War For The Planet Of The Apes – Woody Harrelson & Andy Serkis Interview

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woody harrelson & andy seriks

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Never write off an angry ape. At the conclusion of the last film in the Planet Of The Apes franchise, it seemed like Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his band of vengeful apes had been crushed by their human opponents. But now War For The Planet Of The Apes is about to hit our cinema screens.

A darker Caesar returns (this time exploring more of his deeper instincts), and the human out to stop him is Colonel, played by Woody Harrelson. He is a man who is no stranger to big budget franchises thanks to his recent work as the rebellious Haymitch in The Hunger Games series of films… oh, and he’s just been cast to join the Star Wars universe, as well.

Harrelson is pretty tight-lipped when asked about what audiences can expect to see with Colonel. “Well, these are apocalyptic times,” he says in a teasing tone. “He feels what he has to do is just and right to save humanity… and that may involve killing some apes. I don’t want to give the audience too much expectation, but this is a powerful tale of the humans, which is my category. I play the Colonel who has a bunch of soldiers – we are definitely at odds with the apes – and so there are some epic battles between the apes and the humans; out of which either apes or humanity will survive.”

Of course, that means that Harrelson is going toe-to-toe with the motion-capture expert, Andy Serkis, who plays Caesar. “I think Andy is one of the greatest actors I have ever seen,” he says, taking a deep breath. “I think his ability to express himself as an actor is almost unparalleled. I loved working with him.”

Harrelson says one of the things that impresses him the most with the film is how relatable to the audience even characters like Caesar are. “Caesar is doing his best to make sure that the apes survive,” Harrelson explains. “He’s a very fair leader, he cares about his people… ah, his fellow apes… but he gets a little bit caught in his darker side during this movie.”

For Serkis, that meant that he got to explore the inner workings of a character that he has now played three times and he says that fans of the franchise are certainly going to be impressed this time around. “At the end of this movie, Caesar becomes a legend… he becomes a myth. He comes forward in such a way that the apes were able to believe him, and he is a good example of a leader who was able to be empathetic; who created a society with strong laws and strong beliefs. And other than his journey in War For The Planet Of The Apes – which pitched him into a journey of revenge and hatred and rage – he finds himself again. By the end of this movie, there is a resolution. He has had that Moses-like journey, and he has taken his people into the Promised Land. He has now done what he set out to do, and so, in a way, it feels like it is time to let go and let the next generation go and let them make it into a Planet Of The Apes.”

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Like Harrelson, Serkis also believes that most film audiences do find a way to relate to Caesar’s journey. “I think that most people will understand that with the events that happen at the beginning of this movie (the loss that Caesar’s faces, and can’t deal with), I think that people will understand. They are put into a position where they are asked to answer the moral question: how would I deal with this situation if this happened to my family; my people; my tribe? Would I be full of outrage and hatred, would I be able to deal with it, would I be able to forgive and move on? That is one of the biggest questions and themes of this movie: it is about empathy. Ultimately, this film is about the planet that we live on now. It resonated with the planet that we live on now and asked how empathetic can we be in a world that is becoming increasingly more fundamentalist. The entire franchise, the entire story system is built around a metaphor of apes reflecting humanity. It is so much easier in a way, to see ourselves by abstracting ourselves and being able to see a society that is very similar to our own reflect us. That is why these films have endured, that is why they continue to be powerful, and why they can still be social commentary and can still be this brilliant combination between being entertainment but also being moving, powerfully engaging, and a comment on the planet.”

So what can fans expect to see this time around and into the future with the franchise? “The great thing is this is an epic film,” says Serkis, making huge hand gestures. “It exists on so many different levels, as a metaphor but also as a piece entertainment. It is very, very moving; it is emotionally engaging; it has great humour in it and pathos, and it is very surprising and unpredictable. It is an action movie, but at the same time, it is not overly spectacular so that it feels gratuitous. It is beautifully directed and focused so that you are taken on a journey that you don’t predict. You really can’t second guess what is going to happen next, and even when you start getting close to it, the twists and turns take you away from those moments. So I think people can see something that is beautifully judged and amazingly well acted with very exciting characters and a very, very moving outcome.”

War For The Planet Of The Apes opens in Australian cinemas on the 27th July.

Written by David Griffiths


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