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Actor and director Andy Serkis has added another job title to his ever-growing resume: game producer.
The Planet of the Apes franchise star has returned to the series with the upcoming video game, Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier. The new game, which is set between 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and this year’s War for the Planet of the Apes, allows players to choose between controlling apes or humans who will live and die based on their decisions. There are multiple endings to the game depending on player’s decisions, and it can be played multiplayer using Sony Playlink, an app that allows mobile phone users to play alongside one another on certain PS4 titles. The game will be available Nov. 21 on PS4 with Xbox One and PC launching at a later date
Serkis, who starred as the chimpanzee Caesar in the recent Apes trilogy, also published the new game at his Imaginarium Productions studio in London. But he has so much more going on, recently making his directorial debut with the historical biopic Breathe and set to star in December’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi and 2018’s Black Panther. As if that weren’t enough to keep him busy, Serkis is also wrapping production on his second directorial effort on 2018’s The Jungle Book adaptation.
In the midst of a whirlwind year, the actor/director caught up with Heat Vision to talk about the many pans he currently has in the fire, his thoughts on future video games, the burden of not spoiling The Last Jedi and whether he’d ever return to Middle-Earth.
What about The Planet of the Apes franchise seemed like a good fit for a video game?
It lends itself so brilliantly to gaming, because the metaphor of apes as a way of looking at the human condition has worked so well as a movie franchise, but as a choice-based game, because you can play as humans or apes, it just furthers the idea of taking a moral dilemma, which is kind of the moral maze of the films, is examined further in game form. It does tap into the themes of objectifying others and therein lies the great danger, from both sides, of destruction.
Is that challenging to get across in a game?
It is very much an interactive movie. Ideally, it can be played with up to four people. The tension increases as the decisions get closer and closer together. It has a drama to it, an intensity to it. You can use Sony Playlink, as well, so you can play it on your mobile phones. It’s aimed at a broad audience, people who tapped into the films, who really loved the films, but want to extend their involvement in it, their immersion in it.
What was your involvement in the production of Last Frontier?
The Imaginarium, the production company, came up with it and we shot everything in our studio. We were the developers. We also have a troupe of actors who work in the Imaginarium who were able to get involved. It was a nice cross-fertilization that came together.
Would you be open to doing more Apes games in the future?
For sure. The great thing about the Apes franchise, and the metaphor, is that it is open-ended. There are so many aspects of those stories you can tell, and certainly where we’ve left off in the movies it leaves a huge trajectory of stories about the ascension of the apes. The great thing is with a game like this one, is that you can create multiple characters and this isn’t a copy of the film; we’re not taking film characters, it’s its own universe.
You’re a pretty busy guy, how’d you find the time to work on this?
It very much ran alongside everything that’s going on. It has been, for me, a huge year. When we set the Imaginarium up, we wanted to engage in storytelling across all platforms: film, TV, video games. My experience with video games started when I worked with a company called Ninja Theory on Heavenly Sword and, later, Enslaved. My appetite for games really started back then. The reason the Imaginarium came into being was because when it came to shoot those games, there wasn’t anywhere in the U.K. that could support shooting performance capture.
This business kind of grew up around you.
Yeah, kind of. Certainly in the U.K. We wanted to create a hub, a digital space that was a sandbox for creating digital characters, furthering the art and craft of performance capture across all platforms. For instance, this year we’ve also been working on virtual reality projects and theater. We’re starting to work in the live-action theater space, with live performance capture so you can project real-time avatars onto screens in theatrical productions. We worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company on a production of The Tempest.
We’ve seen a lot of big-name actors voicing video games in the last few years.
That was the big turning point back in 2004, 2005 because at that time we were in the days when cut scenes were sort of padding between gameplay and nobody really wanted to look at that, they were a necessary evil, really. Whereas now, gameplay and character and story are all cross-fertilized and you are immersed throughout the whole thing. I remember working with Alex Garland who wrote Enslaved, and that was one thing that he was really pushing to do as a screenwriter. It all really starts with the writing, and the writing then attracts good actors. I think there was a stigma attached to acting in video games about 10 or 12 years ago; whereas now you get great, A-list actors who want to be in video games.
I think that a lot of your work has influenced that.
Well, I feel like I’m part of that. Other people have been doing it, too. I suppose I’ve been championing it, because I do believe in it. I believe in what it can do for actors. It gives them this huge palette across so many arenas. I’ve always understood it to be this tool that signals the end of typecasting because it means that you can play anything you want to, regardless of your sex, your scale, the color of your skin, you can actually embody any character. That I love about the technology, especially in these new realms.
What are you thoughts on the recently announced Amazon Lord of the Rings TV series? Would you be interested if they asked you to appear in it?
I don’t know if I’d want to go back into the Lord of the Rings realm. I feel like I’ve spent a large chunk of my life doing that. I’ll say good luck and I think fresh eyes are probably a good thing.
Let’s talk Star Wars. Do you know who Snoke really is?
I know who Snoke is, I know what’s going on, but I have to keep it close to my chest because you don’t want to spoil it for people. There are so many theories.
Are any of them right?
You’ve now directed two films. Do you want to move into directing full-time?
I want to do both performing and acting, I have a real lust for both. I’m really enjoying directing a lot and I’m going to be finishing Jungle Book this year and we’re ramping up on some other projects, but equally I love acting. I love going between the two. It’s great to be able totally immersed in envisioning a whole project, but at the same time it’s great to be able to focusing right in on a role and there’s a relief to doing that after being so caught up in the minutia of a thousand decisions. It actually makes me more excited about acting, it’s like going back to the old days in a way.
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