen… and yet appealing to the horror fans.
Q. Did you have long to build a chemistry with Reece?
Andy Serkis: Yeah. That was the thing we worked on the most, the relationship between the brothers, because that was the most important thing to get right and to have that as the backbone of the piece. No matter how extreme things get, it still has that ring of truth about it that backs the characters – even though they’re despicable and what they’re doing isn’t right you still care for their fate.
Q. Are you a big fan of horror films and did you recognise a lot of the nods?
Andy Serkis: Obviously, Paul wrote in those little analogies to Predator and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and you notice them. But they’re lodged very cleverly in the story so that they feel real: they don’t just feel like they’re homage moments. They’re all driven by character. The Farmer, for instance, I find to be quite a tragic character. Although he’s the monster of the movie, there’s still an element of him being this child-like being, whose become this psychologically mashed-up and disfigured animal. I mean, what life has he got? Even with The Farmer, you’re encouraged not to be judgemental in a strange sort of way.
Q. You’ve played your fair share of creatures in the past, so did you ever go on set, put your arm around the actor playing The Farmer and say rather you than me?
Andy Serkis: [Laughs] He found it really hard. Dave is an actor but he’s also a cage fighter and he wasn’t used to the make-up process, sitting in a make-up chair for hours on end. He hated it. But as you say, I’ve done a fair amount of that stuff… when we did Lord of the Rings the transformation sequence from Smeagol to Gollum was a 19-hour make-up job. You have to have a kind of zen button that you press and allow the mind to be focused in a certain way. But I know that Dave was struggling with the hour and a half that he had. He had to drink with a strawer and all that, but you kind of get used to it.
Q. You seem to have a very busy schedule at the moment. How are you finding time management?
Andy Serkis: Well, it’s funny because this year I’ve got stuff coming out but I’ve actually spent the last six months devoting to projects I’m setting up to direct, so I’m working from home a lot. That’s very unusual because I’m away a lot, sometimes working on the other side of the world for long periods of time. So, it’s hard to manage in the sense that I want to be the best dad I can be but it’s almost harder when you have your kids outside the door. Working from home is so, so hard because I want to be present for them and yet there’s so much to do work-wise. That’s the biggest challenge for me.
Q. How are your directing projects coming along?
Andy Serkis: Good. I have a number of projects that I can’t really name specifically because until they actually are underway… one of them is very, very far down the line and we’re supposed to go into pre-production in the next few weeks. We’re just waiting for the final finance to come in but until it does I can’t say this is what I’m doing. But it’s been really, really exciting. It’s the way I’ve been heading for some time now… and some of these things aren’t films, some of them are projects around which films can be made, which has been interesting.
Q. Are you going to be reuniting with Peter Jackson again for Tintin?
Andy Serkis: In fact tomorrow I’m flying out to start on Tintin. Steven Spielberg is directing the first one, and then Peter Jackson is doing the second. The bulk of the shoot starts in September but things got a little bit moved around after the writers’ strike.
Q. Do you feel a special kinship with him?
Andy Serkis: Yeah, I mean at the moment he’s doing The Lovely Bones at the moment, which I think is going to be amazing. But we do seem to be in sync, certainly in terms of collaborating and creating characters and so on. I think we have a similar sense of humour about things, so yeah we do seem to have fused in a particular way.
Q. Were you at all worried when Peter first got back in touch that having played Gollum and King Kong, he might ask you to play Snowy the dog?
Andy Serkis: [laughs] Absolutely, in fact people assume that I am, which is even more disturbing [he’s playing Captain Haddock].
Q. You’ve shot big budget pictures and low budget films, so do you notice many differences?
Andy Serkis: The difference between the big budget films I’ve done is the length of time. King Kong was about a year’s worth of work whereas this was six weeks. You know, you’re away from home on the other side of the world, so you move into a house, the whole family moves there and your kids go to a different school. It’s a different operation. This was going away from home for a few weeks and they could come and visit. But in terms of the day-to-day, you’re still going on to set, you’re getting into character, and you’re going and doing your job, so there’s absolutely no difference. It’s just the structure around it and the length of time. But in terms of budget and money, it doesn’t really manifest itself.
Last year, I did a film called Sugarhouse, which was a very low budget – and by that I mean £200,000, which is nothing. Or Rendition, which was also a low-budget film by a first-time director. But again, those were driven by very passionate, hungry first-time filmmakers and there’s an excitement and thrill that comes along with that which you don’t get on huge budget films. For me, it’s always about the character, the story and the script. Whatever job I’m doing, I don’t really pay attention to the gubbins that goes around it.
Q. Do you get more chance to play around with the characters on a smaller budget film? Are they less set in stone?
Andy Serkis: Well, if you’re talking about something like Lord of the Rings or King Kong that was a fairly collaborative process because I was working with animators and other people that were going to shape the character. It was a very different relationship, and I loved working in that way. On lower budget things you’re still working collaboratively, but the investment and your level of creative importance is higher on something like this.
Q. Having worked with such big-name directors, did you ever find Paul [Andrew Williams] coming to you for any advice?
Andy Serkis: No, not at all. He’s a very accomplished filmmaker and director as well as a great actor’s director. He knows what he wants but is also clever and expert enough to know that if a performance is working, he’ll bow to that. He’s really sound and great fun and provided a great atmosphere for the crew to work in. He respected everybody’s jobs and was a good, natural leader. I think he has a massive future ahead of him. This was going to take place before London To Brighton even happened, so people are going to now judge this in a different way.
But he’s a filmmaker who can go from London To Brighton to this [The Cottage] and when you see his next one, it’ll be different again. People will then really be able to see that he is eclectic and can do it in lots of different arenas. I think we can be very narrow-minded in this country; you see something that someone’s done and immediately want them to do the same thing again – but if they don’t, they’re criticised for not doing the same thing again, but if they do they’re just repeating themselves. Second films are, you know, like ‘difficult second albums’, so it’s a tricky position to be in but I think he’s made a highly accomplished film.