Andy Serkis is a renowned actor, but you may not recognize his face. The most famous of his roles include the "ring-junkie" Gollum in The Lord of the Rings films and Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and this summer's Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Serkis disappears completely into his characters, thanks to performance capture technology that films his face and body movements, and translates them to digitally created avatars. But his singular ability to instill humanity in all his characters — even the most complex and non-human — is what makes them linger in the mind long after the credits have rolled.
We wanted to get to know Serkis a little bit better. In this round of "Random Questions," find out which primate he most wants to emulate, what role he'd choose in a "Serkis Circus," and most importantly, what Hogwarts house he sees himself being assigned to. Don't miss his Ask Me Another Challenge, in which he schools everyone on British slang, and ever-so-slightly teases his upcoming role in the next Star Wars film, Episode VII.
On how performance capture technology works
Basically it's another bunch of cameras. So, you know, you have film cameras filming actors' performances, but performance capture cameras film in 360 degrees. And instead of wearing a costume and makeup, and going on set, and being filmed, you put on a unitard. ... Okay, it's not very flattering, and if you are in New Orleans in 100 percent humidity playing an ape, no one wants to stand near you. But, anyway, that's off-topic.
You wear these markers, reflective markers, and the infrared cameras pick up all this information. You wear a head-mounted camera, wearing markers all over your face, and every single muscle movement, every single part of your performance, is caught — which is why it's called performance capture — and is translated to a computer, and then it's added to a 'rig,' which is the avatar character that you're playing.
Is it pretty comfortable?
I wouldn't say it was comfortable, I would say there are moments where it's distinctly uncomfortable. But actually ... put it this way: If I had to go back to 1968 and wear the makeup that John Chambers made for the original Planet of the Apes series, I think I would rather wear a unitard.
On why he might be the go-to guy for performance capture roles
I think I happen to have stepped into a period of time where this technology was starting to be used. And I happened to play a character that really made it fairly well known. But then I think, after that, I realized what an amazing tool it was — what an amazing technology it was. Because, philosophically, from an acting point of view, what it does is it enables you to play absolutely anything. So I went from playing Gollum to King Kong. So, you know, going from a three-and-a-half foot ring junkie to a 25-foot gorilla meant, to me, that the world of typecasting was over. And suddenly there were these incredible opportunities and brilliantly written roles, and so I kind of embraced it. And so the fact is, I've ridden along on a very exciting wave.
Always the entertainer, Serkis chooses to be a lion-tamer in the Serkis Circus
Because I guess that would provide the most audience entertainment if something went really badly wrong.