Those damn dirty apes are coming back to theaters this summer following the surprise success of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. This time around, Matt Reeves directs Gary Oldman and Keri Russell with Andy Serkis returning to portray ape leader Caesar. The four participated in a press conference at Wondercon to talk about their first memories of the franchise, what’s at stake in the sequel and what Andy thinks about all the praise he gets for his motion capture work.
Q: What were your first memories of the Planet of the Apes franchise?
Gary Oldman: Looking back, I can’t imagine childhood without Planet of the Apes. I was 9, 10 years old when the first one came out. It’s not every day that you get to work with these sort of people and be asked to part of cinema history. It went a bit wobbly for a little while but we’re back on track.
Matt Reeves: The thing about Planet of the Apes, for a really long time it was much of my life. I mean, I was so obsessed after seeing the first movie. It’s an interesting thing as a kid, the first thing you want to do is become one of those apes. It was so fascinating and I was so fascinated by that John Chambers make-up and seeing apes on horseback with guns, that’s a really powerful image. The great thing about seeing Rise, having been a life long fan, having always wanted to be an ape, after I saw that movie, I was an ape and it was through something that I never expected to be done – I had an emotional connection to the apes. The thing about Planet of the Apes is people talk about how it’s all about how the animals become in charge. Well, we are the animals. The idea about a story about how the animals become in charge, well, that story is about us. What I found exciting about it is that, sure it’s a blockbuster movie, it’s a summer movie, but it’s a unique in that it’s about our nature. To explore that story and in such as way as they did in Rise was such an exciting opportunity and that’s why I had to come on board.
Q: Andy, your first portrayal of Caesar caused a groundswell of support for animation and motion capture actors. What are your expectations this time around?
Andy Serkis: I’ve sort of unwittingly become the spokesperson for animation actors or actions that act in motion capture suits and I shouldn’t be because motion capture is just another form of technology, another bunch of cameras.
Gary Oldman: The question that is often asked is, “What’s it like to work with Andy Serkis?” and I’m not sure how to answer that. I come to work and I get into costume. Andy comes to work and gets into a motion capture suit but at least I can still see his face and his eyes and his emotion. If he were wearing a mask, then the question might be, “What’s it like working with someone wearing a mask?”
Keri Russell: Yea, it’s Andy. I mean, you don’t see anything other than the talented actor that he is.
Matt Reeves: I had never done motion capture. My main interest for me as a director, I mean I like telling stories, but the most important thing for me is that world with the actors and getting to work with these people. I was worried about it since I had only seen Andy’s work as it had been translated already, I knew that his performance was captivating and I had been deeply affected by Caesar, but I guess even I didn’t quite understand it. So I said, “I want to see every shot Andy did as Andy and then I want you to show me Caesar,” and what blew me away about it was that Andy was better than Caesar. I was so emotionally affected by what he did I was saying,” Wow, it’s amazing you were able to translate as much as you did and I would to translate in this film even more.” At the end of the day, the heart of the story, the heart of everything we’re doing comes down to these guys and their performances that have the kind of emotional authenticity that you get with working with great actors.
Q: Matt, how did you end up taking on this project?
Matt Reeves: It was a dream project but it was also terrifying because what essentially happened on the project was… I had a great affinity for Rise, I thought it was really moving and when they approached me about it I was like, “Why Rupert? Why after you’ve done such a beautiful job with this film?” and it turned out there were a number of reasons like he didn’t want to do what [FOX] wanted to do, [FOX] didn’t want to do what he wanted to do, the schedule wasn’t long enough, which, having now done it, he’s right, the schedule is not long enough. But what I said was that I’d be interested in carrying forward the story that was established in Rise which was the emotional heart of the apes. Look, we all know how it ends, that it becomes a planet of the apes, so it seemed to me that this was an opportunity to explore the co-existence between the two populations that were struggling for survival. The important thing for me was to present the apes in the emotional way that you could relate to, but also present the humans in a different way so that they weren’t villains. There are no villains in our story. It’s all about survival. It was like jumping out of an airplane and I’ll tell you, I’ve never jumped out of an airplane, but I was happy to jump out of one for this movie.
Q: What do you envision for future films in the franchise?
Matt Reeves: I think there’s a particular luxury in getting involved with this franchise. We already know the ending. So the story immediately isn’t about the what happens, it’s about the how it happens. If you know about what happens, then it becomes about why it happens and the why is about the psychology and the characters and that’s what I find interesting. [FOX] had jumped further down the line where it had almost already the planet of the apes and I said you guys should start earlier because there’s a long interesting story about all the “whys” of these people.
Q: So is this movie the last one for civilization as we know it?
Gary Oldman: Well, at first we don’t know that there are apes there because this community has survived the flu, the outbreak, the epidemic. We believe the military has done their job and basically wiped out the apes. So the currency in the movie for the lack of a better word is electricity and we need that to communicate to the outside world to find out if there is anyone out there or who is out there. So we think we’re the only survivors and then cut to the community of apes who are all doing their thing with their families and then of course, we discover each other.
Matt Reeves: For me this was a story of two families. There’s a human family and there’s an ape family. The difference is, the apes, they’re on the ascent. We start with them and their tribal development and their languages coming into being and all this stuff. So they’re on the way up. But the colony, the humans, they’ve just had the most massive tragedy happen to them and they are a family that is trying to heal themselves. These two families have to find a way to survive and what’s at stake is everything that they care about and for the humans, there’s the question of what it is that they’ve lost.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes arrives in theaters July 11.