He's the king of motion capture with acting chops to boot. With the Hobbit greenlit, the man who humanised King Kong is set to reprise his most famous role.
How hard was it to say goodbye to the Lord Of The Rings experience?
It was unbelievably difficult. It’s so rare to work on a project for so long. Come the end, you just couldn’t believe that you wouldn’t be seeing the same faces everyday at work. We’d become a sort of family and to have to say goodbye to that special group of people was very, very tough. That said, it was a bit easier for me because, such was the length of the shoot, I’d already made my first post-Rings picture [Jennifer Garner vehicle 13 Going On 30] before the actual Rings shoot was over. So at least I’d already had a taste of what life would be like post-Gollum.
Speaking of Gollum, how did you land the part?
When the role was first offered to me, I wasn’t that interested in it. At that time, I was simply asked whether I’d like to provide the voice of a character for a film that was going to be shot in New Zealand and that didn’t have a lot of appeal. But then it emerged that the film in question was The Lord Of The Rings, that the director was Peter Jackson and that the part was Gollum. When all of that had been established, I was much more curious, but I still wasn’t that interested in simply sitting in a booth and providing the vocals. So then I started talking to Peter and his wife and collaborator Fran Walsh and we reached a point where we agreed that it would be more interesting if I interpreted the part on set. I’m so glad we did that because I think that Gollum wouldn’t work so well without that direct interaction with Elijah Wood and Sean Astin.
As Gollum, you spent a lot of time wearing a jumpsuit. That couldn’t have been too comfortable.
No, it wasn’t great. And the New Zealand winter only made things worse. I must say that when I made 13 Going On 30, the difficulty of moving on from Rings was made easier by the fact that I was able to work in trousers for the first time in two years!
At that time, I was simply asked whether I’d like to provide the voice of a character for a film that was going to be shot in New Zealand and that didn’t have a lot of appeal.
For a lot of actors, Gollum would be the weirdest role on their resume, but you’ve played all manner of eccentrics and grotesques. How did you find playing gargantuan record producer Martin Hannett in 24 Hour Party People?
Well again, that was very hard, and again I found myself taking extreme measures as I had to wear a fat suit for the latter stages of the film, because Martin became enormous in his later years. But I couldn’t be happier with that film. Michael Winterbottom did a remarkable job. Was it a shame that some of my stuff ended up on the cutting room floor? Sure, but that sort of thing often happens.
And, of course, you then found yourself working with Peter Jackson again on King Kong. What was the appeal of returning to New Zealand?
There were lots of reasons for wanting to work on Kong, but the biggest attraction was the opportunity of working with Peter and Fran again. They’re just two of the loveliest people I’ve ever met and to have the chance to team up again was something I simply couldn’t turn down.
Did you study the original Kong before the shoot?
Peter – who’s been a Kong fanatic since the age of eight – actually screened the film for the cast and crew in the run-up to the shoot. Watching the movie, you’re struck by how intelligent aspects of the film are. Take the scene at the end of the film where Kong’s put on display on Broadway. I was sat next to Jack Black during the screening and when I saw that shot of Kong tied up on stage, I gasped. Jack asked me what was wrong and I said, ‘They’ve tied up Kong the same way the Skull Island natives tied up Ann Darrow when they offered her to Kong as a sacrifice’. So, you see, it’s anything but a straightforward creature feature.
The Kong of the 1933 film doesn’t have a lot in common with gorillas as we know them today, does he?
Well, for one thing, he’s bipedal, and as we now know, gorillas are quadrupeds 99% of the time. And the original Kong was a carnivore whereas real gorillas are vegetarian. But you have to remember that the gorilla was all but unknown until the late 1800s – like Kong, it was the stuff of myth. The Mountain Gorilla wasn’t even classified as a species until 1914. And, of course, back then, they didn’t have all the wonderful documentaries that we have today. Now thanks to scientific research and the likes of David Attenborough, we have a much better understanding of these remarkable creatures, and it’s that, that understanding, that we brought to the Kong remake.
Speaking of research, didn’t you prove quite a hit with the female gorillas at London Zoo?
Yes, I did. But, unfortunately, they weren’t really my type! In the end, it was all the keepers could do to pull the ladies off of me and get me out of the cage!
Between Lord Of The Rings, Kong, the Risen computer game and now The Hobbit and Tintin, you’ve become the king of motion capture. Does stereotyping bother you?
It might if the only work I was offered involved me wearing a wet suit and dancing around in front of a greenscreen. But the last few years have seen me play Ian Dury in Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll and allowed me to work Simon Pegg in Burke & Hare, so it’s not as if I’m a one-trick pony. Then again, my motion capture roles have been real career highpoints. Anyone who thinks it’s not proper acting doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
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