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Feature: King Kong

Kong, the man within…

The monkey is getting down to business! We talk to Andy Serkis, the man charged with bringing to life the titular ape in Peter Jackson’s movie

As perhaps the foremost ‘cyber-thespian’ working in Hollywood today, Andy Serkis legitimized the art of CGI acting. His portrayal of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films not only provided a tangible counterpart for the flesh-and-blood actors with whom he shared the screen, but offered a rejoinder to the conventional wisdom that computer-generated characters could possess no depth. But despite the acclaim that surrounded his history-making performance, Serkis contends that the work is the same whether he’s a bug-eyed pen-and-pixel monster or merely a man.

“I think that at the moment it’s a very interesting time, because I don’t draw a distinction between performing in the digital realm or performing on screen,” Serkis says during a recent interview for the upcoming remake of King Kong – in which he plays no less than Kong himself. “I feel really privileged to have been in on it from an early stage, and I kind of shout from the treetops to other actors, ‘God, this is such a great way of working,’ because you’re involved in the creation of the character as much if not more than actually just turning up on set and playing a role. You get to really examine the role time and time again playing motion-capture characters.”

In Serkis’s previous CGI role, film-maker Peter Jackson employed the actor to embody the physicality of Gollum, which would later be replaced by a computer-generated creature his own size or slightly smaller. For Kong, Jackson chose not only to use the actor’s body but his facial expressions as well, which proved to be more of a challenge since most of the character’s reactions are non-verbal. “It was technically more challenging in that Gollum speaks and he has a lot of dialogue, so you can convey the character’s emotions and his psychology through what he says,” Serkis explains. “The challenge when I took this role on [was that] all of that would have to be done silently – by not using Human language.

“We used facial motion capture to drive the facial expressions as opposed to key-frame animating my performance, which was shot on 35mm. There were a lot of differences, and also obviously the scale issue of him being so much bigger, so there are all sorts of technical ramifications with that.”

Because Jackson is an innovator as well as an auteur, many of these technical challenges were easily met. But Serkis’s portrayal of an oversized gorilla – much less the most famous primate in the history of the movies – was at the heart of it. “I pretty much rooted his entire behaviour in real gorilla behaviour,” Serkis says simply. “I spent a lot of time researching gorillas; I spent time with gorillas at the London Zoo and then I went to Rwanda and studied them there.”

by Todd Gilchrist

Read the full interview in
Starburst #331

Image © Visual Imagination, Photo © Universal Pictures
Feature © Visual Imagination 2005. Not for reproduction

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Starburst #331
December 2005
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