“Elevator or stairs? says Andy Serkis, when I pass him on the doorstep of his production offices in an unimposing block in east London. The actor who has turned “motion capture” roles into high art as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and Caesar the Chimpanzee in the Planet of the Apes reboot favors the stairs. He’s an avid mountaineer who, at 58, still has a list of Himalayan peaks to climb, and he’s stringing together several flights, as I gasp to keep up.
Over the past two decades, Serkis has climbed to dizzying heights, from hard-working character actor to one of the highest-grossing movie stars of all time, with roles in multiple franchises from Peter Jackson’s Tolkien Trilogy to Star Wars sequels to Marvel’s Avengers. In the meantime, he’s become a successful director and co-founded a cutting-edge production company, The Imaginarium, with multiple projects in the works, ranging from an adaptation of Orwell’s Animal Farm to a television series based on the movie. cult horror The Wicker Man. . Oh, and he produced piercing performances as singer Ian Dury in the biopic Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, and as Ian Brady in Peter Morgan’s Longford, for which he was Bafta nominated.
It wouldn’t be hard to imagine Serkis as the drummer of a longtime heavy metal band: black jeans and t-shirt, muscular, unruly hair always in a struggle between black and gray. Still, there’s nothing jaded or seen everything about him. Volts of energy shoot out of him, passionate opinions, bursts of voluble enthusiasm in that deep, recognizable rumble. Serkis prides himself on being a job-creating employer in an ever-changing industry, but he retains an anarchic personal quality that can be seen in the edgy and violent Netflix YA drama The Imaginarium, The Bastard Son & The Devil Himself. “We’re looking for things that are just borderline respectable,” he says.
Serkis made a successful stint in directing with Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle and the Spider-Man spin-off Venom: Let There Be Carnage, which grossed over half a billion dollars worldwide. His success opened the doors of Hollywood to him, but he did not direct the sequel, preferring instead Animal Farm, which he had wanted to do for 12 years. “We’re not going to do a recreation of totalitarianism,” he says of the new adaptation. “We are dealing with what Orwell would comment on if he wrote today.”
The movie, which will be family-friendly and “comedy,” will likely use the same performance capture-with-animation hybrid as Mowgli. As in the jungle adventure, many of Orwell’s characters are quadrupeds, and although Serkis experimented on this film with actors playing “literally like the front and back of pantomime horses”, to be digitally mapped , he admits “it was never going to work”. …But each Mowgli animal’s actual facial performance, timing and expression, was driven and written by the actors.