Actor of the Week: Andy Serkis
This week’s Actor of the Week winner is, in many ways, a modern pioneer in a particular field of acting; the genius that is Andy Serkis. Largely speaking, Serkis is a pioneer because of his work in motion capture for several gargantuan film series. That being said, he is an excellent actor in or out of the mo-cap suit.
It’s difficult to know where to start with Serkis’ back catalogue, given his prolificity, but his work in the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit films seems more than adequate! Serkis’ work as Gollum/Sméagol was absolutely first class. Aside from his appearance being clearly creature-like, his performance frequently makes you forget that and you lose yourself in the story so very easily as a result. There are many creatures in the LotR/Hobbit films, but it’s Serkis’ performance that stands out. Firstly, he is a key fixture in the Lord of the Rings story, from beginning to end, giving Serkis screen time in abundance. With that screen time, he delivers a performance that lives long in the memory. Not only is he wonderfully convincing, he is also playing a character at war with himself. This was brought about by Gollum, once a Hobbit known as Sméagol, being twisted and deformed in body and mind by possession of the One Ring and its power. As a result, the Gollum side of himself regularly argues with the Sméagol side, and Serkis portrays this tremendously, all within the confines of making his character look physically convincing. There is no doubt Serkis was a monumental part of a series of films that have gone down in history as some of the most beautiful put together.
From here, the logical progression is another hugely successful franchise; the Planet of the Apes trilogy. Beginning with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Serkis stars as Caesar, a chimpanzee brought up by scientist Will Rodman, played by James Franco. Rodman is working on a cure for Alzheimer's, and administers the drug ALZ-112 to chimpanzees in their lab. One chimp, Bright Eyes, is shot for volatility during Rodman’s presentation, but she was only protecting her young chimp, who is Caesar. Rodman ends up taking Caesar and raising him at home, and learns he possesses his mother’s increased intelligence. This was arguably a bigger challenge than Gollum for Serkis. I feel this is the case because, with Gollum, whilst he had to be 100% convincing and on his A-game, he is impersonating a creature we know exists, and therefore have preconceptions about in terms of physicality. If you have seen the films, you will know he delivers with in most incredible fashion, and if you haven’t, you’re in for a real treat. Coupled with Serkis’ otherworldly performances, all three films in the Apes trilogy were nominated for the Best Achievement in Visual Effects Oscar, resulting in the best possible combination for what the films tied to accomplish. Serkis also worked with a couple of our previous Actors of the Week during the Apes trilogy: Gary Oldman in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and Woody Harrelson in War for the Planet of the Apes.
At the top of this piece I said that Serkis was an top-notch actor out of motion capture, and the most recent film that made affirmed this for me was Black Panther. There has been an unreal amount of hype around Black Panther for many reasons, and one of them was how there were a number of stellar performances from several cast members. However, it struck me after seeing Black Panther that Serkis’ name wasn’t mentioned in nearly the same frequency as some of the others’. For me personally, whilst the praise for performances from Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan, as examples, was spot on, I actually found Serkis’ character, Ulysses Klaue, one of the most interesting. This was largely because Serkis gave us someone who was a complete maverick and totally unpredictable. Obviously this a reprisal of his role from Avengers: Age of Ultron, but it was ramped up in Black Panther. He was hilarious and completely of the chart, you really didn’t know what he was going to do next. I actually felt I didn’t see enough of him in the film, and really wanted more.
Other notable performances from Serkis include King Kong and Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. Both were, again, motion capture performances, playing Kong himself in King Kong, and the intriguing yet, perhaps, wasted Supreme Leader Snoke in the two Star Wars films. He also played Alley, assistant to David Bowie’s Tesla, in The Prestige, which also saw him star alongside another former Actor of the Week winner in Christian Bale.
Serkis is, without question, a talented man. He will go down in history as a modern great, due to his motion capture work. He is the first name on the list when it comes to that kind of role, simply because there is no one better, making him mo-cap’s crown jewel... you could even say its Precious! Nice work, Andy.