Andy Serkis is to be recognised at Cinema Con this week for his pioneering work in the area of performance capture- he’ll be receiving the Vanguard Award for his role in developing the new art form, beginning over a decade ago as Gollum in The Lord Of The Rings. Serkis is on record as saying he wants ‘mocap’ to be recognised as simply acting, but it’s good to see him being acknowledged for this line of work, which also includes the title character in King Kong (2005), Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), and the follow up, soon to be released, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), as well as playing Captain Haddock in The Adventures Of Tintin (2011).
Serkis is a multi-talented man, a keen saxophone player, rock climber and cyclist, who’s initial ambition wasn’t to pursue acting, but rather a career in visual arts. He grew up in London, his mother English, and father Iraqi, of Armenian descent. While studying at university, he chose theatre as a secondary subject so he could design posters, which led to him getting involved in designing and producing plays. Having agreed to act in a couple of productions, he then changed his major subject to acting, as well as learning set design.
Working backstage at the local playhouse earned Serkis his Equity Card, where he stayed on as an actor, gaining experience in productions from Brecht to Shakespeare. He continued to work in theatre after moving back to London, and started to pick up small roles in television, such as The Darling Buds Of May, in 1992, and Bill Sikes in Oliver Twist in 1998. He had a small part in a mini series I especially like, Shooting The Past in 1999.
Serkis describes how the work he was called on to do for The Lord Of The Rings back in 1999, turned into something else entirely,
‘Originally when I went off to work on The Lord Of The Rings, I got a call from my agent saying that I was just going to do a voice. But I couldn’t really approach it like that. To get Gollum’s voice, I had to play the character. I told Peter that was how I’d like to do it, and when he was watching me moving around on set he said, ‘Stop everything. We are going to record Andy’s performance, and then we are going to experiment with performance capture.’
What began as Serkis creating a performance twice, once with the other actors in a scene, and again, alone on a ‘mocap’ stage, had evolved, by the time of The Hobbit, into a sophisticated, integrated process, which encompassed Serkis’ own movements, expressions and voice, overlaid with a ‘digital skin’.
In a fascinating article, Andy Serkis comes across as a man of enormous enthusiasm, one who throws himself wholeheartedly into any project he undertakes. For King Kong, he spent hours observing the behaviour of gorillas at London Zoo, and for Caesar the ape, he’d go out running on all fours, to get used to the motion. In a straight performing role for which he won an award, he had to learn to walk with callipers, to portray Ian Dury in the 2009 biopic, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll.
In 2011 Serkis co-founded the Imaginarium, a digital studio, which was to specialise in the creative use of performance capture technology. Not long after, he received an email from Peter Jackson, asking him to stay on in New Zealand after completing his two week’s work as Gollum on The Hobbit, and take on the role of second unit director, a challenging new direction for his career. This called for a rapid change of plans, putting on hold the development of his new company, but was an opportunity too good to pass up. With that valuable experience behind him, Serkis has just been announced as taking over the director’s job for the new Warner Brothers’ live action version of The Jungle Book.
Andy Serkis has done acclaimed work in many straight acting roles, including an Emmy award nominated performance in the BBC TV series Little Dorrit, but continues to be best known and loved for roles in which he himself is unrecognisable, most famously his utterly memorable performance as the creature Gollum.