If our panel recap of Fox’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes didn’t satisfy your curiosity, we’ve got a few highlights from the sequel’s press conference for you. Director Matt Reeves and stars Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke and Keri Russell talked about the sequel’s level of action, balancing believability with fantasy, how this film fits into the franchise and why having a strong foundation of character makes even the most fantastical story feel grounded and realistic.
Also starring Gary Oldman, Judy Greer, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Toby Kebbell, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is due to debut on July 18, 2014. Hit the jump to see what the filmmakers had to say during their visit to Comic-Con.
The apes learned how to speak and watched all that happen. Obviously there are only three or four words in the first movie. We wanted this to be somewhere along the continuum toward the 1968 movie where, of course, they’re fully conversing.
On Russell’s amount of action in the role:
Reeves: What we tried to do is tell a story about all of these characters in a way that, even though it’s a grand action story and she does have to do some action in the film, it’s really about … character. The reason that Jason and Keri are here is that we wanted characters who had the level of depth that Andy brought to the first film. She brings some action, but really she’s here for character.
Russell: I climbed down that ladder pretty fast. I was fast, wasn’t I?
Reeves: Pretty fast.
On referencing previous Apes films:
Reeves: I’ll put it this way, we don’t do it in a sort of winking way. There is a reference to – first of all, the franchise is something that, as a little kid, I was obsessed with and we all love those movies so much – but what was done so brilliantly in Rise … what was amazing about what Andy did and WETA did and Rupert [Wyatt] did and Dylan [Clark] did in Rise was, you did become an ape, you became Caesar; you cared about him and connected to him. Really, the thing we wanted to carry forward was the emotionality within the grander context of the story that that movie had. You all know that it leads to The Planet of the Apes, not The Planet of the Humans and the Apes, so the story’s really about, “Where does this fit along that?” So, in that way, this references just the knowledge of what that first film is.
Within that, there are certain things within the canon, I guess you might consider them almost commandments and things that it does reference. They did it very cleverly in the first film … Our references are much more about trying to create a context for the world that Andy leads.
Because of the way that Caesar was brought into the world, brought up by human beings, for me he was always an outsider. There’s a sense of not knowing who he was; he was brought up like you and me, and he believed himself in many ways to be a human being with our attributes. He learns human belief systems, and Will, (James Franco) he believed to be a good man.
I’ll never forget reading the script for the first time and seeing the arc of that character, the trajectory of that character and what an amazing character he is … and it’s an ape. Take that away and he’s still an amazing character. Here’s this creature who was going through all these recognizable human emotions of being an outsider and then finding his people. So now, going through to this next stage, it’s very much about Caesar having become a leader and throwing away everything that he has grown up with as a human being. So in a sense he’s finding his way by galvanizing this group of orangutans and chimps and gorillas two-thousand strong. He’s also a father to a teenage son, he also has an infant child, he has a wife, he has a council, he has a very, very big community he’s responsible for, for their survival. And then he has the choice of reaction to human beings who, still, in a sense, deep down, he wants to be able to communicate with.
One of the things that, last time around, is that they didn’t speak, so it’s a very pure and innocent way of experiencing what their thoughts and feelings were in this last movie. This time around, there’s an evolution; there’s an evolution in linguistics. I’ve found this to be one of the biggest challenges: how Caesar is spiritually, philosophically, how he is, how he commands, how he responds on a personal level. So we worked in great detail in terms of creating that level of sophistication versus finding language, so through the sign language that he was taught, then also human words he’s beginning to use. All the other apes are beginning to use gesture and vocalizations, and of course the younger apes have been brought up in human society and learn to speak even better and faster than their parents, because that’s what happens. It’s a very rich and complex world that Caesar exists in and he’s under huge pressure as the movie goes on.
I’m playing, in a funny kind of way, a different mirror of Caesar. I play Malcolm, who was an architect, who has a son and lost a wife, who now has a new partner, who is trying to find a way for his family to stay alive. That broadens to his community, so he finds a role in that. He finds his inner ape as well. Through the ten years that we’ve had this apocalypse, this virus, this civil war and everything else that’s gone on, he’s lost a lot of people and finds a lot about himself through his interactions out in the woods.
Reeves on balancing a believable story with genre escapism:
To me, the great thing that you have going for you immediately is that they’re apes; you’ve got it. It’s amazing to me, what WETA does and how they transform them, but the key to the whole thing is what’s going on under them. What Andy does and what the other actors do when they’re playing apes in a way that’s emotionally authentic … I asked them to show me everything that Andy had done: wearing the markers, wearing the camera on his face, wearing this crazy gray suit that they wear. I just wanted to see what he was doing. I watched it against the footage. I realized that the reason I was affected emotionally was because Andy, regardless of the fact that he was acting like an ape, was just a brilliant performer, actor. It was just so emotionally real.
The thing that is always important to me in whatever I do is trying to find the reality in that. And the key is that you take the one element that is fantastical – super-intelligent apes – and you let that be fantastical; everything else is about trying to realize a way that feels grounded and real. The first film was shot much more on stage, it was smaller. This film was out in the woods; so we went out to the woods, because I wanted to use as much available light as possible so you could bring in that reality. The key to everything is the emotional reality that these actors play. Once you do that, you forget about the fact that they’re apes.