Andy Serkis goes ape for performance-capture tech in 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes'

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PHOENIX – Actor Andy Serkis is known for playing unique roles both human and not. He might be best known for his role as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies, but he also has a big role in the current No. 1 movie, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”

He plays Caesar, a genetically enhanced, super-smart ape raised in a human home. He later leads a revolt.

Serkis checked in live via satellite from Florence, Italy to chat with Tara Hitchcock about the role and the motion-capture technology that intimidates some actors.

“What I’ve always loved about acting is the art of transformation,” Serkis said. “For me, I’m happiest when I’m completely buried in a character. That’s where I feel I can really totally express myself as an actor.”

Serkis got his start on stage and was constantly searching for ways of “getting under the skin of another person.”

Current special-effects technology, including motion-capture, makes that possible like never before.

“These roles that have come my way over the last decade have allowed me to do that to such a huge degree,” he said. “I’m quite passionate about. I don’t think what I do is special at all. I don’t think it’s extraordinary at all. All I do is act.”

Serkis said he sees motion-capture as a unique tool for actors, and he wants others in the profession to understand its potential. “It really can liberate the acting soul,” he said.

Although he’s an ape Caesar is a layered character, which Serkis plays from when he’s a toddler all the way through adulthood. It’s a rare thing for a single actor to play a character through his entire lifespan.

In addition to the physical element, there were also psychological and cognitive levels. Serkis had to find ways to convey Caesar’s advanced intelligence and the emotions he experienced in his relationship with his surrogate father.

It was those layers and challenges that attracted Serkis to the role.

With his experience as Gollum, Serkis is no stranger to emerging technology. It’s that technology that allowed the crew to do the performance capture with the live-action actors at the same time.

“There’s no disconnect and therefore the emotional integrity of the scenes really, really plays out fully,” he said. “[The performances are] totally united in space and time. That’s what gives [the movie] its reality and its emotional believability.”

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is rated PG-13 and it’s in theaters now.

Serkis will reprise his role as Gollum in the upcoming movie adaption of “The Hobbit.” In addition to that, he’s the second-unit director.

“Direction is an area that I’m moving into more now,” he said. “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is due out December 2012. The second part of the story, “The Hobbit: There and Back Again” is slated for a 2013 release.