Andy Serkis returns to the character that made him famous for ‘The Hobbit’
It hardly sounds favorable to say that Andy Serkis looks like the character he’s known best for inhabiting — Gollum is one homely ex-hobbit — but the piercing blue eyes that both possess do have a habit of captivating those on whom they’re set. Take us for example, sitting down with Serkis to discuss his re-entry into J.R.R. Tolkien’s universe with Peter Jackson’s new trilogy, “The Hobbit.” The ever-charming British actor spoke to us about limbering up for motion-capture acting and the tedium of being Hollywood’s go-to man for animated roles.
After playing this physically demanding role for a six films, you must have some sort of Gollum calisthenics routine.
I have to stretch out every day now, because a lot of the roles I have played in recent times have been physical. … My back took a hit when I did Gollum the first time around.
Well you have a lot more to go, playing the ape Caesar in the “Planet of the Apes” sequel.
That’s absolutely right, because the most exhausting part of that role was playing him as a young chimp. That was pretty tortuous. That was hard work. He had the fast energy, but [he is] low and crouched and then spinning around. I was pretty exhausted doing that.
In “The Hobbit,” Gollum has a scene with Bilbo Baggins that is said to be the most iconic of anything Tolkien wrote. Had you rehearsed this in your mind, even before you started shooting the first “Lord of the Rings” film?
Absolutely, because it’s the source, obviously, of losing the ring and from then on it becomes Gollum’s revenge. The desire to kill Baggins and get back the [ring] is what drives the entire Rings trilogy, so this is the source of it and its that which makes it, because obviously it was back-engineered. “The Lord of the Rings” was written after “The Hobbit,” so the subsequent publications of “The Hobbit” have more about the ring which Tolkien went back and wrote. The effect of the ring on Bilbo and his constant memories of it are what Tolkien went back and wrote in, because he realized how obviously the ring was going to be very important.
After playing Gollum, King Kong, Caesar and Captain Haddock in “The Adventures of Tintin,” your name has become synonymous with this motion-capture technology. Are you happy with being known firstly as a motion-capture actor?
I suppose by definition I’d rather it be that they understood what it is and then it wouldn’t be so much of a big deal. It’s a double-edged sword because it’s nice to have been a part of a pioneering technology and to align acting with that and to actually say to the acting community this technology offers you unlimited possibilities in terms of what you play – you’re not limited by sex, by size, by anything, apart from your acting. … I suppose I’ve been given the task of explaining what it is, so I’ve become a kind of spokesperson for it, unwittingly.
Have you become more comfortable doing motion-capture roles as opposed to showing your face on camera?
No, no. In terms of acting it’s the same thing. There’s no difference. It’s technology. That’s the thing; performance capture is a technology which is another way of recording an actor’s performance. … That’s the thing that people find hard to understand — that’s it a type of acting. To play Gollum is no different to playing Ian Dury or to play King Kong is no different to playing Ian Dury. It’s all about characterization and embodying that role and finding a physicality and physical vocabulary, a mental understanding, building the emotional arc of the character and just getting into the role — and that’s the same whether you’re wearing a costume and makeup and a caliper on one leg or crawling around as Gollum.