With Oscar season about to heat up, James Franco has written an article for Deadline in which he argues that his be-ping-pong-balled co-star, Andy Serkis, deserves the same consideration for wearing a wetsuit and jumping around like a monkey that other actors get for pretending that guys in wetsuits are actual monkeys. As I’ve said before, only through a team of men drawing another man acting like an ape who became a man were we able to discover what it means to be human.
…Narratively it was always his film: I play an emotionally stilted scientist who in the process of mistakenly unleashing a lethal virus on the human race, learns to care for others; Serkis gets to play Caesar, essentially Che Guevara in chimp form.
Che Guevara as a chimp? What an innovative idea, it’s almost as if they got it
Andy Serkis is the undisputed master of the newest kind of acting called “performance capture,” and it is time that Serkis gets credit for the innovative artist that he is…
…Audiences are used to large scale effects: impossible explosion, space travel, fantastic fairytale worlds, boys in tights swinging around New York, men with Squids for faces, but there is still a disconnection that happens when a character’s outer surface is rendered in a computer like Caesar’s was. We want to forget that there is a human underneath, the effects are so well rendered we either forget that the spark of life in it’s eyes [sic] and the life in its limbs is informed by a breathing human or we are so drawn into the ontology of the character we can’t grasp its artistic origins or exactly how it was created. What this means is that we can enjoy such a character – enjoyment testified by the response to such films as Avatar, Return of the King, and Planet of the Apes – but we don’t give artistic credit where it is due.
In acting school I was taught to work off my co-stars, not to act but react and that was how I would achieve unexpected results, not by planning a performance, but by allowing it to arise from the dynamic between actors, and on The Rise of the Planet of the Apes that’s exactly what I was able to do opposite Andy as Caesar. And Andy got to do the same because every gesture, every facial expression, every sound he made was captured, his performance was captured…
Whoa, slow down there, cowboy, I’m not sure I follow. So you’re saying this “performance capture” has the ability to capture “performance?” Far out, man. Can you recommend any more literature on the subject?
Then, what the Weta effects team did was to essentially “paint” the look of Caesar over Andy’s performance. This is not animation as much as it’s digital “make-up.” There are plenty of Oscar winning performances that depended on prosthetic make-up to help create the characters: John Hurt’s in The Elephant Man, Nicole Kidman’s in The Hours, Sean Penn’s in Milk. Those actors depended on make-up artists to augment the look of their characters, but the performance underneath came solely from the actors.
Hey, remember when I Am Sam and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape came out and everyone thought that portraying an imbecile with feelings was the height of acting? I think playing an intelligent ape is similar. It seems hard, but anyone could do it. Everyone I know can pretend to be retarded or a monkey. You don’t need classical training to do something we’ve all been doing since we were three.
All that aside, I don’t doubt Andy Serkis is a great actor, but let’s cut the shit, mo-cap is not make up. You can tell us that it was a hundred percent Andy Serkis’s performance all you want, but the audience has no way to verify that. Static make-up can’t change your facial expression; animation definitely can. And last I checked, I didn’t hear anyone complaining about the lack of a spark in Nemo’s eyes in Finding Nemo because Andy Serkis wasn’t there to flop around the WETA warehouse like a clownfish. Nemo seemed plenty lifelike. And you know why? Because the animators who made him were really good. You don’t get to submit a Photoshopped picture to a “Best Ass” contest and demand to be considered alongside the live contestants.
Yeah, Best Ass contest, that was the analogy I came up with. F*ck you.
[picture source = Rise of the Planet of the Apes featurette]