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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Andy Serkis interview

Andy Serkis

Interview by Rob Carnevale

ANDY Serkis talks about revisiting the role of Gollum in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey as well as becoming second unit director on the two prequels.

He also discusses his passion for cinema and why he got into acting. He was speaking while promoting his role as Caesar in Twentieth Century Fox’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Q. How much of your Gollum role have you completed?
Andy Serkis: Gollum is completely in the can. We started off in April this year, shooting The Hobbit and it was the first up. I was the first in the make-up chair and Gollum was shot in about two weeks and I started my job as second unit director. So, that’s what I’m doing now on The Hobbit.

Q. Tell us a little about that… What brought that on?
Andy Serkis: Peter has known that I’ve been setting up projects to direct for a very long time… ever since Lord of the Rings I’ve been directing short films and performance capture and theatre. I’ve had live action feature film projects that I’ve been developing. So, out of the blue I got an email from him. I was literally going to go over and do my two weeks of shooting Gollum and he said: “Look, how do you fancy coming over for 260 days of shooting?” So, I thought to myself: “Hmm, oh alright then!” But it’s been great. I’ve been having a brilliant time. It’s a huge responsibility but Peter said: “I want you to be bold, make strong decisions, go out there and provide me with animatics and pre-visuals of scenes. But make it your own and cut your own material.” So, it’s huge.

Q. So, are you in helicopters and boats?
Andy Serkis: Yeah, all of that. In fact, when we go back this time we start to shoot on location because it’s all been studio up to this point. But I’ll be doing battle sequences and drama and all manner of things – vistas and inserts. It’s so vast and it’s shooting in 3D. But I’m working with a crew that I’ve got to know over the last 10 years, so that really helps.

Q. It sounds like a mini English town out there…
Andy Serkis: Yes [laughs]. It’s great. A lot of people have shipped their families over there. There’s Martin Freeman, of course, and Benedict Cumberbatch is going to be coming out, and Stephen Fry is coming out, so it’s terrific.

Q. Is there someone that everyone hates?
Andy Serkis: [Laughs] Let me think… yes but I can’t say. No, not really.

Q. Did you manage to take all of your children?
Andy Serkis: I can’t unfortunately. I mean, they’re coming out for the summer holidays and Christmas holidays and Easter holidays but they’re starting secondary school now and sadly that is the major downer of the whole thing – being away for long periods of time. But we have Skype. So, I’ve had some interesting Skype moments where I’m cooking dinner in the evening and they’re all having breakfast and I can hear them all screaming. I just imagine myself being at home. But I have to be there virtually – a virtual dad [laughs].

Andy Serkis, Gollum

Q. As a kid, was there any time you imagined being involved in films like Planet of the Apes or even Lord of the Rings – films and cartoons you were perhaps watching?
Andy Serkis: Oh, I didn’t even think of becoming an actor until I was in my 20s but I always used to come out of movies trying to pretend to be whatever character I’d watched. I think everybody does that, don’t they? I remember coming out of Eraserhead and trying to get my hair up like that. I think I’m very impressionable.

Q. Why so late into acting?
Andy Serkis: Well, I wanted to paint. Painting was my thing, so I wanted to be a painter or a graphic designer. And I went to Lancaster University to do that… and also because it was near the Lake District and climbing was a big hobby of mine as well. But I didn’t realise that you had to do another subject in your first year and I didn’t know what I was going to do. But there was a really good theatre studies department, so I thought it was arts related and decided to get involved with that. I started designing some posters for them and sets and things like that. But then I started acting in productions until I played this one role which was huge epiphany moment in my life, where it was ‘this is what I’ve got to do’. I think it was this notion of being totally immersed and transformed… that you could have the power to immerse yourself and emotionally and physically transform yourself into another being. It was just so powerful.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Q. What role?
Andy Serkis: It was a play called Gotcha by Barry Keefe and it was kind of written in 1979. The character was this kid on the last day of school taking his brother’s motorbike into this chemistry lab at school and holding a teacher hostage by holding a lit cigarette over the petrol tank. So, the whole play takes place over the course of this packet of cigarettes and he’s literally… time is running out as he’s venting basically. But it was just the most amazing experience and I wasn’t prepared for the fact you could feel those thoughts and emotions and actually be able to affect people in an audience that way.

Q. Is acting still your first love? Or will all the strings to your bow and what you do behind the camera now has it stepped back a bit?
Andy Serkis: I think acting is probably the most natural form of expression for me. But intellectually, and from a visual point of view, I’ve always wanted to be a filmmaker as well as that. So, the next few years are going to be slightly more concentrated on directing and putting together projects. The Ian Dury film [Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll] was the beginning of really formally doing that because although I played him myself and the writer Paul Viragh kind of started the project off, brought people on and found a producer. I was very much involved in the fabric of it as well.

View first-look photos

Andy Serkis talks Rise of the Planet of the Apes and performance capture