Most Known For: “The Lord of the Rings” Trilogy, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,”
Snubbed For: “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”
There are many who will call the seemingly inevitable omission of Scarlett Johansson’s performance in “Her” with Thursday morning’s Oscar nominations a snub — I’m one of them. However, if the Academy surprises us all and gives a nod to Johansson’s voice work in the Spike Jonze film the first person that she needs to thank is Andy Serkis. Any argument that performance capture and voice performances are worthy of being considered among the best performances of the year by the Academy and all other award bodies all start with Serkis, who has helped to revolutionize the art and has gone largely unrecognized for it.
Serkis has been acting on film and television since 1989 but did not really hit it big until he was cast as Gollum in Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.” Using performance capture technology developed by WETA Digital Serkis gave a brilliant performance as Gollum as he battled with his own psyche. However, in 2002 CGI was still fresh enough that many people didn’t realize just how much Serkis truly did contribute to the creation of Gollum. Knowing what we do now and looking back at his performance, Serkis was definitely worthy of awards attention for best supporting actor.
Though his performance in “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” was equally exceptional, it wouldn’t be until 2005’s “King Kong” that Serkis began to receive some serious attention for his work in performance capture. Serkis portrayal of Kong is astounding, he is not just walking like an ape and thumping his chest convincingly, he conveyed real emotion through this CGI character, creating a real character across from Naomi Watts’ lead.
Serkis has not pigeon holed himself to motion capture performances either. He has had supporting roles in films like “13 Going on 30,” “The Prestige” and “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll,” for which he received a BAFTA nomination for Best Actor. He also has received a number of citations for his work on TV, with a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Miniseries for “Longford” and an Emmy nomination in the same category for “Little Dorrit.”
It was, however, Serkis’ role as the main ape Caesar in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” that really sparked this debate to what it is today. Expanding on what he did from “King Kong,” Serkis is mesmerizing as Caesar. He out acts his live-action co-stars without uttering a word. A number of critics bodies nominated him for their Best Supporting Actor category and he won some special awards, but the Academy didn’t bite and refused to acknowledge the performance.
It is true that the special effects team behind a movie, whether it be WETA Digital or any other company, are vital to the creation of these CGI characters, but these characters do not truly come to life if an actor does not commit to it like Andy Serkis does. Serkis is so committed to the art that his production company, Imaginarium Studios, even teaches actors how to properly do performance-capture.
Serkis is not done with performance-capturing either. His directorial debut is going to be an adaptation of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” with the entire film being done with performance-capture. He will also reprise his role as Caesar in the upcoming sequel, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”
Performance capture is a new part of filmmaking whether the Academy likes it or not. Whether they decide to include those performances in the main acting categories with live-action roles or to create a special category for them, to stay relevant it seems like that will soon become a necessity. They cannot continue to overlook great work like Zoe Saldana in “Avatar”, or Johansson in “Her.” As soon as they do, you can bet Serkis will be one of the first to land a much deserved nomination.