Gary Oldman and Andy Serkis :: Man vs. Ape in Latest Franchise Sequel
When Charlton Heston landed on the "Planet of the Apes" in 1968, the sight of a society of talking simians was shocking, even with rigid makeup limiting their movement. But for the apes in the film, a talking human was unheard of, because while the apes had evolved, humans had long since gone mute. The 1968 classic spawned four sequels, and after the confusing Tim Burton remake in 2001, the series went back to the beginning in 2011 with "Rise of the Planet of the Apes."
That reboot showed how the ape uprising began when a scientist brought a genetically tested super-intelligent ape named Caesar home with him. When Caesar grew up, he was incarcerated by cruel animal handlers and led his fellow apes in a revolt for freedom, which leads them to the forests above San Francisco.
"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" picks the narrative up a decade later. A viral epidemic has wiped out most of the humans, but the apes have survived, flourished even, in the community that one Caesar leads in the Muir Woods north of San Francisco. There are still some human though, and Gary Oldman plays one of them: an ex-military man named Dreyfus who has lost his family in the epidemic, but has endured to become the leader of a community of survivors who live in what appears to be a decaying, upscale San Francisco mall. His plan is to bring hydroelectric power to the city, but to do so he must reboot a long dormant dam located in the forest where the apes live.
Can species co-exist?
"We believe that the military have done their job," Oldman said. "Basically that they've wiped out the apes. So, initially, we don't know that there are apes there. The thing is, we (the humans) have food, we have water; but the currency in the movie, for want of a better word, is electricity. That's the currency. We need it to communicate to the outside world, to actually find out if how many are out there. And just who is out there.
"So we believe, for all intents and purposes, we could be the only survivors. Then of course we discover a community of apes who think we've all been wiped out. We discover each other. The drama is can the apes and can the humans coexist?"
Having played some of cinema's most memorable villains, from "The Professional" to Dracula himself, Oldman found the humanity of Dreyfus, in fact the heroism.
"I see Dreyfus as a heroic character," Oldman said. "Obviously it's affected him and changed him. In some respects I think that kind of tragedy on that magnitude befalls you; that can give you something you wouldn't ordinarily have. Again, these people have to be survivors. They've survived not only an epidemic, but the ensuing chaos, the post-apocalyptic insanity. They are resourceful people. You would have to be to have gotten this far."
Caesar is again played by the now legendary performance-capture actor Andy Serkis. Serkis became a specialist in the technique when he played Gollum in "The Lord of the Rings," and since gone on to play King Kong himself and Caesar in the first film in this reboot. Caesar is created by using a technique that records Serkis's performance digitally, then by taking additional information from cameras pointed at his face.
"I have to say, I've sort of unwittingly become a spokesperson for a perceived discrimination between actors who act in motion capture suits or in costumes with makeup," Serkis lamented. "I've just sort of ended up in this weird position and I shouldn't be, because in actual fact performance capture is just another bunch of cameras filming an actor's performance. I think really the most important thing is that the perception needs to be understood. I never distinguish. I've played lots of different roles, whether they be live action or performance capture, and Gary's done the same. You don't alter your performance because you're using a different camera to film you."
Oldman saw the similarities between his work and Serkis'. "You put it very well," Oldman said. "The question that's often asked is what's it like working with Andy Serkis as the ape? I come to work and I get into a costume. Andy comes to work and gets into a costume, so at least you can see his face. You can see the eyes and you can see the emotion. I would actually rather that. If you were wearing a mask, then the question might be, 'What's it like working with someone who's behind a mask?' But you're not."
An ensemble piece
Nor is Serkis alone. The actors cast as apes in "Dawn" includes Judy Greer, Terry Notary and Toby Kebbell (amongst others). "In this film, there's brilliant performances across the board from a load of talented actors playing apes as well," Serkis said. "It is an ensemble piece, and on the human side. It's interesting going back to the question about the original 'Planet of the Apes.' There are all those apocryphal stories of the orangutans sat at one table and the chimpanzees sat at another table at dinner time and nobody ever talked to each other. We certainly don't have that situation. The actors are the actors."
We know that the apes eventually learn to speak fluent English, but in "Dawn" they are still learning to talk. "One of the challenges for all of the actors playing apes was the level to which they could articulate speech," Serkis said. "It's a combination of all the individual vocalizations and their gesturing and incorporation of those two, and then sign language which Caesar had learned and taught to the other apes; and then Caesar, being probably the most evolved, how his speech is articulated.
"We didn't want to make this huge leap forward where he suddenly could read off huge, long monologues and be very articulate and talk about the weather. It was very much about finding the prototype language for all those apes. On top of that just emotionally -- how to portray a fairly complex journey. A lot of scenes with the apes are fairly silent, using a little guttural language and then sign language. Actually later on in the story when it gets more philosophical, we discovered the more difficult that got. There are certain scenes where Caesar is being philosophical, and having to play that without making him too human."