Jason Clarke Talks Working with Andy Serkis, His Character’s Relationship to Caesar, and More on the Set of DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

     April 14, 2014


One of the interesting things about director Matt Reeves‘ Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the way the film flips the switch on how animals and humans currently live.  When the film starts, the apes have built a flourishing society in the forest outside San Francisco with Caesar (Andy Serkis) as their leader.  On the other hand, the humans, being led by Gary Oldman and Jason Clarke, are living hand-to-mouth, struggling to survive.  After the events of the first film when the two societies eventually collided…Let’s just say neither side trusts the other and that dynamic plays into the rest of the film.

During a break in filming last year when the production was in New Orleans, I participated in a group interview with Clarke.  He talked about how he got involved in the project, the great script, working with Andy Serkis and the other motion capture actors, his charascter’s backstory and relationship with Caesar, what filming on location adds to a performance, and more.  Hit the jump for our Jason Clarke interview.

Before getting to the interview, if you haven’t seen the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer, I’d watch that first:

dawn-of-the-planet-of-the-apes-posterQuestion:  How did you get involved in this project?

JASON CLARKE:  Matt Reeves. He’s a really well respected guy and Andy Serkis and the first one.  I watched the first one and I liked it.  It came up and it was a kind of a no brainer.

What’s been the most challenging aspect for you so far?

CLARKE:  Weirdest thing is doing the motion capture with these guys (WETA). Like you’ll do a scene, all the apes will be there in their suits doing it and you’re watching everybody. After a bunch of takes, they step out, then you have to do it exactly how you did it, timing wise, movement wise, to a dot on a piece of string or imagining it. It’s really weird because you’re doing it a bunch of times and you feel fake because you’re doing it fake (laughs) and that’s your take! You come back and you think: “Oh my God…” It takes a lot of getting used to.

Can you talk about working with Andy Serkis? He told us you really get the performance out of working with motion capture. Can you talk about the dynamic you have with him?

CLARKE:  Andy is good. He’s one of those guys that if you look in the back of the car and he’s off camera, he’s still crying.  He really goes for it, you know!  And makes it a lot easier.  Also when you go to the zoo and you watch a primate or you watch his original performance in the first one, you know that once that stuff comes on him and the picture is brought in and all that, there’s so much empathy that comes that naturally comes in addition to what he’s doing. You watch him as Caesar so intensely because of the fact that he’s an ape. He’s so great to work with. I mean all of these guys, they’re amazing, just watching them move.  You get lost in them.  [Stunt and Movement Coordinator Terry Notary] – have you watched him? He’s amazing.  There’s a lot of humor in it, then jokes aside and they get down to it and sometimes it’s hard to keep your focus because they’ve got it going on.  You think this is fuckin’ amazing! Then you just navigate, in this one particularly, their ability to understand and speak the language as it progresses and the time jump in fifteen years. They are all very easy to work with.  They go big…

dawn-of-the-planet-of-the-apes-jason-clarke-1Can you tell us about your character’s relationship with Caesar?

CLARKE:  We’re both men in a leadership role I guess in our own societies and we’re both fathers.  And then we both go on very different journeys.  I think through each other both of our journeys are pushed along to where we end up to having to deal with Caesar. When I spoke to Matt in the beginning, you know you go back to Pocahontas and you go back to the Aborigines in Australia and white man coming into ….It’s a revision of that in a way and there’s a lot of subtext and emotion and feeling as you’ve been through them, not once, twice or three times but there’s a fatalism almost as we try to do it again. And the fact that there has to trust but there is no trust and there can’t be trust and there’s an inevitability that goes with it.

You also filmed on location in Vancouver and you’re filming here in New Orleans, it seems like everything is on location.

CLARKE:  Yeah.

How does that add to the authenticity and also to your performance?

CLARKE:  New Orleans was easy. It was raining and it was muddy and it was a mess which somehow made it easy to get in the forest and run around and be in a really big overgrown forest that nature owns. When you’ve got sets like this, it adds to it [your performance].  We’re in Downtown New Orleans and they’ve built this! Anytime you go on location it makes it easier. Wardrobe, makeup and hair does a lot of the job for you. When you see these big green trees and you’re out there in the rain and the mist and the mud, there’s no acting required.

dawn-of-the-planet-of-the-apes-russell-clarke-smit-mcpheeWhat is Malcolm’s position in this society when you start the film?

CLARKE:  He’s a guy who is gradually taking more and more responsibility for the society that he’s in, whether he wants to because…. I wouldn’t say he’s a natural leader or he wants to be a leader, it’s a matter of survival. And the skill set that he has and the skill set that he wants to learn in order to provide safety and to come back to some kind of civilization is what drives him. Then meeting a guy like Caesar kind of takes it another level I think in the understanding of what it means to be responsible.

What’s his relationship with Gary Oldman’s character?

CLARKE:  They work very closely together. Gary is my boss. He kinds of holds us together through a lot of it.  Now he’s brought me in to help grow out a little corner of the world for some kind of functionality.  We work very closely together as it goes on.

What was your reaction to reading the script for the first time? Everyone has been talking about how good the script is.

CLARKE:  Yeah, the last film I did was Zero Dark Thirty which was one of the best scripts I have ever read.  I had a lot of excitement talking to Matt, talking to Dylan Clark and the studio – this sounds great! Now I’ve just got to go and read the script. It’s a big Hollywood film, you can’t put too much in there and then I just kind of read it and I was like: “Well man…Let’s do a deal!” I knew with Matt that it would have that. Then I talked to friends of mine like Greg Shapiro and Kathryn Bigelow and they said if Matt Reeves is involved, “Do it Jason!”  And the script didn’t let me down. It’s really good. It’s got everything that a big action genre film needs with the tradition of the Planet of the Apes. He’s got his own syncratic way of coming into the story and making it so that it actually has bones under the meat. It has good solid bones and then he brings on guys like Gary Oldman and everybody else.

dawn-planet-apes-russell-clarke-serkis-set-photoBoth you and Caesar have your own families to protect. You both have teenage sons.  Caesar’s son, River is a little more rebellious and is figuring out the world on his own, how is your relationship with your son?

CLARKE:  Probably a lot more complicated because of what we’ve been through and what has happened.  He hasn’t had a normal healthy upbringing.  Caesar’s son has been up there living well, where as we’ve been living like animals, which I’m not sure is the right word.  We’ve been living hand to mouth, day to day so it’s a much more complicated relationship.  I think Malcolm’s relationship with himself is a lot more complicated to Caesar’s. It’s been a bit of a struggle.

Can you talk about what the last year has been like for you. You have a big July 4th movie and you’re doing Apes.

CLARKE:  Yeah.  It just gets crazier and crazier! I mean, it’s really good, I think I’ve got one week off for the rest of the year if these projects stick to when we’re going to shoot them.  We finished Zero Dark and we went to the Oscars, we had a great run. Then it just keeps going! I’m going to make movie next with Stephen Gaghan and De Niro, Christoph Waltz – Candy Store. And then there’s even another one which is really exciting but I can’t talk about! It’s great to be surrounded by people who you love and respect and working on something you really enjoy. And here we are working in New Orleans on an incredible set.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes opens July 11.  For more from my set visit:

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