INT: Andy Serkis
With his much-lauded performance as Gollum in LOTR: THE TWO TOWERS, actor Andy Serkis unwittingly ignited a debate among movie fans over whether an actor playing a CGI-enhanced character should be eligible for the Academy Awards. To me, theres no question that Serkis deserved to be nominated. Lets be honest; if the Academy required that all nominees be 100% real, without any physical enhancements, then almost all of the actresses in Hollywood would be disqualified immediately. In THE RETURN OF THE KING, Gollum continues the journey alongside his new pals Frodo and Sam. Still lusting after the ring, he attempts to pull a Yoko on the Hobbit duo. The films opening sequence is a flashback that reveals Gollums origin. Once a common street thug, his life changed forever when he fell into a giant vat of acid, disfiguring his skin and driving him insane. Oh wait, thats the Jokers origin.
Anyway, I met with Andy last week to speak about his experience playing the devious, schizophrenic Gollum.
What has the reaction been to your performance in these films? Are people finally realizing that you are Gollum?
They finally are, I think, thanks to Peter and New Line. They went out of their way, in the DVDs (and) in the press last year when TWO TOWERS came out, to alert the world that there was an actor behind the role. It's been a tough year because I've spent most of the year explaining to people how it was done.
When you say they went out of their way in the DVDs, are you referring to the extended footage?
Yeah. I think in the original DVD there's some little documentary about the making of Gollum, but in the extended (version) there's a very, very in-depth documentary about how we went about it. And also not to plug it but I've spent the time writing a book. I wrote a diary all the way through this whole experience, with interviews with animators and motion capture people.
How responsible is (screenwriter/producer) Fran Walsh for the films take on the Gollum character?
She is very, very responsible. She is the most incredibly modest person, but Fran really became the overall guardian of the character. Because Pete was keeping his eye on so many things and because Gollum especially before Two Towers hadn't been released to the world up to that point, it needed someone who was going to keep their eye on every aspect. Fran, from the writing point of view, began to craft Gollum and Smeagol through that journey, (from) principle photography right through until release of The Two Towers. We worked very closely together; she directed me in a lot of scenes on the motion capture stage and we both drew from our children's experiences and put them into Smeagol and together crafted his roots. She was my touchstone, really, if I ever needed to talk about the character.
At what point was the decision made to add the Smeagol flashback?
That sequence was originally written for The Two Towers and we shot it during principle photography. But when it came to the edit, Peter and Fran decided very cleverly I think that they wanted to hold that back and let Gollum live in the public consciousness for a year before finally giving away who he was. It ends up being apart from his own physical journey towards Mordor and leaving the caves it becomes like a psychological journey, a journey to find out who he is and who he was. And it also, it's a great way of establishing that he is a human being. The fight between Smeagol and Deagol for the ring is very much like two children for me, it's very much how we played it, how Fran and I talked about it; we're like two children in a playground fighting for something like a ticket to the World Cup, which goes out of control. One of them becomes this murderer, a child murderer. At it's that point of loss of innocence that we were both very interested in.
What was the most enjoyable aspect of your experience and what, if anything, would you like to forget?
I'd like to forget wearing a lycra suit for four years. That certainly I would like to forget. I'll tell you the most enjoyable moment for me in the whole filmmaking process: there was one time when I went back to do motion capture on Two Towers where I was working with Peter and Fran in the motion capture studio. It was the first time we were all really riffing off each other it was like we discovered the possibilities of how we could really make this work. There wasn't the pressure when you're shooting on 35mm and you've got a massive crew and you're out outside on a volcano. The character development could really, really take shape. That was a very productive time; I was buzzing through on that.
Whats it like to finally see your own face onscreen?
It's funny because people go, Oh God, it must be such a relief to see your face on screen at last, like I've not been onscreen, but I don't ever think of it like that. I really don't because I played the part and I know most of the physical movement, the time and the reaction, the beats, the winks, the blinks, although they're amplified by the animation.
I think it's more of a relief for my family and friends to see my face, actually. As an actor, I love being the master of disguise, I love it. That's part of the charm of acting for me, I like playing the character and being so what greater way to be subsumed and, you know, be a hobbit? If you're inside the manifestation of a character, you can totally release.
Would you play another virtual character?
Absolutely if the script was good, if the writing, the story were truthful. People have said, Will you be glad to get back to proper acting? and it's like, this has been proper acting. There's no difference between this kind of acting and any other acting that I've done. But yes, I would definitely (play another virtual character) because in fact, a door has opened. Now we know that it can work. We're now able to shoot motion capture on set at the same time as shooting 35 mm, so you can get everything all at the same time. You can actually take any creature, I could scan your body into a computer and then have points on your body tracked to mine and I could play a version of you -- provided I could find a way of getting inside your head and heart, I could psychologically investigate you and I could play you or I could play a fly or a kangaroo or whatever.
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