Meet Your Star Warriors: Andy Serkis
I'm happy to wrap up our Meet Your Star Warriors series (check out Max von Sydow, Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver and Domhnall Gleeson if you haven't already) with one Mr. Andy Serkis, the guy with a thousand faces, all of them adorable. Even Gollum. Gollum's super precious, my precious.
Before Serkis became the poster child for motion capture, he already had a busy career as a character actor in a whole bunch of projects I've never seen and many I've never heard of, which is why I'm obviously the perfect person to be writing this post. Morris Minor's Marvellous Motors? Sure, I can be into that. Streetwise, Pie in the Sky, Stella Does Tricks, Sweety Barrett - nope, never heard of any of those.
Let's skip ahead to the point at which I can speak with at least some confidence, shall we? In 1999, Serkis joined Mike Leigh's terrific film on Gilbert and Sullivan, Topsy-Turvy, as John D'Auban, British ballet dancer, actor and choreographer. He's the weirdo who won't stop chicken-walking at the beginning of this clip:
Two years later, after seven more projects with which I'm utterly unfamiliar, he joined The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, and together he and Peter Jackson changed the face of CGI with his performance of Gollum, a creature so moving, so realistic, so full of humanity that I kept accidentally rooting for him instead of Frodo.
After that, he started acting almost exclusively in films I've actually heard of! Here he is as Martin Hannett, producer at Factory Records, in 24 Hour Party People.
Here's the real Martin Hannett, for reference's sake:
Serkis went on to reprise his role as Gollum in The Two Towers, Return of the King and The Hobbit, each time refining the character with so much nuance that he became one of the most lasting, memorable qualities of the series. Or, in the case of The Hobbit, the only memorable quality. Serkis also worked as second unit director under Jackson for all of The Hobbits, which is super cool and speaks to his breadth of knowledge and insight.
Once we get a chance to see him as Smeagol in Return of the King, Gollum's journey has become so full of pathos that the flashback to a happier, purer time in his life is really moving.
Serkis then played the snotty boss in 13 Going on 30 who eventually warms up and grows a heart thanks to Jennifer Garner's childlike wonder and the power of "Thriller." Or something. I've never seen this movie all the way through:
Next up, Serkis re-joined Peter Jackson in King Kong as, naturally, Kong himself. He's heartbreaking in the film, giving the beast a beautiful, devastating range of emotion.
In 2006 he joined Christopher Nolan's The Prestige, playing Alley, the conman assistant to David Bowie's Nikola Tesla.
And two years later, he played a deliciously bad Rigaud in the BBC mini-series Little Dorrit. Weird fan video!
Serkis continued to participate in many projects, but it's starting to occur to me that he has 82 IMDb credits to his name and time is waning. Let's jump ahead to my favorite! In 2011 Serkis returned to his simian ways as Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, giving one of the most stunningly resonant performances of that year, all through the magic of mo-cap. Serkis was so incredible in the role that fans started an ultimately fruitless but probably flattering Oscar nomination campaign for the actor.
Serkis has also done terrific voice work in The Adventures of Tintin, Arthur Christmas, The Simpsons and many, many video games.
So who can we expect him to be in Star Wars Episode VII? I think it's safe to say that he'll be some wise, charismatic, mo-capped alien. Of course, Serkis' face has so much character that if he isn't mo-capped, he'll still be wise and charismatic. I mean, the guy already has a pretty groovy Yoda thing working for him.
Here's what I know about who he'll end up playing: it doesn't matter. He'll be amazing, and the rest of the movie probably won't, and that's okay. I mean, it was still fun seeing Gollum pop up in The Hobbit, regardless of anything else I feel about that movie.
Other reasons to be excited about Episode VII:
Can't complain about this cast, can we? Don't worry - I'm sure we'll find plenty of other reasons to complain.