Andy Serkis on the Apes trilogy: The studio explored using real apes instead of actors (exclusive)

Tom Butler
UK Movies Editor
Andy Serkis talks us through the making of the new Planet of the Apes reboot trilogy. (20th Century Fox)

War For The Planet of the Apes arrives on DVD and Blu-ray next week, and we spoke to its star Andy Serkis to celebrate the home entertainment release of the culmination of Fox’s Apes reboot trilogy.

Expectations for 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, itself a prequel to the 1968 original, were low following Tim Burton’s wonky 2001 remake. But the combination of a killer script from Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, a solid cast of character actors including James Franco, Frieda Pinto, and John Lithgow, and envelope-pushing VFX from Weta Digital propelled ROTPOTA to commercial and critical acclaim. Two sequels, directed by Matt Reeves, followed in 2014 with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and this year with War For The Planet of the Apes capping off an incredible trilogy of blockbuster films.

Andy Serkis, the reigning king of performance capture thanks to Gollum and King Kong, played the lead role of Caesar in each of three films, but he revealed in our trio of exclusive new interviews that he was a late addition to the cast, and that the studio had toyed with the idea of using real chimps and apes to play the animal roles.

Andy Serkis on 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes


“The studio hadn’t worked out how they were going to approach it,” explains Serkis.

“They’d gone through the whole kind of machinations of ‘we might use real chimpanzees’ then [they thought] ‘perhaps we’ll use people in ape costumes’. And then very late on they decided ‘we can’t do that because neither of those are going to work in this day and age’.”

Recent advances in technology had freed the technology of performance capture from its traditional home on a sound stage, allowing it to be used on location. This gave Serkis the freedom to perform opposite the human stars in a natural way, although it took Weta’s Oscar-winning Joe Letteri to convince the studio that Caesar required an actor to provide the performance.

“Joe Letteri said motion capture is the way to do it, and we think we can do that now in terms of textures for hair and fur, but you need a central performance. You need an actor to play Caesar.”

Andy Serkis on 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes


Rupert Wyatt, the director of ROTPOTA, opted to not return for the sequel, but Serkis says the transition to new director Matt Reeves was smoother than expected.

“Both [directors] had such an incredible grasp of the subject matter and a real passion for the story,” Serkis says.

“Matt [Reeves] came on with a heavy burden in the sense that he wanted to take the story in a very different direction. What he loved about Rise was beginning to see the transition into seeing the world through the apes’ eyes. So when he came on he said he wanted to create a more ape-driven story, much more from their point of view.”

Andy Serkis on 2017’s War For the Planet of the Apes


Now that Serkis has finished playing Caesar, he says he’s gone through a period of mourning calling the role a unique experience.

“Saying goodbye to Caesar has been a big part [of the last few months],” says Serkis.

“You realise you live with a character in a very intense way. It’s only six years, which is a relatively short period of time that these three movies have taken place within, so he’s always been there. I love the character and I really have loved playing him at every stage, it’s been an incredible journey to play him all the way from infancy to the end of his life.”

“I don’t think there are many other opportunities for actors out there like that. There really aren’t. Not to play a character from birth to death.”

War for the Planet of the Apes is available on Digital Download now and 4K Ultra HD™, 3D Blu-ray™, Blu-ray™ and DVD on 27 November. Watch a deleted scene below.


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