'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes' Premiere: How Andy Serkis' Caesar Found a Voice

"I was very interested in telling the story from the apes' point of view," director Matt Reeves told THR at the San Francisco premiere on Thursday. "What would happen here without humanity?"
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Andy Serkis (left) and Keri Russell

"War has begun," is Andy Serkis' most cryptic line of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which could also summarize the battle-zone backdrop of the sequel to 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The cast and crew returned to the city of San Francisco — both in the movie and on the red carpet — for the film's post-apocalypse-themed premiere on Thursday at the Palace of Fine Arts.

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"It's very emotional," director Matt Reeves told The Hollywood Reporter of the evening, also attended by Serkis, Gary Oldman, Judy Greer, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Peter Chernin and Jason Clarke. "We actually came [to the Palace of Fine Arts] two years ago, before filming even started. It was one of the memorable places that we scouted for locations. Now it's two years later, the movie is done and we're about to show it to the world. It's very special."

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Dawn opens 10 years after the devastating Simian flu pandemic has decimated the human race, and the City by the Bay looks very different than moviegoers may remember from Rise. "I was very interested in telling the story from the apes' point of view," said Reeves. "To start the movie not in the post-apocalyptic world [of man] but instead in a world where it seemed it had been inherited by the new species of intelligent apes." A rust-ravaged Golden Gate Bridge serves as a set of monkey bars for the apes to travel between their home in the Marin headlands to the now-desolate city of San Francisco. "The idea is that the earth would sort of start to reclaim this place," said Reeves. "We tried to do it in as naturalistic a fashion as possible … what would happen here without humanity?"

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Keri Russell, who plays the wife of Malcolm (Clarke) in the film, praised Serkis' performance as Caesar, the genetically enhanced ape. "Andy is just so good. That was really the treat of doing this movie. I really hope people start paying attention to him. He's unbelievable."

Last seen retreating into Muir Woods at the conclusion of the first film, a now older Caesar is more grizzled, endowed with the ability to speak, and has fully assumed his position as patriarch of the apes. Serkis' motion-capture roles, including his portrayal of Gollum in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, have received significant critical acclaim, and as Caesar in Dawn, it seems the actor was equally celebrated among the latest installment's cast and crew. "The minute we started following Caesar as a character, it was clear that he was going to lead the apes to freedom," the film's screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver said on the red carpet. "The decision to have him speak and have words — it was really Andy. [We] credit him with figuring out Caesar's voice."

So what part of the city wasn't held hostage? Nick Thurston, who plays the role of Serkis' ape-son, Blue Eyes, joked, "I would have loved to have seen the apes take over the Transamerica Pyramid! Or maybe [Sutro] Tower. That thing is massive and not exactly the most aesthetically pleasing part of the city."

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After the screening, the cast and crowd were ushered into the rotunda of the Palace of the Fine Arts, which had been transformed into a post-Simian Flu, apocalyptic afterparty. Dramatic up-lighting and overgrown branches shrouded the venue in deep shadows as floor-to-ceiling triptychs featuring Caesar's iconic visage glowered over all. The dimly lit arena made distinguishing between guests almost impossible, keeping with the film's message of the evening that, truly, we are all alike.

"The idea was really about empathy," said Reeves. "To me [Dawn was] the one moment where it could have worked out, but it didn't. The idea was to have as much understanding as to how and why that didn't happen, to empathize with all the characters, to look at the failings of both sides."

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes hits theaters July 11.