Movies

Andy Serkis On Directing ‘Breathe,’ Playing Snoke, And ‘The Last Jedi’ Trailer

Getty Image / STX

Andy Serkis just had to love that the much-anticipated trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi premiered the night before he was about to do press for his directorial debut, Breathe. (If you can’t tell, that’s sarcasm.) Though, I certainly was excited because Snoke plays a huge role in that trailer and I have a lot of questions about this mysterious Snoke that I was sure that Serkis would answer because if Star Wars movies are anything, they are not shrouded in mystery. (Also sarcasm.) The good news is Serkis is an incredibly good sport and just kind of laughed at me as I asked him questions about Snoke that we both knew he couldn’t answer.

Serkis directed second unit on two of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films, so this isn’t technically his first time directing. But it’s the first time he’s directed a feature film on his own, though he made it, as he notes below, while on a break from directing Jungle Book, a Kipling adaptation unrelated to the Jon Favreau-directed Disney version. Breathe is the story of Robin Cavendish and Diana Blacker (Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy) — after Robin is paralyzed from the neck down from polio, Diana puts the process in motion to build a chair, which allows Robin to escape the confines of a hospital bed and still lead a full life.

Ahead, Andy Serkis gives us his reaction to the Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer and tells us that, no, he doesn’t actually get to wear that fun yellow robe that Snoke wears.

I bet you love that the new Star Wars trailer hit last night, right when your press day happens.

Oh, I know. I know.

I’m sure you planned it this way.

Totally.

I will have to say about Snoke in that trailer, I’m getting a bad vibe from him.

You’re getting a bad vibe?

Yes.

Not a good vibe?

I don’t think he’s up to any good.

[Laughs.] I think he’s a nice guy. You know, his mum loves him.

Well, I think he’s up to no good. Maybe it’s a misdirect.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Look, it’s a spectrum, isn’t it?

Let’s come back to Snoke later, but before Breathe, you shot second unit on some big films. Does that help before you take on a full project?

Oh, absolutely.

Because most people don’t seem to do that…

I was just incredibly fortunate and had the great luck and privilege to work alongside Pete Jackson on his vision of The Hobbit. He literally knew that I wanted to direct and just gave me this incredible opportunity. And I shot for 200 days on that project. And so, that’s the equivalent of sort of five independent movies, and learned across the board all the techniques of that kind of filmmaking.

It feels like that should be an important step, but no one really does that.

Well, it’s true. I mean, I was incredibly fortunate to have that experience and especially on a visual effects-heavy movie, which is sort of a combination of performance and massive visual effects on a huge scope and scale. So, yes, I learned my craft, literally, the nuts and bolts of shooting with a huge crew on that show. But it’s interesting, the step that I never did was start with a small auteur movie. You know, the film that you really want to make as a student.

Which is actually surprising.

Well, I’ve directed performance-capture for video games, I’ve directed some short films. Well, I mean, there was another immediate step, of course, which was Jungle Book. Because I actually shot the principal photography for Jungle Book. So that was the one I walked straight onto, and then in post-production there was this window of opportunity where I could shoot Breathe at the same time as finishing the post-production on Jungle Book. So we literally raised the money in seven weeks and shot it in seven weeks. Now, so what is joyful about Breathe is you’re not waiting to see what a character’s going to look like in a year-and-a-half’s time.

Was that on purpose or just the way it worked out? Because you are known for characters that have a lot of effects…

I think it did cause a bit of consternation with some people. No, it was just literally the luck of the draw, because we were going to work on Breathe and then Jungle Book came along so we parked it for a bit.

Because it could seem calculated.

Right. No, no. And the early responses were people were very shocked that I had not made a big visual effects-heavy performance-capture-driven movie, and were surprised that I found something that was a relatively smaller film.

What was it about Breathe that made you want to direct your first film?

I mean, obviously, I’ve got a sort of personal connection to the subject matter as well – because my mother taught disabled children and my sister is an MS sufferer and is wheelchair-bound. But even now, my sister trying to get around in a wheelchair; disability access is not great. But also, more importantly, that there was a stigma attached to being disabled, which thankfully that’s breaking down in terms of equality in the workplace and all that kind of stuff now. Whereas in those days, they were literally expecting to be in a waiting room for death inside a hospital.

A good portion of this movie is set in the ’70s and it hits you that this wasn’t that long ago it was like that.

Exactly. Well, that was one of the driving forces for making the movie. So it was a beautiful love story and a very uplifting tale – and I really wanted to make an upbeat, humorous movie about it.

There’s a scene in Spain when the powered respirator shorts out and you think it’s going to be a terrible scene, but it turns into a party on the side of the road.

But that’s true. That event actually happened. So it’s all authentic. And in such a dire situation, humor was always the first line of defense, and they are really witty people and that’s what I wanted to bring out.

I’d be remiss if I don’t ask this. Did you get to actually wear Snoke’s fun yellow robe?

[Laughs.] No, because I did a performance-capture…

Aw, the yellow robe is motion-capture, too?

Yeah.

You should get one of those yellow robes. It’s a very surprising stylistic choice for Snoke.

I know, I know. Well, I’m going to get one for my bathroom, yes.

I guess we first saw it when the toy came out…

Oh, that was a giveaway. You know, you keep everything secret and then a blooming piece of merchandise comes out, and I’m like, What?

Well, it’s Star Wars, you’ve got to sell some toys. You probably have a whole room of toys of characters you played.

I have. I’ve got a few maquettes and I’ve got a big Gollum statue. I’ve got a number of things.

In The Force Awakens, we didn’t get to know much about Snoke. And I’m sure we’ll learn a little bit more this time. But did you create your own backstory for him?

Yes.

Like what he does in his social life and his free time?

[Laughs.] Yeah, because he’s really got a lot of time on his hands.

Does he have friends? I mean, maybe if he had some friends he wouldn’t be in such a bad mood.

Absolutely. I mean, of course he has friends.

The big debate today is, with your voiceover, “When I first found you I saw raw, untamed power,” if you’re talking about Kylo Ren or Rey. I think you’re talking about Rey.

[Exaggerated shrug.] I don’t know. [Laughs.] That, I don’t know.

I think you know.

[Laughs.] I really don’t.

Did you see the reactions?

Yeah, it was great.

What does Rian Johnson bring to a movie like this, as opposed to all these other huge directors you’ve worked for like J.J., Peter Jackson, and Matt Reeves?

I mean, they all bring real devoted passion to the subject matter, a real intelligence. A real kind of desire to say something about the human condition through the metaphor of these extraordinary stories. Rian is terrific. I think he’s made a great movie. Yeah, it’s solid.

Do you want to keep directing?

Oh, yeah. This is the beginning.

Are we going to see less acting and more directing?

Well, no, no, no. Not for a second. It won’t go away. I want to do all. At the moment we’re developing Animal Farm. And it’s a pretty good time to make Animal Farm right now, sadly.

You really could say some pretty interesting things with that.

Absolutely, and hopefully we will. And the world needs more satire. It really does need more satire, because it’s the only way to keep the forces of darkness at bay, actually.

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.

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