In an interview in London, and a follow-up phone call, Mr. Serkis spoke about Caesar’s death and whether there is life in the franchise yet. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.
What did you think when you discovered that Caesar would die at the end of “War”?
Matt Reeves told me the whole story about two and a half years ago when we talked about making this movie. The film that you see is very close to what he said then, and what he wanted to happen. He felt Caesar should be a seminal figure in the story of the apes’ evolution, a Moses-like character. So I knew from the word go that this was going to be his fate.
It felt right somehow. He had completed his journey, brought the apes home, played his part in the evolution of his kind. To shuffle off in a rather dignified but unceremonious way was not a blockbuster-type ending. To have that final scene with Maurice, who was his friend his whole life and a conciliatory character, had a Shakespearean echo in some ways. I am thinking of King Lear and Gloucester; having lost his empathy at the beginning of the movie, Caesar had to find it again, be able to see again, which felt very reminiscent of Lear. I thought they wrote that beautifully.
How did it feel to play that scene?
It was very moving. Of course, in classic filmmaking style, we did it two-thirds of the way through the shoot. Karin Konoval, who plays Maurice, and I both knew that it was going to be a big day. It was quite somber. There was a real sadness, because we have all lived with these characters for a long time now. I’ve played this character from an infant, which is very rare.
I still feel the loss of playing such a great character, which I don’t think I’ve felt before. Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings” was a huge part of my life, but I knew I would play him again in “The Hobbit.” This was different, I think, because I had played Caesar for his entire life.
Is this really the end of the character? Could there be a prequel, for instance?
Working with Rupert Wyatt and Matt Reeves, the two directors who have done these movies, has been pretty special. I have spent more time with Matt, as he did the last two, and his grasp of that world is so thorough, and he is so passionate about it, that if he were to come back and work on something like that, I would hope I’d have the opportunity. It’s not a world I’d let go of lightly.
Of course, with performance capture, you are not limited to a physical persona. You’ve played baby and elderly Caesar, but you could also conceivably play, say, his son, in a sequel?
As an actor in the 21st century, you have a tool — performance capture — that enables you to transform into anything you want to play. That has been a huge thing for me, and a central part of what drives me as a creative person. So yes, there have been loose talks about how that might manifest, but nothing concrete. Some other incarnation perhaps; that is all possible. It feels good that it’s the end of Caesar’s journey, but if I were to go on generationally, as it were, that might be interesting.
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