Serkis For Best Actor…Again

There was a fair amount of talk a couple of years ago about Andy Serkis deserving a Best Actor (or Best Supporting Actor) nomination for his performance as Ceasar in Rupert Wyatt‘s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Which of course SAG voters ignored because they feel threatened by the idea of digitally-assisted performances. Which of course is delusional. Hollywood actors have been cool with old-fashioned theatrical makeup for decades but not digital makeup, which is all that WETA is providing here. If you ask me Serkis’s follow-up performance in Matt ReevesDawn of the Planet of the Apes is even more impressive than his work in Rise because it’s a bit sadder with a more deft and gentler touch — a subtle, carefully measured portrayal of a leader who has the weight and the fate of the ape world on his shoulders. It once again seems an entirely reasonable if not necessary thing to state that Serkis again deserves a Best Actor nomination. SAG blue-hairs will probably never understand that Serkis alone is doing the performing here. 80-plus years ago AMPAS members managed to accept the fact that Frederic March and not the makeup guy was the performer in 1931’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which led them to give him a Best Actor Oscar (along with The Champ‘s Wallace Beery). Try it again — Serkis’s performance is not about motion capture or performance capture. The WETA guys are simply providing a kind of augmentation that’s no different than a makeup or wardrobe person applying a fake beard or putty nose or offering the right kind of apparel.

  • Agreed in spirit, but at this stage in the development of the actual technology I can’t ignore the argument that it MAYBE needs to be a separate category of acting (“Best FX-Assisted Acting?”) – for now.

    The fact is, it’s more than a little different from just “digital makeup” because there’s still a shit-ton of work that gets done to the performance by people other than the actors after the capture is done. The EW video is a bit misleading in that regard, because the tech doesn’t just output their movements/expressions directly to those perfect finished models in real-time.

    The real-time version is a usually a rough animatic (think a 3D video-game from the mid-90s) and thats what the animators use as the foundation/data-set to build the final version. That’s how issues like the stuff they can’t actually capture, like the various facial-muscles that apes have but humans don’t or the way their joints actually work, get resolved. I’m not 100% sure where I fall on that, but I can see SAG etc objecting on the grounds that it’s not 100% “them.”

    • Reverent and free

      Well, if motion capture actors can count, why shouldn’t puppeteers like Frank Oz?

  • JoeS

    Nope then. Nope now.

    As others have noted, much of Serkis’ work is done digitally WITHOUT his input. Effects artists are beginning to be rubbed the wrong way when Serkis makes it seem like a one man operation.

    March’s performance in DR. JEYKLL isn’t a real comparison. There were no makeup artists in post CHANGING the actor’s performance in myriad small and large ways.

    • Reverent and free

      Right, if something were to happen to Serkis, the show could go on without him: they could give another motion capture actor exactly the same face and mannerisms, and find a suitable voice mimic. It’s an animator’s game.

    • DimitriL

      But the problem is that actors who aren’t in obvious makeup are ALSO having their performances changed in post, their actual expressions cut and pasted and manipulated. Whether an actor is playing an ape or just having their own mug onscreen, it’s not unlikely that they’ve been modified. These distinctions are irrelevant now. It’s all data, subject to the whims of FX artists, shaping many performances after the fact, so let’s drop the pretense.

      • JoeS

        Yes, there is some digital clean-up. But, again, a far far far cry from what is being discussed with Serkis.

        Non-Pretense Apples and Non-Pretense Oranges.

        • DimitriL

          Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? If an animator gives an actor an expression he never made, that’s not clean-up, that’s a digital performance. What’s the line? Who determines it?

          A different example: an actor does a role in complete, full-facial, full-body prosthetics. The director doesn’t like the way the prosthetics read on film, and decides to redo them all in CGI, using the original movements as guide and template. Is that a digital performance?

          How about if the director removes all features from an actor and replaces them with CGI – except the eyes. They leave the eyes untouched. Is that now a

          • DimitriL

            digital performance? It can’t be apples and orange because the barriers here are evaporating. (Sorry that I broke up the post – couldn’t add anything to my reply up there for some reason.)

          • JoeS

            If you can find a credible source that this kind of thing is occuring with Lupita, Daniel Day, Streep etc. then let us see it. As someone who has been on sets for 30 years, the only incident I’m aware of is when Brando refused to smile in THE SCORE and it was digitally added. Otherwise, it’s mostly for vanity (taking away wrinkles and blemishes) or to fix lighting or to meld shots.

            • DimitriL

              It obviously doesn’t get out that much – though the Brando was one example, and they changed Jennifer Connelly’s performance during a scene in Blood Diamond. But it’s enough of an issue that SAG has been pushing for language to prevent this from happening for years, and last I heard, they still were getting knocked back. I don’t think that fight is happening because of a hypothetical use of the technology.

  • They need a new category for it if you want it to be awarded as such. The biggest difference is that the effects people fill in gaps if the actor messes up or isn’t doing exactly what the director wants. It is somewhere in between animation and acting but it isn’t purely acting. Actors especially will never see it that way and it isn’t about “blue-haired” — in fact, the SAG voters can’t be characterized that way. It’s that for actors it’s about their face. Effects-enhanced performances don’t need to crowd them out. Rather, there should be a new way to recognize what they do, which might even include voice-over acting in animated films and such. But yeah, as JoeS says nope then, nope now.

    • Professor Wagstaff

      And if they did create a new category for motion cap/voice-over acting, I think the people the Academy would vote for half the time would not reflect the interests of those who wanted it. How many Oscars would Eddie Murphy and Antonio Banderas have for Shrek sequels by this point?

  • Muscle McGurk

    If Serkis is such a brilliant actor, why does he only get recognized for these digital performances? If he had award-caliber talent, by now he would have been cast in a part that would show off his chops without the use of CGI-assisted makeup or whatever you want to call it.

    Fact is, without the CGI “makeup”, he’s nothing. And that’s why he’s not going to get any traction with actors who don’t need to rely on digital effects to deliver a good performance.

    • Noiresque

      He was a juicy scene in that Moors Murders show as Ian Brady. But it was a small role and he was over shadowed by Samantha Morton and Jim Broadbent.

  • Bob Strauss

    Yeah, the fx artists add immeasurably to the “performance.” Think of how differently apes’ and humans’ mouths look and work, and you get some idea of just how much digital artistry is required to interpret Serkis’ or any of the other ape actors’ expressions.

  • Pertwillaby

    If his performance is really that great, they should just give him a Special Achievement Academy Award. They haven’t handed one out since 1995.

    • HarveyLime

      I actually think that the Special Achievement award should be a regular feature of the show – it’d be a nice change to see them acknowledge the kind of work that doesn’t fit neatly into the regular categories.

      • Jeff

        They should also bring the Lifetime Achievement Award into the regular ceremony.

  • Jeff

    Pert Willaby and Muscle McGurk have the right ideas.

    Serkis is great in mo-cap but a huge ham in live action performances. Perhaps if he were great in both he would be rewarded. I have no issues not awarding a Best Actor/Actress statue to a mocap performance as lots of folks have said its too much of a team effort for a prize to be considered against live action actors who are doing most of the work. They can’t really make it a yearly award either because who else even does this that you can name off the top of your head? Serkis would win like 3 of the next 4 easily.

    Additionally, no one is going to see these movies because Andy Serkis is doing the mo-cap work, they are going to see the spectacle and 98 percent of the audience wouldn’t even notice the difference.

    Serkis will win a lifetime achievement award in 10-15 yrs and that will be enough, as it was enough for a host of other actors in the Academy’s history. Outside of the Academy, its not as if Serkis hasn’t gotten any awards.

    • AstralWeeks666

      I wonder if Serkis’s hammy overacting is a necessary enlarged foundation for the animators to build on. Maybe it would not work with a more restrained actors delivering a more low key performance.

    • Did you ever seen Serkis as a colb-blooded psychopath in Longford?

      He is a ham for the most part, yes, but he wasn’t in this film.

      • Michael Gebert

        Quite so. Serkis is a ham under Peter Jackson’s direction, that much is true.

  • SlashMC

    Honor Gollum before Caesar, and maybe even Kong before Gollum. He’s setting himself up for a lifetime achievement award for sure.

  • Spicerpalooza

    The Academy can give Oscars for special recognition. Pixar was awarded one for Toy Story being the first all CG feature film. Why not just recognize him for groundbreaking work in mocap acting?

  • pmn

    What would be helpful to this debate would be if Serkis is playing Jar Jar Binks in the next Star Wars. And if this time around the character’s not so annoying that you want to stab yourself in the eye with a pencil, then we’d be able to determine how much the performer matters.

  • Noiresque

    He was terrible – terrible – as Gollum.

    I was introduced to the character via the BBC radio adaptation. He was a pathetic, tragic character. You thought, “there but for the grace of God…”

    But he is the single worst thing in a series of enjoyable films with more than a few poor elements. The screeches, shrieks, hopping and mugging renders him to the level off an annoying bat. You don’t give a shit what happens to Gollum. Serkis makes him pointless and there isn’t a creature in Middle Earth who would not be justified in snapping his bones on sight.