When the visual-effects team for King Kong took to the stage to accept their Oscar earlier this month, they made a point to thank Andy Serkis. It's not very often that actors are cited by visual-effects winners, but then again Serkis is no ordinary actor. For the Lord of the Rings trilogy, he created the voice and movements of the Gollum-Smeagol character. For King Kong, he took on the role of no less than the great ape. TVGuide.com caught up with the Brit for the occasion of Kong's March 28 DVD release to get an idea of exactly what's involved when bringing mythic creatures to life.
TVGuide.com: How did it come about that you are director Peter Jackson's go-to guy when he needs a motion-capture actor?
Andy Serkis: Well, I think he appreciated my work in Lord of the Rings, so when King Kong came around, he trusted me to make decisions for the character in the same way I did for Gollum.
TVGuide.com: How much of your work was motion capture and how much was actually done on the set of King Kong?
Serkis: Basically, during principal photography, Naomi Watts and I shot all of our scenes together. I was in a gorilla muscle suit and I wore big gorilla dentures. We used a big sound system to give Kong a sense of presence vocally. I was raised to his eye line, but that was all just to shoot Naomi's performance. So I was off-camera acting for months. Motion capture took place after that ended. I would work off Naomi's close-ups and the shots we created on set. I was free to interpret and reinvent Kong's close-ups and deliver his side of the story.
TVGuide.com: Speaking of close-ups, you used facial motion capture in King Kong.
Serkis: Yes, this time around we used 132 facial markers, as opposed to Gollum where we had animators copy my facial expressions. Gollum's face is actually closer to what I look like, as unfortunate as that may sound. Anyway, those facial markers were assigned to muscles on the CG-image of Kong's face. Each marker is the size of a pinhead. It's like wearing a digital mask, so your acting choices come through very clearly.
TVGuide.com: In the King Kong DVD's production diaries, you say there's no difference between motion capture and conventional acting. Could you talk about that?
Serkis: Absolutely. Basically, how I approached Kong is exactly how I'd approach any other acting role it's all about embodying character, performing the character and getting inside of the psychology. It's exactly the same. The only difference is the way it's recorded. On set you've got a crew there, so there's less chance to experiment. During motion capture, there's more of a chance to experiment. In some ways, it's more organic, really.
TVGuide.com: Which was tougher, Kong or Gollum?
Serkis: In a sense Gollum was easier, because he's a humanoid. On the motion-capture stage, he was proportionately closer to me, so he was moving exactly like I was moving. Also, in terms of writing, Gollum had reams of dialogue. You understood his agenda and his psychology, because it came out through the dialogue. With Kong, the proportions made it a bit more difficult a gorilla's forearms are much longer than their legs. But most importantly, there was nothing to hold on to in the form of dialogue. I had to create a role with unlimited possibilities as to who he is.
TVGuide.com: You're doing a voice in the upcoming animated movie Flushed Away, and you've got a role in Christopher Nolan's The Prestige. Is there any form of movie acting that you haven't tried? Have you thought about perhaps doing a musical?
Serkis: I've never done a musical. That would be pretty interesting. I have danced to "Thriller" in 13 Going on 30, but I don't think that counts. Presently, I'm getting things together to direct a movie. I've directed short films and I've directed a play, but this will be my first time directing a feature-length movie.