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Interview: Andy Serkis of 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey'

'Playing Gollum is very physically exhausting ...'

By James Rocchi Dec 17, 2012 3:49PM

Over the past nearly two decades of his career, Andy Serkis has become, for lack of a better phrase, the leading man who wasn't there; clad in motion-capture clothing, Serkis has lent body and breath to characters like Gollum in "The Lord of the Rings" and Caesar in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" as well as performing and doing vocal work for "Tintin" as Capt. Haddock. We spoke with Serkis in New York about how young Gollum isn't that much of an improvement, working with Peter Jackson and about being the Olivier of motion-capture.  


MSN Movies: It's interesting; 60 years earlier Gollum does not look that much better. Do you say to Mr. Jackson, "Give me more hair…"?


Andy Serkis: (Laughs) I think he looks hot, man. I think he really does look fantastic.




I mean he's got those gorgeous blue eyes, you know?


We're judging on a curve here, aren't we? In the later films he looks like hell.


(Laughs) He really does. But you know ,at this point he's just on his own with his Precious, or so he believes. He's actually, there's this sort of, although he's tortured by this thing and he's lustful after and craving it and he's not driven by revenge and he's not depleted by the fact that the ring has left him.


Yes, so these are Gollum's happy days.


It's at home with Gollum, basically. (Laughs)


BING: Andy Serkis l Gollum

All kidding aside, the fact that you get to play this great, iconic character again, when Peter Jackson said to you, "We're not just talking about it. A) we're doing these three films and B) I'm doing them," was that exciting for you to know that you'd be back with Mr. Jackson?


Oh, yeah.




Of course, yeah. I mean Peter and I have now worked over the course of the last 12 years on so many different projects, and we have a very close relationship. He and Fran Walsh and myself and Philippa Boyens, the whole team, we've worked together on these projects like "Tintin" and obviously "King Kong." So we have a real shorthand I think, which is why he asked me to direct the second unit on this.


How physical is it performing as Gollum?? And also, while you're doing it are you still looking at it out of the corner of your eye so you can get a sense about how Mr. Jackson composes his shots and does the magic so you can do the second unit stuff?


You mean while I'm playing Gollum?




It's very physical. Gollum is an incredibly physical role. And it's a combination of physicality and of course vocal. They're so entwined with each other, so meshed with each other. It's a pretty exhausting role, but I had such fun playing it with Martin. It was the very first thing we shot on the movie as well. It was day one of 276 days of shooting, and there was I was face to face with Martin finding his way into playing Bilbo. And we shot the scene in its entirety every single time. And then Pete would move the camera between takes and let us roll it again. We would just play the whole scene out. And it was really, really exciting when we're doing it.


But it just seems that for a film predicated on so much technology and so much after the shot manipulation, you're still able to move the camera and get a second take, which is really at heart as a actor all you want, right?


Yeah, yeah, yeah. Sure. No, no, no. We did this over two weeks.




So we had multiple opportunities. But with that came the opportunity to really, really explore the scene and mine it for what it's worth. And Martin certainly did that.


It's nice to know that for all of the time and money being expended on just getting the shot you're still getting the room to make a scene out of it.


For sure. Absolutely.


So you've done these films, you've done "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," you're working on a version of "Animal Farm," you're kind of the guy for motion capture here. What do you think it is that gives you an understanding that other people haven’t quite seem to have gotten yet?


I think other filmmakers are certainly moving toward it. Obviously people like Robert Zemeckis have gone down that route. Actors now are seeing it as part of the tool kit.  It is such an amazingly liberated  tool kit. I suppose I've played more characters, I supposed I've played more high-profile characters if you'd like that have demonstrated the technology. Or the fact that it is a technology that it's actually acting at heart but it's just a different way of recording and actors performance. I mean that's really the most important thing that I think people need to understand about it -- that it's not a genre of acting. You don't suddenly change the type of acting you do. You're playing a character. You're embodying that role in the way that you would if it was a live action character. It's just that it happens to be a different set of technology that records the performance. 


For more on "The Hobbit," watch our two video interviews with the cast and crew:


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