Planet of The Apes Cast Talks Humanity and Humor
By: Lynn Barker
If you follow the many older Planet of the Apes films, you wonder how our world got taken over by apes while Mankind became the far less dominant species. The recent movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes, explained how a chimp named Caesar, given intelligence-enhancing drugs, became a thinking, reasoning being to lead a rebellion of imprisoned apes.
In the new film Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, we learn how Caesar and his friends became much more advanced and, after a virus nearly wipes out the human population, they are on the brink of ruling the planet.
Cast members met with reporters in San Francisco, where some of the film takes place, to spill some info on the movie. We have Keri Russell, who plays Ellie, a former nurse with the CDC and survivor of the virus, Gary Oldman whose character thinks apes caused the virus that wiped out his family, Jason Clarke playing another virus survivor and Ellie’s husband who forms a bond with Caesar and the apes and Andy Serkis who, in motion capture gear, continues his role as lead ape Caesar.
Gary, who plays the closest thing to the bad guy in the film (at least for a while) praises the story. The movie isn’t just about things blowing up and apes fighting humans. “When I finally read the script, I was surprised that it was this very touching, emotional story about family and community”.
Q: This film gets pretty serious. Do any of you remember anything funny from the set?
- Gary: When I went through the gate and see all the apes and say, “There are a lot more than 80”. There were really about seven on the set and we had to imagine the rest of them but the horses were skittish and there were about seven actors playing apes in the motion capture suits sitting on step ladders that they had got from Home Depot pretending they were horses and they were trying to show their great strength. The magic of cinema. “We’re here to fix the roof”. (laughter)
Q: There is a gritty reality about this film set in a world that is far from pretty. It seemed dirty and unhealthy. How do you get into that as an actor?
- Jason: You always want it to be real but to be in a state of fear and pretend that a thousand monkeys are attacking and to reach for that state of truly being freaked out is hard. You try to maintain some cleanliness. Keri you had on lipstick.
- Keri: I was wondering every day “Where’s the eyeliner and blown out hair?” (laughter). We were pretty sweaty dirty.
- Jason: But it was stinking hot in New Orleans and Gary was freezing cold in Vancouver.
- Gary: Everyone tries to find some normality in the most bizarre, crazy situations. Life goes on.
Q: Keri, what drew you to want to work in the film? You don’t usually act in big summer blockbusters.
- Keri: I got involved through Matt Reeves the director. Matt and I had worked over ten years ago on my TV series called “Felicity”. We had a very close relationship and have been trying all these years to find something that we could work on together. I never thought it would be “Planet of the Apes” but he called me last spring and said “I’m doing this. Come do this with me”. I think what is special for me is the idea of these big summer action movies partnered with Matt’s sensibilities; with detailed, sensitive, emotional storytelling. I think that can only serve a big summer movie and (make it) the kind of movie I’d want to see.
Q: Working with Matt, your director again, after years ago on “Felicity”, has the relationship changed? Has he changed?
- Keri: It’s funny because the first time we worked together was on a small TV show about a girl going to college and this is something very different but the truth is Matt has a very specific voice and taste and a specific way he sees the world and his taste is exactly the same.
- We’re doing small intimate scenes with Kodi (Smit-McPhee who plays her teen stepson) in this movie and it’s exactly the way we were all those years ago. He likes people who are vulnerable and trying so hard to be brave against all odds and that’s what he does really well. That’s what I’m so happy for Matt about for this film, like with Andy (playing Caesar the lead ape), he was able to create that intimacy in this giant arena.
Q: And the guys? Why this movie?
- Gary: I was reminded last night that I received a letter from Matt. He actually wrote me a letter (laughter) and that’s how I first got involved. Then I spoke with him on the phone. I also thought the idea of Matt with this material was a wonderful marriage. Then, when I finally read the script, I was surprised that it was this very touching, emotional story about family and community.
- Jason: Matt did a 5 minute video for me where he acted the whole thing out. (laughter) No. It starts with the script and also I wanted to work at the forefront of this business especially when you have a (big) budget; motion capture and 3-D. Then, it was also the people involved. Then guys like Andy Serkis And Terry (Notary) who are the best at what they do (dressed in motion capture suits portraying apes and other creatures). They continue what they started then educate the new guys.
- Andy: (I was impressed) that Matt came in and actually wanted to honor what we did in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. We sat down and had lunch and talked through the story. He had isolated a very important thing about not rushing too far into the future, about landing where you could still see the apes evolving and still see a civilization that was being birthed; to look at a situation of imbalance in the world where there are two species struggling for survival. He’s done that. He zoned in on the emotional truth of every single character in the story.
Q: Gary, do you think your character was always a leader or did he jump at the chance of being a leader when all the ape conflict stuff started?
- Gary: Well, there’s obviously a history between my character and Jason’s here, Malcolm. I like to think he was a designated leader. It was not necessarily him stepping forward but because he had had a history of being a police officer he was viewed as someone who has organizational skills. He’s very resourceful in that sense or he may have just raised his hand and said “Okay if no one else is going to do it, I’ll do it”.
- But leaders will always have very difficult decisions to make and it comes down to hard choices and in this kind of situation my character is, to some degree, conflicted as is Caesar but all these people have been wounded and injured emotionally and physically (by the apes) so he is coming to it with that baggage and history that is revealed later in the film. I think he’s a heroic character who makes the ultimate sacrifice. There’s a lot to save if you’re going to come down on the side of humanity. He truly believes that he’s saving the human race.
Q: What do you do to put yourself into this strange world?
- Jason: I used pictures on this one to remind me of certain things. I had some of the original Charlton Heston Apes movie. They used dwarves or children in the suits and he is standing there (with them) getting his hair combed. It just reminded me of the humor. Then, there was another picture of a chimp, leaning back like he was relaxing in the sun having a coffee to remind me of how close we are and the remarkableness of what we’re doing. Photos take you back and touch you.
- Gary: I’ve always used music and photographs. The family on the i-Pad that my character looks at are my family; they’re my kids and that’s my wife and dog.. in that order (laughter). The production wanted me to submit some pictures. We went with my photo. That helped me reach where I had to go.
Q: What do you hope the audience gets from this film?
- Gary: I think this film is all about empathy for others, to have the capacity to not be blocked and prejudiced and in times of great difficulty, in times of survival still being able to keep the channels open and still trying to find a way forward. I think it’s about prejudice and about being against any sort of belief system that shuts you off from having a true emotional response to seeing the plight of another person, species, or culture.
- I think it’s a real movie for our times. I believe this is a very powerful movie which can reach people on a lot of different levels. I’ve had more people come up in the last few days and say this is one of the most moving films that they’ve seen. It’s extraordinary to think you can be transported into seeing the human condition through this world of apes and be moved by it and made to think about where we sit in our the world at the moment.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is in theaters July 11th!