Playing a sewer rat and doing a voice character for the first time.
Now, instead of seeing his motions, his next film, you'll be hearing his voice - he plays Spike in Flushed Away. Spike is a sewer rat, who's taken the turn for the evil side; he's one of the assistants to Toad (voiced by Ian McKellen). He works together with Whitey (Bill Nighy) trying to capture Rita (Kate Winslet), and her ruby. Unfortunately for Spike, Rita's got help from Roddy (Hugh Jackman).
We sat down to talk to Andy about taking on the challenge of voice acting after so many motion capture roles. Plus, Andy's working on a new video game for PlayStation 3; he told us what it's like to work behind the camera on a new medium.
Check out what he had to say about Flushed Away:
So is it nice to just use your voice that wasn't for motion capture?
Andy Serkis: It was very different, it was quite odd; because as you know, I'm used to working on a character for a long time and being involved in it and seeing it progress. What I found about this was, you do three hours of recording in the beginning of when we were working on this; three months would go by - I was still working on King Kong, actually - and then come back and do another three hours, and wait for another six months. Yeah, I've never done a voice over for animation before; it was new to me.
Were you tempted to act out the motions?
Andy Serkis: Yeah, you do, you do to get into character; there's no way to stop it. You can't just stand there and read the script - certainly, I can't do that. It is part of the energy, and Spike is an energized character, so I was pretty much jumping into that.
Were you able to see the character before you started recording?
Andy Serkis: Yeah, they showed us concept art, and little sculptures, proper clay-mation sculptures. You know Aardman style, and then mixing in CG for the first time; they built all of those maquettes like they would if it were that style. And so that's a great way to get inside the character to have that image at the turn table.
Were you in New Zealand recording the voice?
Andy Serkis: Yeah, and in fact, David Bowers came down to New Zealand to record - and because he wanted to see what was going on with King Kong. So I would play Kong during the day, and Spike at night.
Because Spike endures a lot of pain, were there times you were just making pain noises?
Andy Serkis: Yeah, he does - he always sets out to cause other people pain, but it always backfires on him; yeah, I spent a lot of time with grunts, and screams, and shouts.
Who comes up with the voice?
Andy Serkis: Well, in the first session - my first session, I was really lucky because I got to work with Bill Nighy. When we both had our first day, we were able to pitch the voice to each other; he's Whitey, kind of this big and slow, and kind of lumbering - and Spike has that non-stop attack, and energized neurosis. We were able to; we're able to as the actor, and then the director comes up and says, 'Let's do it a bit more nasally, or let's try it in the back of the throat.' But I had this idea of Spike being quite nasal, and toothy, and a lot of tension in his mouth, grinds his teeth.
How often were you able to record with someone?
Andy Serkis: That was it, that was the first and last day; and then you're on your own. But often, you'd have a reader to come in and read with you.
Do you feel as attached to Spike as you did with Kong or Gollum?
Andy Serkis: I don't think that's possible really, because I spent four years with Gollum, and a year and a bit working on Kong. And as I say, there are these short bursts that I did for short hours, and they're not really comparable in a way.
What kind of input did you have on the character?
Andy Serkis: You end up doing what's on the script, and then you start riffing; I think he became more of a mommy's boy actually. He started to develop, he thought he was a big shot, and probably watched too many rat gangster movies. But actually, he goes home, and his mom irons his socks and underpants, and he can't really cope with the real world. He likes to boss people around, but then most people do who have low self-esteem, which I think he does.
Without the interactions, did you have to stay mostly to the script?
Andy Serkis: No, you do the script version, and then you try new things; that's the great thing about voice over work is that tape costs nothing, and you can experiment in all sorts of ways and play with the stuff.
What was the appeal to do this? Was it the association of Aardman?
Andy Serkis: Knowing it was Aardman was a huge draw, and then the script; I thought it was a really cool story with great characters, and I just liked the feel of it - the underground and the sewers, that was a really great world to play in. But it's always the script, at least in this case it was.
Did they tell you it was going to be a clay-mation at first, and then tell you they were switching to CGI?
Andy Serkis: No, I think I knew; I think by the time we were brought on board, I think we all knew it was going to be CGI.
Did you see a statue?
Andy Serkis: Yeah, I saw a statue, and the 3D.
Do you see yourself in Spike?
Andy Serkis: Yeah; no, that's not a good thing. Probably, yeah, I suppose I see his patience, and his temper, and then things backfire on him. Yeah, bits and pieces.
Have you seen it?
Andy Serkis: Yeah.
What'd you think?
Andy Serkis: I think it's fantastic, brilliant.
Was there anything that surprised you?
Andy Serkis: I think it's a shock to me in the other sort of work I've done on a character that's finally being manifested and being developed over a long period of time - having motion capture work, knowing what the work is being tied to, the emotion tied to the voice tied to the performance. Your voice is doing something, and I was like, 'Oh.' Nothing specific, but not being in control of your own limbs.
You're going back to doing live-action; is that a relief from doing animation and motion capture?
Andy Serkis: Well, I guess during Rings when Smeagol becomes Gollum, and then during Kong, I was playing Lumpy as well. And then in between them, I did 24 Hour Party People; I never felt like I hadn't done that
Do you love transforming yourself?
Andy Serkis: Yeah, I think so; I think that's what appealed to me about acting is losing oneself in a character. And that's why I love motion capture, because you lose oneself in the character to the nth degree, to the point of total absorption, without being recognizable at all, and I love that. And this is what's great about that, you get all the joy of finding a character. And when I grew up, I loved watching Lon Chaney, Charles Lawton, and I loved Ray Harryhausen's stuff as well; I've always loved the magic of acting, of 'G-d, is that the same guy who did that?' That's amazing. I love that.
Andy Serkis: I did a lot of knife throwing practice for Stormbreaker, that was a little cameo performance. But for The Prestige, I had to find out a lot about Tesla really, and his world, and what was going on at the time politically, and with Edison and all that sort of stuff. And so I researched quite a bit about that. Some jobs require that - I don't have a set method of work; it's very much what's required for the job. For this, there was not a lot going on; I didn't go down into the sewers, which I would have loved to have done with Sam and David, but I wasn't around for that.
Has anyone come up with another motion capture idea for you since King Kong?
Andy Serkis: Well, actually, I've been working on a game for PlayStation 3 all year called Heavenly Sword; but I've also been directing performance capture. I got involved pretty early; it's a company called Ninja Theory for PlayStation 3. They brought me on board to work on the story and the character development, and the build relationships with the characters. So I've been directing, and casting. And that was back in New Zealand at WETA, so we took the cast from the UK down there, and I play one of the characters in that too. I am pretty dedicated to keeping the development of motion capture going on along side my conventional acting career, because I think it's a really exciting and interesting time, especially with games and the future of gaming and cinema. I think it has huge potential for actors.
Is there a release date for the game?
Andy Serkis: Yeah, it's March.
Has anyone given you a bad idea?
Andy Serkis: No, they haven't; I think there are some really cool things coming up. Robert Zemeckis just did "Beowolf", and I can't wait to see what that's like, and Renaissance. Yeah, I can't wait to see that.
Did you work on the video game for this film?
Andy Serkis: This isn't the actual video game; this is a fantastic game, an online game which is leading up until the film opens, and it's a really cool game - and every day, there's a new part of the journey, and you open up a new thing. It's getting the characters out there before.
What about the actual game; did you do any voice over work for that?
Andy Serkis: No, well I don't think they're using any of the voice for the characters or if we'll be a part of that, I don't know.
What else are you working on?
Andy Serkis: Yeah, I've got quite a few things coming out actually; early next year, there's a film called Rendition. Then there's a film called Sugarhouse Lane I've just finished shooting, a low-budget, British indie - great script, three-handed script; I council a state in East end of London. There's an HBO film coming out called Longford about prison visiting, Ian is trying to campaign for Myra Hindley (Samantha Morton), who was one of the Moore's murderers - it's a UK release, and it's about him. The film's about whether serial killers can be redeemed.
Are you playing the serial killer?
Andy Serkis: Well, there are a couple; Myra Hindley and Ian Brady (Serkis) are the two most notorious British, most hated British murderers, really, still - even though there have been more since. They're a national institution really. I just played Van Gogh in a Simon Schama - there's a British professor who did a series called The History of Britain; he's done a thing called The Power of Art, which is taking seminal works from eight artists from Caravaggio through to (Mark) Rothko. I've just played Van Gogh in that, so I've had quite an interesting year in terms of roles.
Did you cut your ear off?
Andy Serkis: I didn't cut my ear off - but did you know it's only a tiny little bit he cut off, due to contrary belief; it was just a bit.
Did you find that out when you were doing the role?
Andy Serkis: Yeah, it was just a bit of the earlobe.
In any of these roles do you look like yourself, or is each one a transformation?
Andy Serkis: No, Van Gogh, there's a fairly big transformation for that; in Sugarhouse Lane, I've just finished my whole entire body covered in tattoos. Yeah, all different looks.
In 13 Going on 30, it was just you looking like you.
Andy Serkis: Well, I wouldn't say that was just me; that was a particular look, actually. I had a neat sort of goatee, and buffoon hair I seem to remember - and that's not me, really. I don't really have a hair style, or a look, it's always shaved off bits here and there for different things.
Do you start to question what your own identity is?
Andy Serkis: I have no idea who I really am.
You found the right kind of work for that.
Andy Serkis: I'm so lucky, or I might be in prison.
Has Peter talked to you about doing The Hobbit?
Andy Serkis: I know there's been talk about The Hobbit, but nothing specific; there are still rights issues involved, and a lot of stuff in the press with MGM - but he hasn't mentioned anything specific. I know he'd love to make it, and it will probably be made at some point.
Has he mentioned collaborating with anything else?
Andy Serkis: Well, there's so much going on, and he's got so much going on, and I think - nothing specific - but I think there could be stuff happening. But nothing that's been reported.
Spike has that line at the end of Flushed Away about movies ending with violence; how do you prefer your movies as a viewer?
Andy Serkis: I like open-ended questions.
Was the British background of this film an appeal, or was it a coincidence?
Andy Serkis: It wasn't anything that drew me to the film particularly, although it was nice to see it manifest. I liked the TV and the Tower made out of cans and bottles and bits and pieces.
Is there a Spike toy?
Andy Serkis: There probably will be; I hope there will be - my children would be disappointed if there wasn't.
Is there going to be a British premiere? Have they seen the trailer?
Andy Serkis: Yeah, they've seen the trailer, and it comes out in Britain on the 23rd of November.
Is this the most kid-friendly role you've done?
Andy Serkis: Yeah, I'd say so. I did take them to see King Kong, my kids; they were down in New Zealand and got to see the motion capture every Friday after school, that was their treat. We took about 30-40 kids from their school to see King Kong; they had a special premiere for them, which is great, it was really cool. But I had to hide them when the natives came on. And my son has been traumatized by seeing Lumpy get swallowed by a 6-foot penis; I think he's going to be in therapy for the rest of his life - apart from that, it all went well.
So when King Kong came on screen, did you have to tell them it was you?
Andy Serkis: Well, they saw me doing it; and they get it, they actually get what motion capture is about because they see me move and Kong move.
Did you know you were going to be the 'motion capture poster child?'
Andy Serkis: 'Child' I like, that's good; no, of course not. I've never done anything that has to do with CG six years ago. Originally, I got a call from my agent, 'Andy, they're doing this film Lord of the Rings in New Zealand, and they want someone for an animated feature.' That was the original call.
So you were just supposed to be the voice at first?
Andy Serkis: That's right, and then the whole process kind of evolved from that.
You can hear Andy Serkis in Flushed Away when it hits theaters November 3rd; it's rated PG.