Movies

Andy Serkis On ‘Black Panther,’ ‘The Last Jedi,’ And The Long Strange Trip For ‘Mowgli’

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To hear it from Andy Serkis, he always knew Mowgli would be a, maybe, tougher sell. This certainly isn’t The Jungle Book, but, instead, a closer telling of Rudyard Kipling’s original story. In other words, it’s a little more violent, scary and, at times, disturbing — more than what you might be expecting. But, then again, that’s always been the point. And, in retrospect, the best thing that could have ever happened to Mowgli was its sale to Netflix from Warner Bros. Though, as Serkis tells it, that was still a shocking day.

It’s a pretty big year for Serkis. That other movie he’s was in, Black Panther, just picked up a cast SAG award nomination and looks like it’s on its way to a Best Picture Oscar nomination. And that was only a couple of months removed from The Last Jedi, where Serkis takes us through what it was like to find out that Supreme Leader Snoke was no more. But first, Serkis also has a viral video last week, when he lampooned British Prime Minister Theresa May as Gollum from The Lord of the Rings.

You went viral on the internet as Gollum as Theresa May.

It was an idea that was proposed to me by the People’s Vote in the UK. We’re in a bit of a pickle over there. It seemed very important to not to just dig at the people who want to leave the European Union, but to somehow get people to think differently, collectively about what’s happened over the last two and a half years – and the conflicted opinions that are flying around, and the mess that it’s all in. This was using allegory as our friend and saying something about that. It was nothing personal about the Prime Minister…

It was a little bit. I didn’t watch that going, “I think he likes her. I think he’s a fan.”

Okay, fair enough. But it’s more to do with the division that that’s caused. That schism. That conflict that the party has caused. Well, not the party, because it’s not about parties, it’s actually about leave or remain. The division of the country, and that’s really what that piece was about.

This is all sounding very familiar to me over here, too.

Right. Oddly enough, that piece, the overall view of it now that it’s been out for a few days and the response it’s had, has been, strangely, both remainers and leavers being drawn together a little bit by what it’s discussing. That’s why I love the world of allegory and metaphor and the sorts of films that we make because you can say something about the human condition through something other.

Was anyone like, “Let’s use Snoke”?

Well, yeah.

Maybe that would have been a little too heavy-handed.

I think the success of it has been that it isn’t just one-sided, that it is a conflict. It’s not too polemic, it’s having the whole notion.

Are you happy Mowgli is finally here?

Are you kidding?

This is your Guns ‘N Roses’ Chinese Democracy.

I hear you. It feels like it. When I think about it, it was 2013 when I first read the script and contemplating coming on board. Then, 2014, we started shooting. Here we are at the end of 2018. So it’s five years.

When Warner Bros. was selling Mowgli to Netflix, did you have any say over that?

Ultimately, no, I probably didn’t have any say in it, but they were incredibly gracious in the way that it was presented. There was a period of uncertainty because the Favreau version had happened and it had done very well at the box office. There was a shock wave, I suppose, within the studio as to how do we deal with that. Then, literally, on the very last day of the last mix, which was a Dolby Vision mix, I got a call saying, “Andy, the studio wants to talk about the release of the movie.” I was expecting a marketing call. Then [Warner Bros. chairman] Toby Emmerich said, “Look, Andy, here’s the deal.”

“Here’s the deal,” is usually followed by something you don’t want to hear.

Maybe it wasn’t exactly that, maybe I’m paraphrasing. Toby said, “We’ve screened the film for Netflix and they love the film. We have had concerns about the opening weekend box office, competing with the Disney’s Jungle Book. And this film may not get its possibility of it being viewed by as many people. Or if Netflix acquires it, you’ll be assured a worldwide audience of this movie.” It was a no-brainer. And, to be absolutely frank, this film was always slightly different to a four quadrant, popcorn movie.

Did you know that it wasn’t a popcorn movie from the beginning?

Yeah.

So the first day you’re like, “All right, this might be a tougher sell”?

When I read the script, I knew that it was gonna be closer to the book, which by definition was gonna be darker, tonally. It was more of a, not an adult movie by any stretch, it’s a family film.

But there are a couple horrifying scenes in this movie.

There’s a darker end of the swimming pool, let’s put it that way. I still do believe it’s a family film, and I do think really from the age of eight. It’s not for four and five year-olds.

I saw movies like this when I was that age.

Exactly. It’s not gory in a gratuitous way or a shock way. There are shocks in it, and there is fear.

Bad things happen to characters you like, that’s what happens.

Correct. It’s much, much more about you invest in the character, which is why it’s more scary. You invest in the character’s journey, and that was always the case.

And, Netflix, even over the last six months, has raised its profile and is spending more on movies. Has your perception even changed over the last few months?

My perception’s changed because of my experience in working with them and actually really fully understanding how they operate. Actually, they are cutting edge. They’re pioneering a way of people seeing films.

For us over here, they don’t reveal entirely how they operate.

I think if you dig under the surface, you find that there’s an incredible strategy and intelligence and perception and understanding of what it is to watch content now, and entertainment.

I know they don’t release their numbers publicly, like how many views something actually gets. Do you get updates? Can you call and go, “How is this doing?”

We do. We do. That’s one thing they are great about doing is talking to filmmakers and saying, “This is how it’s doing.” And being very honest about that.

The documentary included with The Last Jedi Blu-ray is fascinating. There’s a scene of Rian Johnson welcoming you to the set, then basically saying, “So, we need to talk about what happens Snoke.” Your face is priceless.

Yeah, look, the most difficult thing I think I’ve ever done in my life… Well, no that’s actually rubbish, it’s not the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life.

That does sound dramatic.

But, yeah, a press junket not giving away anything, and knowing.

Right, because they did the junket before anyone had even seen the movie, which is rare.

Right, exactly. It was carrying that information and feeling like I was betraying lots of fans.

Were you getting a lot of, ”So, what’s the future of Snoke?!”

Of course.

“He’s gonna live a long, healthy life.”

I know. That was some of the greatest acting I think I’ve ever done in my life.

Black Panther is probably going to be nominated for Best Picture. This is really remarkable.

It doesn’t surprise me because it is a really great film.

Yes, but it’s still superhero movie, which hasn’t happened before.

No, that’s true. I think it’s taken time for people to make way for films like that to be able to be perceived in that way.

You went through it in a way with the Planet of the Apes movies where it was in those conversations, and never quite happened.

No, but this is such a massively culturally important piece of cinema. It just affected people. Obviously, people around the world went to see it, but it felt like it was changing the cinematic landscape in a big way. Yeah, so I do think, for its cultural impact, I think it’s alone, apart from the fact that it’s a really good movie.

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