Tag Archives: Andy Serkis

Interview: Steve Zahn talks ‘War of the Planet of the Apes’

Without question, Steve Zahn has been one of the most reliable actors to work in Hollywood in the past two-plus decades. Zahn’s list of credits is long and impressive — ranging from his breakthrough role in director Ben Stiller’s romantic dramedy “Reality Bites” and a starring turn in Tom Hanks’ directorial debut “That Thing You Do!” — to a turn opposite Eddie Murphy in the smash comedy “Daddy Day Care” and more recently, a memorable recurring guest turn on TV’s “Modern Family.”

Yet for all the comedy Zahn has done, he’s had a fine share of serious film roles, too, including the adventure drama “Rescue Dawn” alongside Christian Bale and “Dallas Buyers Club” opposite his “Sahara” co-star Matthew McConaughey.

All told, the Minnesota native’s ability to stretch himself across the character spectrum has come to serve him well, and was no doubt a factor in his casting him in the pivotal role as Bad Ape in writer-director Matt Reeves’ new sci-fi thriller “War for the Planet of the Apes,” which opens in theaters nationwide Friday.

In a phone conversation from New York Wednesday, Zahn said he still can’t quite get over how the wizardry of computer artists added layers onto his motion capture performance to create a living, breathing simian; yet without losing the essence of the emotions he provided just beneath the surface.

“It’s a crazy experience when you first see yourself as an ape,” Zahn recalled of the first time saw footage of Bad Ape. “I was actually moved by it. It was a moving experience. It’s hard to explain.”

Bad Ape is a highly-evolved, former zoo chimpanzee who managed to survive an intensifying conflict between humans and apes as the simians continue to evolve as a species while the human population struggles to survive. And despite his desire to keep to himself, Bad Ape proves to be a valuable ally to Caesar (Andy Serkis) as he and a small band of apes seek the location of a bloodthirsty military colonel (Woody Harrelson) who is hell-bent on eradicating his enemies before Earth becomes a planet of apes.

“My view of Bad Ape when I read for Matt was that I didn’t think of him as this comedic character — I told him that I thought of him as a tragic character, ” Zahn said in a phone conversation from New York Wednesday. “He was living in the mountains and had lost his friends, and was dealing with his seclusion by collecting stuff and becoming a hoarder. When Caesar and the others show up, he’s so excited to have companionship — and he bonds with Caesar over the incredible losses they’ve had in their lives.”

Reeves does, naturally, take advantage of Zahn’s comedic gifts at times, but even then, they’re more in moments of situational comedy than set-ups for a laugh.

“I knew that Bad Ape would be funny in opposition to Caesar,” Zahn said. “His pace is different. He’s quick, he can’t stop talking, he can’t stop thinking, and he’s always rocking back and forth. I knew that would have levity in this really dark story, and Matt agreed. But when I auditioned for the role, it was for a very moving scene, and Matt was moved by it and he will tell you that’s why he hired me. He also, knew though, that I had the ability to find the humor in things.”

Ape for Oscar

Already being lauded by critics as one of the best movies of the new “Planet of the Apes” trilogy as well as one of the best movies of the year, Zahn is hoping that above all, Serkis’ third performance as Caesar is the charm with voters from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Serkis, Zahn said, should not be judged on his motion-capture acting abilities, though, but his acting abilities.

“Andy’s performance in this movie is profound. It is one for the ages,” Zahn, 49, said. “I remember somebody asked me, ‘Was it like taking a master class from him in motion capture acting? ‘ and I said, ‘No. Working with Andy is like taking a master class in acting — period.’ That’s what we’re doing. We’re not doing any other thing.”

Zahn added, however, that motion-capture does certainly have its advantages.

Steve Zahn as Bad Ape in War for the Planet of the Apes (photo 20th Century Fox) final version

“It’s one of the greatest tools you can have as an actor, because you can literally play anything you want,” Zahn observed. “Andy went from playing Gollum to playing King Kong. What an incredible thing to do. I was new to it with this film and I really didn’t know what to expect, and it was the most challenging acting job I’ve ever had. I’m extremely proud of it.”

Zahn does believe, though, that for awards voters to honor the craft, they need to be exposed to a lot more motion-capture to get a greater understanding of it. And even though Serkis has been perfecting the craft since his days on “The Lord of the Rings” movies, some people simply don’t quite get how motion-capture performances are achieved.

“It really irks me — and Andy just laughed when I emailed him about it — when I read a line that said, ‘And Steve Zahn lends his voice to Bad Ape.’ And that was written by someone in the business. I thought, ‘Lends my voice? ‘ Oh, my God. I was pissed! I emailed him and he was just like, ‘Yeah, I’ve been dealing with this for 17 years.’ I really felt for him when he said that. He’s an incredible actor.”

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Review: ‘War for the Planet of the Apes

VIDEO:  Watch Tim’s review of “War for the Planet of the Apes” on KARE 11 (NBC).

“War for the Planet of the Apes” (PG-13)

Director Matt Reeves and Caesar motion capture artist Andy Serkis team together once again for “War for the Planet of the Apes,” the third and perhaps best film in the new “Apes” trilogy that began with the 2011 prequel “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”

“War for the Planet of the Apes” picks up a few years after the events of the second film “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” where at the conclusion, the rogue ape Koba (Toby Kebbell) tricks his fellow simians into a conflict with the surviving humans of a worldwide plague. While the humans and evolving ape society managed to live apart with nothing more than a tense atmosphere between them, Koba’s deadly meddling was enough to ensure that apes and humans would never live in harmony.

With the ape population growing and the human population decimated, a bloodthirsty military heavy known only as The Colonel (the always great Woody Harrelson) looks to eradicate the earth of all apes, beginning with their leader Caesar. Inflicting a huge loss on Caesar after he infiltrates the apes’ stronghold, The Colonel successfully draws his target out into the open; leading to the deadly confrontation that Caesar has so long fought to avoid.

“War for the Planet of the Apes” no doubt has its share of battle scenes as the title promises, but at the heart of the film there’s so much more, including parallels to the darkest part of America’s past. With a proper balance of action and a meaningful story, Reeves has easily constructed one of the best films of the year, complete with stellar performances by Serkis, Harrelson, Karin Konoval (reprising her role as the wise orangutan Maurice) and Steve Zahn — who plays a former zoo chimpanzee named Bad Ape (the words used to admonish him) who learned his traits from humans.

With any luck, the Academy of the Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will stop ignoring sci-fi films and motion capture performances (particularly Serkis’) and award “War for the Planet of the Apes” with all the attention it so richly deserves come Oscar time.

Lammometer 9 (out of 10)

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AUDIO: Listen to Tim’s review of “War for the Planet of the Apes” on “The KQ Morning Show” with Tom Barnard.

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Review: Tim Lammers talks ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ on KARE-TV

'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes' (photo -- 20th Century Fox)

Tim reviews the sci-fi thriller “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” with Bryan Piatt on KARE 11 TV (NBC) in Minneapolis.  See the review of the film, starring Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Toby Kebbell and Keri Russell, below. You can also read the print version of the review on BringMeTheNews.com.

Also, read Tim’s interview with director Matt Reeves HERE.

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Also, listen to my review of the film with Steve and Dan on WOC Radio 1420.

Interview: Director Matt Reeves talks ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’

Smack dab in the middle of a summer movie season where most of the films don’t require audiences to give their brains a workout, director Matt Reeves clearly has something different in mind for audiences of the sci-fi sequel “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”

Much like “Dawn’s” predecessor “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and the classic films in the “Apes” franchise, Reeves said he wants you to think about what you’re seeing.

“The intent behind ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ was to try and honor the tradition of where these films come from,” Reeves told me in an interview Thursday. “We wanted to do a movie that was going to entertain you, but that also had ideas and emotion behind it.”

Opening nationwide Friday in 2D and 3D theaters, and on large-format screens, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is set 10 years after the end of “Rise,” when the Earth’s human population has been decimated by the human-made Simian Flu virus.

A group of survivors find hope, though, in the redwoods outside of San Francisco, where the chance of restoring power rests in the same area where the highly intelligent ape Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his large band of evolved primates live. First viewing the humans as a threat, Caesar begins to regain trust and allows the humans do their work — at least until ape and human detractors each find a way to incite a war.

Caesar Dawn of the POTA inset Matt Reeves
Director Matt Reeves (inset) on the set of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”

A fan of the original “Planet of the Apes” since he was a kid, Reeves said the 1968 film to him was what “Star Wars” was to others. Finding the original film terrifying, thrilling and intellectually challenging all at the same time, signing on to direct “Dawn” was a no-brainer for the filmmaker. The bonus, Reeves says, was the story and technology that helped jump-start the franchise again in 2011.

“Doing the film was a really special experience in many ways, especially  to go back into the world of my childhood because of how big a fan I was of those movies,” Reeves explained. “Then as adult, one of the things that I loved about ‘Rise’ was how the technology and Andy Serkis’ performance actually allowed you to become an ape. It changed the perspectives in whole new way. In the original film it was about watching Charlton Heston trying to figure out what was going on and being fascinated by the apes, but in ‘Rise,’ you actually become Caesar.”

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Unique new direction

While there are fewer homages to the 1968 “Apes” than there are in “Rise,” “Dawn” still refers to its original source material, including scenes of apes on horseback and the use of the iconic edict, “Ape shall not kill ape.”

Reeves said weaving  the classic material into the “Apes” franchise is exciting because it gives him the opportunity to create fresh stories while laying the groundwork for where the franchise is headed — the story that propels the 1968 movie.

“For me, the big thing  was to try and be aware of entering the ‘Apes’ universe, but at the same time try to do something we haven’t quite seen yet and go along the same trajectory toward the 1968 movie,” Reeves explained. “The world of ‘Rise’ and ‘Dawn’ is so different than the 1968 movie, so the fun of that is, is to try to imagine how our world becomes the world of the original.”

Unlike the reference at the end of “Rise,” “Dawn” doesn’t mention the manned rocket getting lost in orbit and losing contact with Earth. But Reeves, who is signed on to direct the next “Apes” film, said just because they’re didn’t talk about the Icarus in “Dawn,” doesn’t mean the idea of wayward spaceship is lost, well, in space. After all, the return of the spaceship to Earth is what sets the 1968 movie in motion.

“I still find it interesting that when I first got involved in ‘Dawn,’ somebody asked me if it was boring knowing what the end of the story was, as long as you know that it becomes the world of the 1968 film,” Reeves noted. “I said that knowing that world was the most exciting part.”

That’s because, Reeves explained, the stories being told through the “Rise” and “Dawn” movies “don’t tell you about what happened, but about how it happened.”

“The idea of exploring the how and the why through Caesar and future generations makes it like an epic, mythic and exciting generational ‘Apes’ story to me,” Reeves said. “I’m actually hoping that we don’t get to the 1968 story too soon because there’s a rich story to be told along the way, but I definitely want to get there. I think that’s the part of the fun of the story, knowing that the Icarus comes back down and the astronauts return not knowing where they are, only to discover the planet that Charlton Heston did in the original. That’s in our minds as we’re trying to figure out the trajectory and as we’re trying to figure out the next story.”

For now, though, Reeves is happy to focus mainly on Caesar, especially because of the conflicts he’s forced to confront in “Dawn.”

“Caesar is such a compelling and interesting hero to be because he’s got roots such strong roots in his human side and on his ape’s side,” Reeves observed. “The idea of having to reconcile that and engage in a war that he never wanted to be a part of, and how his son would react, is interesting. We were thinking, ‘Is this sort of the way to do ‘The Godfather’ with apes or something? Caesar is like Don Corleone, and as we know, ‘The Godfather, Part II’ was a father-son story with his son becoming  the next leader. It’s not like we’re following that pattern with the ‘Apes’ films, but we certainly have the same sort of ambition to do character-based stories.”

Toying around

While “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” tackles some very serious themes, Reeves said he’s been able to have a bit of fun as a fan of the franchise, too, enjoying “Apes” merchandising like the new set of “Dawn” action figures made by the toy and collectibles company NECA.

“I was really excited to see them, and to be honest, my favorite is Maurice (the baboon),” Reeves enthused. “Toys were such a big part of my childhood and imagination growing up.”

Noting how a lot of kids grow out of the habit, Reeves said was glad to find company in this writer, as he  learned we’re about the same age and grew up with the same interests — namely movies and action figures.

“A lot of times I think toys are just for collectors. It’s fun to think that the people who are most excited about it are the kind of people like you and me,” Reeves said, laughing.

In a way, Reeves said, the new “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” action figures are like a full-circle expression of what the Mego toy company’s “Planet of the Apes” figures meant to him as a child, when he filmed Super 8 movies that starred his favorite plastic playthings.

“I did a weird mash-up of ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Planet of the Apes’ where I did a movie called ‘Galactic Battles,'” Reeves recalled. “It was a grand space opera, Saturday matinee kind of stuff. I used ‘Star Wars’ figures, and instead of aliens, there were gorillas.”