TheOneRing’s MrCere interviewed Andy Serkis Monday as part of his tour promoting his new book. Here is a transcript of the conversation that includes a bit on the Hobbit and the Academy Awards!
Greetings and hello’s are exchanged. TORn explains that this phone call will be for a newspaper interview and a story for TheOneRing.net as well – two interviews at once. A bit of small talk and then down to business.
SERKIS: For three days, from Wednesday on, it is really going to be dedicated to promoting the book. Which I don’t know if you have had a chance to look at it. Have you?
TORn: Oh yes. I received it three or four weeks ago and I read it all at once. I just sat down and read the whole thing.
SERKIS: Oh cool, how did you get on with it?
TORn: I enjoyed it very much. From the commentaries on DVD I thought, ‘We are probably going to know most of this’ but I was surprised how much we didn’t know and how much more detail you got in the book.’
SERKIS: For me it was important to really put in a personal perspective on how Gollum was affected by personal events by global events which I really couldn’t get – I mean the processes people know about and they understand from stuff throughout all the DVDs. They are kind of explained. It was really for people – I wrote it because well for one I wanted people to get an all-around understanding of all the influences that went into making the character that go beyond technology. I mean I have had to spend so much time in all of these interviews just talking about technology just to get those processes across. It was a good way of getting them all in but amongst the personal viewpoints. I wanted to take the reader on a journey of what it was like playing one character for four and a half years.
TORn: You may not be done I guess with ‘The Hobbit.’ I know that is not official but there is a good chance you could do that again.
SERKIS: Well, I mean if it ever came about I would love to do it. Gollum, obviously, in ‘The Hobbit’ is great and ‘Riddles In The Dark’ is a great chapter and Gollum is a fantastic part of that. I would definitely do it again. Obviously the rights situation is a problem and weather Pete (Peter Jackson) would want to do it again I don’t know. He has talked about it. I think he thinks structurally it is more difficult in a way than ‘Lord of the Rings’ because in ‘Lord of the Rings’ there are so many story lines you could cut to and really you are able to control the pace of the story where as ‘The Hobbit’ it is much more linear. The structure is more difficult.
TORn: In the book you talk about when you decided ‘Wow, this would be interesting to write a book about’. Did you approach the publishers or did they come to you? How did that come from being a good idea to becoming a book?
SERKIS: I started writing notes very early on because I was aware this was going to be a fascinating acting challenge and it was something that was unprecedented. Apart from the fact that Gollum was such a great character in the books, it was obviously going to be an unusual acting job for me so I started making notes. Then at a certain stage which was post-production on ‘The Two Towers’ Fran Walsh and I were talking about various little things I had written down and she said ‘You should really put this into a book. It would be an interesting thing to do.’ So from then on and that was about a year and a half ago I started making more comprehensive notes and that is how it built up really. I then approached Harper Collins who are the publishers (in the UK). What actually happened is, they asked me to write an afterward for the ‘Art Of The Two Towers’ which I did and then I said, ‘And actually I’ve had an idea for a while to write a book about Gollum’ and they got very interested and so we set
about doing that.
TORn: How involved were you with how the book was going to look? You go to them with an idea and they say, ‘Oh this looks interesting’ but how do you decide what format the book actually ends up in?
SERKIS: The actual design of the book wasn’t so much what I had to do but Pete and I sat down and he approved photographs that I wanted to use. I went through all the production shots and obviously I was able to use my own personal photographs and stuff like that. What I wanted to do was because Gollum was a collaborative effort I wanted to – in the same way that I as actor was the emotional guardian of the character and the template and the blueprint and the impetus of the character – I felt it would be appropriate to have all of things that affected my playing of the role drive the book. But it is a collaborative effort so then I had anybody who wanted to chip in; like the animators, the motion capture, everyone involved in the process have a say as well so there is a more rounded view of it. I then talked to the different departments and various people volunteered to write something or contribute in some way. In a way the book reflects the way that Gollum was created.
TORn: In the book you talked about how you were an artist or a painter and then became an actor and now you are an author. You are a kind of a renaissance man it seems.
SERKIS: I guess as I get older I fell less like just an actor. You know I have started directing and I have written projects, you know feature films scripts and I have directed short films and so on. I think I see myself as more of an all-around artist and that is, well in the UK that is sort of frowned upon. In the states people understand that more. They are much much more willing to have an actor do different things. I think they cope with it better but in the UK it is still a bit of a stigma. You have to do one thing I suppose. It sort of fits with me now. I have ideas and projects that I want to create. I think that is partly why I enjoyed working on Lord of the Rings so much because there was such a sense of being involved in it.
The whole playing of Gollum involved sort of a – you know – an all around approach in the way I embraced the technology and so on. At times I was part director in a sense. I was choreographing myself back into scenes using the motion capture in a way that was almost like painting myself or animating myself back into the plates we had shot. I suppose what I am talking about is an all around sense that stayed with me since I was an art student.
TORn: So your background in those things were definitely beneficial to you as an actor.
SERKIS: When I started acting when I was at college I designed sets and I designed lighting and posters for shows and all sorts of things so I had a strong visual sense of stuff and that certainly helped in the playing of Gollum.
TORn: Was there anyone else who said they would like to help you write this or was it always you that was in charge of the content?
SERKIS: Originally I think I was going to write it with Brian Sibley. You know Brian who has written some of the other books but in fact he got very involved in some other projects and he couldn’t do it. I sort of took the bull by the horns and said, ‘Well, I have written other material. I’ve not written a book before certainly but I think I will have a go myself.’
Certainly with Harper Collins, they felt after I had written the ‘Art of The Two Towers’ afterwards they said, ‘You should definitely carry on yourself and if you run into problems we will sort it out then.’ I had kind of written bullet points all the way along and it just wasn’t too difficult. It just sort of came naturally. I really sat down during “Return of the King” (Andy’s post-production work) and it really took me about two months I guess back in New Zealand.
TORn: So what was the writing process like? Was it you going over notes and organizing?
SERKIS: Yea, and structuring it. Structuring the order of it and noting all the little twists and turns and changes and influences and you know, the personal events and so on. Really, as I say in the preface to the book, you know here we were. We started shooting these films in back in the end of ’99 and now the world had changed. The world had become a different place by the end of it. That was the umbrella really for writing the book. The world had changed and therefore my playing and my understanding of Gollum had changed as a result.
TORn: Did Harper Collins have an editor assigned to you did they just allow you to do it and turn in the finished product?
SERKIS: Yes, they edited some of it. There are quite a few paragraphs here and there which were trimmed but on the whole I would say it is 90 percent there. Gary Russell who had also edited some of the other books in the series, he did some of the interviews with some of the staff.
TORn: So when I turn to a page that has a long say, maybe a Gino Acevedo quote, that is Gary?
SERKIS: That could be but I think it was just Gino. I think I asked Gino directly for that. Certain people I asked directly to write for the book and certain people Gary approached because at the time I was still filming so I couldn’t get around to everybody.
TORn: What was the hardest thing about writing? It doesn’t sound like it was that difficult but was there something that was harder than the rest?
SERKIS: Uhm, I think just getting the balance really. As I said at the beginning, the book represents the acting contribution of the role and everything that has to do with that and everything that has to do with the informing of the part from an acting point of view. Yet I did want it to be equal and non-biased in the sense that I did want everybody to have their fair shout. So I think it was getting the balance right but it (was) being told from a single view. It had to be. It is like writing a movie with a central character you know. I had to be the central character and actual story line so it was just getting the balance right I think so that everybody felt it was their representation.
TORn: Have you had feedback from those folks? Do they feel like you have accomplished that?
SERKIS: I think so. I mean yea, I have spoken to a few people and they said, ‘Great job’ and Richard Taylor said that of all the ‘making-of’ books that one was the most personal and you know a great read and it was infused with life. It had a life to it and it wasn’t so academic which I was really pleased about.
TORn: One thing Andy, that I loved about the book, you know the technology was clear and in depth but the parts of the book I loved the most were reading about your children or your trip down the river. Was it scary at all to put so much of your own self out there?
SERKIS: No. The thing is I promised myself that if I was going to write this book I wanted to be honest about – as honest as I could be – about all my experiences and influences and everything that affected (the role). In the same way that Lord of the Rings is at the end of the day back towards Frodo’s story, everything that affected the way I played the role, it had to be about that.
So I never felt like I was over-exposing say…my children, I just felt it was important to be honest about the things that really affected how I played Gollum. I can imagine that maybe people think it is a bit sentimental at times because I do mention my children quite a lot but they did really effect how I played the Smeagol part of Gollum, you know a lot. I felt it very necessary to say that.
TORn: To me that was the best part of the book – to find out about Andy Serkis the actor but now Andy Serkis the person and what makes him the actor.
SERKIS: Well that’s good then.
TORn: As you started to write, was it pretty easy to edit down what you were going to include?
SERKIS: It kind of flowed. There were certain sections where I would play with it and I would hit a bump and I would think ‘How do I best encapsulate this or these feelings or these emotions or these times’ but on the whole I think for most of it, since I had made a lot of bullet points early on, I had a structure. The structure was there and I would just wait for the memories. The early stuff was like, ‘Oh it was a long time ago!’ Some stories came back much quicker than others but on the whole it did flow.
TORn: Did you feel like you were writing for a specific audience or were you just recording the story?
SERKIS: That is a good question actually. I think when I first wrote it I was just getting down what I wanted to get down but then I realized it was quite important to try and make it as broad as possible. I didn’t want to be exclusive because I wanted kids of a certain age – you know an age where they could appreciate – be able to read it. What I did want to do was to make it not exclusive in any way or make it just about acting in a sort of exclusive way. I wanted to make it open and accessible and take people on a journey that was going to be interesting. Do you know what I mean by exclusive?
TORn: I do. It makes perfect sense to me.
SERKIS: So I guess I did modify at times. The thing is when I write I write from the heart really and its like there is some bad language in there which I had to take out. (Laughing) I had to, you know, clean it up a little bit. (More laughing).
TORn: For kids you mean?
SERKIS: Yea and also there were some things, some political and philosophical things which I was encouraged by the editors to hold back on. I suppose there came a point where I felt like I was making statements. When I originally wrote it I felt like I was making statements about my beliefs about certain things which unless they were absolutely, directly necessary and again, informed the character, they shouldn’t be there so they got brought out. They were edited.
TORn: Was the writing similar to acting in any way for you?
SERKIS: I think so. In the same way that writing a script is about storytelling. You know it’s a good old fashioned beginning, middle and end and taking audiences through moments of crisis and moments of joy, moments of excitement, despair, so you do that in any role that you play – if it’s a well written role, or you try to find ways of playing it even if the role isn’t well written. (Laughing).
I was aware if I just talked about motion capture it wouldn’t be that interesting after a while so I suppose its the juxtaposition of real life, of family, of technology, of getting inside the character’s head – that is acting I suppose.
TORn: What haven’t we talked about that you would like to talk about regarding the book or anything else?
SERKIS: We have covered most things. There are two things. One, it was great because it allowed me to have closure on a character. One thing that was, more than anything, most difficult for me it was – which I do mention in the book – that sense of the character never ending. I couldn’t at the end of every day’s filming ever feel like I had done a definitive performance. It was always the next stage the next phase, the motion capture, working with animators and da da da and it would keep going on and on and it would last years. For me it was important whist I was still doing that to actually somehow have some closure on the character in order to be able to move on. I knew that when we got to the end of the filming it was going to be tough! It was going to be tough to say goodbye to the character. So that is one thing.
The other thing is that I certainly wouldn’t have written this book if had played any other character. The only reason this book was written is because it was an extraordinary – you know I wouldn’t do it again, it was a complete one-off. There is no sense I would ever write another book about another character I don’t think. Well, I guess you never say never but it was purely because it was a very, very unusual acting experience. I don’t necessarily like or would wish to break down every acting performance that I did in this way. I just wouldn’t seek to do that. I think performances should speak for themselves but this just was very special and the film was special and the whole event was special and it was very much a one-off.
TORn: I do have a last question. This was a funny detail but when are biting into that fish are those your teeth and lips (SERKIS:Oh yea) and is that a real fish?
SERKIS: Actually it was a gelatin fish. They made a few gelatin models which I had to bite into which actually in all honesty tasted more disgusting than biting into a raw fish. I would rather have eaten a raw fish.
TORn: It was uh, you know there was a lot of violence in the movies but that was particularly disturbing.
SERKIS: It is isn’t it. It is extraordinary how, with all the battles and everything but just the action of doing that is quite brutal isn’t it.
TORn: Andy that is really all I have – well it isn’t all I have – I could ask and ask but we have used the time that was given. I really appreciate your time and your help.
SERKIS: It was lovely to speak to you.
TORn: This isn’t part of the interview but with New Line pushing you for best supporting actor how do you deal with that? It seems hard to get your hopes up.
SERKIS: It is such a peculiar one really. I have had so many people say ‘What about the Oscars’ and I can only say to them that I am delighted that the debate is there, that people are recognizing the performance – an acted performance and in some way acknowledging that yes it is a combination and a hybrid between acting and animation but that it is driven by a performance. So the fact that the debate is there is most rewarding.
TORn: That is a great quote I wished I had asked you that during the interview.
SERKIS: You can put that down. At some point in time actors will be recognized for characters in CG roles. Maybe this isn’t the time but the Academy (of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) is an evolving thing. What I think has happened with this role is that a new precedent has been set for a new kind of acting – a new language in cinema.
TORn: Thanks for that too! Take care.
SERKIS: Cool. Take care.