In the early 20th century, star of stage and screen Lon Chaney became known as “The Man of a Thousand Faces” thanks to his ground-breaking and transformative make-up techniques. His disguises, as incredible as they were, worked perhaps too well, distracting audiences and history’s archivists from Chaney’s many and varied performances as an actor first and an effects whiz second. In short, Chaney’s abilities as an actor were overshadowed by his own technological brilliance and overlooked by everyone who was wowed by his make-up techniques. Nearly a century later, Andy Serkis faces a similar challenge.
Though the English actor has been in the business since the late 80s, Serkis came to the world stage in Peter Jackson‘s epic early 2000s trilogy adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. But it wasn’t Serkis’ face that audiences came to know and love. It was that of the twisted and malformed creature Gollum, a computer-generated creation that came to life through Serkis’ “blood, sweat, and tears” performance well before it was cloaked in a textured digital skin. The bright side for Serkis was that a whole new world of possibilities through motion-capture and performance-capture opened up in front of him; the downside was that his most famous creations would wear a face that wasn’t his own.
Since Gollum, Serkis has taken on the roles of a giant gorilla, a not-so-sober sea captain, a rapidly evolving chimpanzee, and a (supposedly) powerful Force-wielder, among others. His latest performance-captured role is Baloo the bear in Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, a Netflix film which Serkis also directed, following up on his 2017 directorial debut, Breathe. In honor of Mowgli‘s arrival, I took a look back at Serkis’ other “captured” roles to see how far he’s come along with the technology, and to see where it might take him next.
Before we get into the ranking of Serkis’ performances, check out this featurette for Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle which goes behind the scenes of the Netflix film to show off the actor-director’s on-set talents:
“It was absolutely essential that we use performance capture to create the animals.” Hear from Andy Serkis and the cast about the magical transformation from performance capture to the stunning world of Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle.