HE'S AN ACCOMPLISHED stage actor in his native England, but Andy Serkis is best known on this side of the pond for playing inhuman characters. The man who loaned his voice and body movements to the computer-generated character Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy is aping it up again for director Peter Jackson in King Kong, which opens December 14. This time Serkis, 41, is the man in the digital gorilla suit, performing every knuckle walk and roar that allowed computer animators to create the 24-foot-tall ape. Kong was a physically challenging role, requiring Serkis to draw on his climbing skills—he's summited Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn—and travel to Rwanda to observe gorillas in the wild. Jason Stevenson checked in with Serkis as film production wrapped.
OUTSIDE: AT 5'8", YOU'RE NOT A BIG GUY—HOW DID YOU PLAY A GIANT GORILLA?
SERKIS: It's more about how you move. I wore leg weights, arm weights, and a climbing harness with weights attached. The weights provide a sense of
momentum when Kong is planting his arms down, and for every footstep he takes.
YOU MUST HAVE GOTTEN PRETTY BUFF.
Oh, yeah—doing that for a couple of months really works you into impressive shape.
HOW DID YOU HANDLE KONG'S CLOSE-UPS?
I had 132 motion-capture sensors—basically highly reflective dots—on my face, recording my muscle and eye movements.
SO ARE THE EXPRESSIONS ON YOUR FACE THE ONES WE'LL SEE ON THE SCREEN?
Yeah. Only with a lot more hair, and with a slightly bigger muzzle.
WHEN THE HUMAN ACTORS FILMED THEIR SCENES, YOU STOOD IN FOR THE COMPUTER-GENERATED KONG. HOW DID THAT WORK?
I wore a proper fur gorilla suit, with a sagittal crest and a big belly. I wore gorilla dentures as well. My vocalizations were sent through a processor—it became known as the Kongolizer—that lowered my voice a couple of octaves and projected it onto the set through huge speakers. So when Kong roared, it was very, very loud.
DOES KONG COMMUNICATE IN OTHER WAYS?
Gorillas have a belch vocalization, which is sort of like "I'm OK, you're OK." They do a pig grunt, which is reprimanding. They sing, they laugh, and they hoot, which grows into a chest-beating display.
SOUNDS A LOT LIKE AN EPISODE OF THE BACHELOR. WHAT WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU LEARNED IN RWANDA?
That gorillas are incredibly social animals. Kong is the last of his species, so he's lonely and pretty haunted. I played Kong as an animal searching for a connection, as opposed to a monster on the rampage. This is not a monster movie, really—it has a lot more heart than that.