CATEGORIES Interviews, Movies

andy serkisIn "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," Caesar (Andy Serkis) led his fellow imprisoned apes to freedom. "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," set 10 years later, finds Caesar the leader of an evolving community of apes while the human population is in ruins thanks to the devastating "Simian Flu." A chance encounter between humans and apes threatens to destroy the peace for both species in this sequel, which opens Friday.

Moviefone traveled to San Francisco to chat with Serkis about why acting in a unitard is no different from any other costume, his role model for Caesar, and which of his films scarred his children for life.

Moviefone: Between this, "King Kong," and" The Lord of The Rings," you've kind of become the Motion Capture King.

Andy Serkis: I don't think I am, actually. I'm just an actor who's around at a time when performance capture is evolving. I love the technology, because it's so liberating. But there are so many great actors who are using it now, particularly in this movie, there were some brilliant performances. It's acting for me at the end of the day.

There's no difference for you, then? Except for the funny suit?

Yeah, yeah, you get to wear a unitard. So that's fun. Going to the bathroom is a bit of a nightmare on set.

Is that the only bad part of the process?

It is the only bad part. The unitard is a magic suit, for me. It can take you into worlds that are extraordinary.

In this film, the stakes are a lot higher for Caesar: He's now the leader of the apes, he's got a wife and children. And the apes have evolved, as well, they're starting to speak.

Here we have Caesar who is 10 years older, 10 years' responsibility under his belt. That's weighing on him. Because he received that enhanced intelligence ALZ drug, and his evolution -- both mentally and physically -- has accelerated to the point where he can communicate with human language. That has been buried, actually, because there haven't been humans around. It's reawakened, really, when they turn up on the scene. At this point in time, he's very much concentrating on the ape community and creating a society that is egalitarian and respectful to the different species and finding a commonality in a common language. And then that's blown apart by the arrival of the humans, who very much upset the balance. It's been a really interesting, complex role, because of him being a leader and he's a father now and the family dynamic is interesting with his teenage son. It's very much a father and son movie, in fact.

Caesar's got an infant son but he's also got a teenage son who doesn't always do what he says. You've got teenage kids of your own, so the scene where Bright Eyes storms off...

Oh yeah, I live that every day. [Laughs] It's very universal.

For the first film, you studied actual apes before playing Caesar. Who did you study for this one?

I was actually looking at world leaders, how to govern, how to manage. Nelson Mandela was very much a role model for me, in terms of Caesar as a leader. Just finding that balance between knowing where to draw that line and how to hold down emotion with logic and reasoning, because of course he is animal. Being a leader, you have to make incredibly difficult decisions. It really made me question leadership, hugely.

Since you have so much experience with this, do you feel like you're the leader on set, as Caesar is in the film?

Caesar has a certain authority, I suppose. And I suppose, my experience being in the prior movie and knowing this world well, yeah, I do have that kind of position. We did a lot of improvisations before shooting started to establish hierarchy, the way the apes communicated their own vocalizations and the American Sign Language that Caesar had taught them and gestures. There's 2,000 apes and we're defining all of these characters: Who are the closest council, who are friends and family. We did these long improvisations that were amazing leading up to the shoot. Any time you see one of these scenes, just before the camera rolls, we all start doing ape vocalizations and getting into character, so we're ready when the camera turns on.

How did that go over with the horses?

It made the horses very skittish, because we were hooting and hollering as apes and they weren't that keen on that.

Did you do your own fight scenes in this?

Yeah, me and Toby Kebbell (who plays Koba, Caesar's ape rival) did that fight scene downstairs. There's one move in there the stunt guys did but the rest was absolutely all me and Toby. That's the great thing about performance capture, it allows you to do that sort of thing.

Did either of you get hurt?

Not in that, but we did get hurt in other moments, particularly Toby. He really wrecked his arm. He hyper-extended his elbow and tore muscles all the way down.

And that never happened to you?

No, fortunately, in this one, Caesar's now more bipedal and his stance is much more human. I'm very happy with that, because when he was scampering around, that was a thigh-burner beyond belief.

Are you definitely back for another "Apes" film?

I would think it's safe to say that I will be back for the next one. Yeah, absolutely. I love this franchise, because it's a big blockbuster movie, but at the same time it has real brains and heart. Matt Reeves is going to direct the next one as well and he is such a great actor's director. It's not just a special-effects movie. He's a real storyteller. I feel very privileged to be part of it. It does say something. I think it's quite an important movie for our times.

The original "Planet of the Apes" was very much a metaphor for the '60s. What do you think this movie says about us now?

I think it speaks to prejudice, I think it speaks to the necessity for empathy, I think it's anti-gun and anti-weapon. And it speaks to an anti-fundamentalist, knee-jerk reaction to the need to radicalize in the way that Koba does, in a very dangerous and un-thought-through way. I think all those things play.

Did your kids, when they were younger, realize that you were Gollum or King Kong?

I think the only time my kids got upset when watching one of my movies was in "King Kong," when I was also playing a character that got eaten by a particularly gruesome slug that took my head off. I think that mentally scarred them for life, really.

Did you warn them that scene was coming up?

I perhaps should have done, but I forgot to. [Laughs]

When you're watching the characters you've played via performance capture, which one do you see yourself in most?

Caesar. The facial capture, the fidelity to the actual, original performance on set is so real and so close. I definitely see all my facial expressions. Talk to my wife. She'll tell you. "Ahh, I know that one."

Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images