That’s fine by him.
“I think actors are afraid that if they’re not seen on-screen, then that’s a real problem,” Serkis, 47, said during a recent interview in a hotel suite at San Diego’s Comic-Con, the pop-culture convention where the London native had come to promote “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” “But for me, that’s never been an issue because I love filling a role that, like I say, transforms [me].”
Serkis — a fit and diminutive man with a mop of brunet curls on his head — has spent more than two decades assuming other identities. He’s done it both in theater, movie and TV roles — you might remember seeing his actual face in the HBO film “Longford” or Christopher Nolan’s “The Prestige” — as well as performance-capture parts, where his physical movements and expressions are recorded, then turned into data that infuse human emotion into computer-generated characters.
To Serkis, there is no creative difference between the two approaches. “There’s no such thing as a performance-capture role or a performance-capture movie,” he says. “It’s a tool. It’s just another way of recording an actor’s performance.”
Continued advances in technology are minimizing the divide between standard screen acting and the sort that requires stars to dot up their bodies with motion-capture markers. All of which could signal that now — a decade after the watershed moment when Serkis first turned Gollum from cleverly rendered visual effect into the fully realized schizophrenic creature coveting his “precious” ring — performance capture may start to become more widely embraced by the SAG-card-carrying community.
In “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” for example, Serkis and his fellow performance-capture colleagues were able to do something that had never been done before: shoot all their scenes on regular sets or in real-world environments, just as any cast member would when working on location. That meant that Serkis — who, whenever he assumed the role of Caesar, suited up in a leotard and a helmet with a face-capture camera attached to it — was able to play opposite co-star James Franco and other actors on a 350-foot-long portion of a Vancouver bridge that doubles for San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge in the film. That may not sound like a significant leap forward, but after years of relegating most performance-capture work to carefully modulated, isolated sets known as “volumes,” being outdoors and in the moment felt incredibly liberating, Serkis says.
“As a technical achievement,” he says, “it was huge to have all of the actors bounding along and interacting with all that stuff. And it feels so real.”