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Andy Serkis on Who Sends Him Hate Mail; Why Oscar Should Rethink Animated Category (Q&A)

Andy Serkis
Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival
Andy Serkis

The "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" and "Adventures of Tintin" actor talks to THR about "The Hobbit" and whether motion-capture acting should have its own category at the Academy Awards.

This story first appeared in the Dec. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Andy Serkis, the motion-capture star of The Adventures of Tintin, The Hobbit, King Kong and Rise of Planet of the Apes reveals who sends him hate mail and tells the Academy to wake up and face the digital future.

The Hollywood Reporter: In 2011, you have two motion-capture roles -- as the hero's hard-drinking buddy Captain Haddock in The Adventures of Tintin and as the ape Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes (and you played Santa's lead elf in the CG-animated Arthur Christmas). Tintin seems a likely animation contender. Should it be in the animation category?

Andy Serkis: The category of animation should be under review because Tintin is entirely derived from actors' performances created in a conventional live-action way and manifested onscreen in a painterly, animated fashion. There has to be a review of all these storytelling methods. It's not necessary to exclude one from a category. A lot of people are being quite defensive about it. I think people should not be so Luddite. Don't say, "No, traditional animation is this." They've got to think out of the box and start to embrace all these different methods and mediums. This year will be a very interesting watershed point in our understanding.

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THR: What's the difference between your work in Apes and Tintin?

Serkis: There is no difference. Acting is acting. Performance capture is a technology, not a genre; it's just another way of recording an actor's performance. It's very interesting being in two movies this year that are manifested completely differently but use the same process. The same visual effects company, Weta Digital, produced apes that look entirely real and a palette and a style that honors the source material of Tintin. What Steven was trying to do was to have the best of both worlds, where you can create the look and the feel and the sensibility of Herge [Tintin's cartoonist creator] but have emotionally truthful performances. The technology allows the actors to enter into those worlds.

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THR: Could you shape your Tintin performance as much as your ape performance?

Serkis: Yeah. The way Captain Haddock moves, his facial expressions, his temperament, all the things that go into making that character -- when I see that up onscreen, I see my acting choices. The slight difference with Tintin is that Steven wants to blend the Herge world with the live performances he got on the day. Steven might want to try to dial up something in the core performance, like dial the lips to curl around a little bit more. He had the facility to broaden without bending the performance out of shape. The danger is, you lose the intensity and reality and the initial instinct of the core performance.

THR: Should there be an Oscar category for motion-capture acting?

Serkis: It should be in the [regular] acting category because the acting part of the process is entirely the same. I've been bombarded by hate mail from animators saying, "How dare you talk about 'your' character when all these people work on it after the fact? We're actors as well." They are actors in the sense that they create key frames and the computer will join up the dots, carefully choreograph a moment or an expression and accent it with an emotion. But that's not what an actor does. An actor finds things in the moment with a director and other actors that you don't have time to hand-draw or animate with a computer.

THR: Can you compare Tintin and Arthur Christmas?

Serkis: They're entirely different. [Arthur Christmas] is a purely animated movie where you're standing in a booth maybe a couple of hours, delivering the lines. In Tintin, it's like a live-action role. You're living and breathing and making decisions for that character from page 1 to page 120, the whole emotional arc. In an animated movie, it's a committee decision. There are 50 people creating that character. You're responsible for a small part.

THR: Tintin's motion capture gives actors more room to move, literally.

Serkis: People say, "You provided the movements, the emotional background for the role." No! I played the role. If you give a bad performance, you can never make it great, no matter how much you layer and texture it after the fact. It will never be anything more than the original performance.

THR: How has your character Gollum changed from the original Lord of the Rings to the 2012 prequel The Hobbit?

Serkis: The technology has come to the point where we could shoot Gollum and the Hobbits in the same moment, as we did in Apes. In the original, I'd have to shoot against empty plates that were shot on the day, then repeat the process on the performance-capture stage, sometimes months later. Now we get it in one hit, so it's much more actor- and director-friendly.

THR: You create characters for video games. Will motion-capture technology soon let players become your characters, like Gollum or Haddock, and step into scenes as them?

Serkis: Absolutely, and that's happening really with Wii and Nintendo Connect. That's how it should be.

THR: Should there be a video game Oscar?

Serkis: Games aren't going to go away. BAFTA's got a category for games as an art form. The Academy should think about that, too.