Who is Andy Serkis?
He's starred in blockbuster films such as "King Kong" and "The Lord of the Rings," yet his face remains a mystery
Likely the only profession that likes facetime more than politicians is that of the actor. The countenance is everything, the numero uno sales tool.
So, now describe what actor Andy Serkis looks like. Come on, he's starred in some of the biggest movies of all time.
"I just like character acting," says Serkis by phone. "I like being heavily disguised! Well, maybe not that much. You can see what I actually look like in 'The Prestige,' which is out now. Well, sort of see me ..."
Serkis is the chap who nearly rewrote the rules of Academy Award nominations for his role as Gollum in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. He was there on set with the other actors, acting his heart out and interacting with the others, and then he was digitally removed and a pixel-creature replaced him, although the voice and movement and soul of the heartbreaking performance remained. He was there, and then he wasn't, and you have to be present to win, or at least be nominated.
And then Serkis pushed the digital stand-in boundaries yet again with his acting as the title creature in "King Kong." Wearing a green leotard and leaping about in a green studio, Serkis brought the king of the apes to life before he was erased. Another fabulous performance by someone no longer with us.
And this week, Serkis, again, anonymously like the Great Oz, creates a memorable artificial character -- it's Spike, the hyper, motormouth consigliere of a giant Toad in the animated film "Flushed Away." Spike, we should add, is a deeply unlucky and clueless character. Only Coyote in the Roadrunner cartoons suffers more.
"It helped hugely that I was able to see concept art of Spike," said Serkis. "He's small and ratty and nervous, so I was able to come in with a whole idea of the vocal physicality for the character.
"I was also able to interact with Bill Nighy, who plays my partner Whitey in the film, and you don't get to do that very often in recording for animation. Generally, you come in for a first session and then come back in months later."
NEW LINE CINEMA
Andy Serkis made a name for himself as Gollum in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.
You remember Bill Nighy? The fellow who played octopus-headed Davy Jones in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" sequel this summer? Another victim of the digital eraser. The two also work together in the upcoming "Stormbreaker," which is live action. Real faces for once. Serkis also has roles in the upcoming dramas "Rendition" and "Longford."
And currently Serkis is going incognito again for a Playstation game under development called "Heavenly Sword." "I'm doing direct action and motion capture. It really helps to see what you're dealing with in real time."
Interacting with Nighy was a plus. Kate Winslet and Hugh Jackman, whose characters are thrust together, never laid eyes on each other whilst recording. But Spike and Whitey, says Serkis, are "very British characters with very British foibles. We were very intent on retaining a British feel to the production, and Spike and Whitey are traditional British pantomime types. Classics. Stuff I started out playing as a lad. It would have been daft to turn it down, pretty crazed.
"We recorded some in London, where I live with the wife and children, and some in Los Angeles. Sometimes they come to you. The great thing about voice work is you can do it wherever you're working at the time. The downside is that the other characters aren't in the room with you."
Andy Serkis gave King Kong character and feeling with his movements and facial expressions.
Live-action films, explained Serkis, are a collaborative endeavor, while animated films are a mysterious assemblage, at least to most of the participants. "It's such a honing-down process, a continual sharpening, making an animated film. You don't get to see all the detail -- in every corner of the film there's a little joke -- and looping can go on for years. It took five years to make 'Flushed Away.'"
Nick Park's signature Aardman style of animation survives the transition from clay to pixels, says Serkis. "It's exactly the stuff and style of Aardman. I'd only seen low-resolution dailies of the film, for pacing, but the completed movie has one fabulous gag after another, really."
And would Serkis reprise his role as Gollum if director Peter Jackson eventually clears the legal rights to "The Hobbit"?
"Absolutely. Back into the green tights I'd go. Peter is such a talented fellow with so many interests -- I don't know if there's enough hours in the day for him -- that it might be a while before they're ready to film. And Gollum is considerably younger in 'The Hobbit.' But that's the magic of digital performances; no matter how old I get, I can play any age that's needed!"
In "Flushed Away," Andy Serkis plays Spike, a hapless henchrat who is sent to dispose of a pampered mouse.