Thursday, November 3, 2011

Movie Rant: Why Andy Serkis Should Get an Oscar Nomination

Andy Serkis as Caesar
According to multiple sources, English actor Andy Serkis has signed on for the sequel to this summers monster hit, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. 

As the brilliant chimpanzee Caesar, Serkis was covered in motion capture technology and CGI -- but not, by any means, buried beyond recognition. Thanks to his powerful performance, the character of Caesar shines through all the computer graphics, resulting in one of the finest performances of the year to date.

Serkis, who got his big break as the emotionally tortured Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, has perfected the art of giving wonderfully heartfelt performances while physically obscured by technology. It will likely be years before anyone else comes close to his ability to emote through the motion capture censors.

Fox recently announced that they would be launching an Oscar campaign for Serkis (no word yet on whether or not it will be for Best Actor or Supporting Actor, although he may have a better shot in the latter category).

The potential dilemma? The Academy, and even some filmgoers, may be reluctant to nominate an actor who performed under motion capture technology.

Over the years there has been a lot of discussion about the idea of nominating someone who appears as an animated character on screen. There are some, like myself, who believe it's requires the same talent and dedication as any other type of performance, while others may deem it as something that doesn't quite feel legitimate.

The first time I can remember this "debate" coming up was in 2003 when there was talk that Ellen DeGeneres could potentially earn a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her voice work as Dory in Pixar's Finding Nemo. In the end, there was no nomination but it was, arguably, the first time an animated performance was seriously considered an Oscar contender.

With the advances in motion capture technology, the game changed. It was no longer simply "voice work" -- it had evolved into a complete and physical performance by an actor. The actor behind the technology interacts with his or her fellow cast members, performing alongside them as equals. To brush off the amount of work Serkis put into his role as Caesar would be a mistake -- the Academy already did it to him once before by snubbing him outright when he should have been considered a major contender for his performance in The Lord of the Rings.

Zoe Saldana in Avatar
With the 2009 release of Avatar it was next to impossible to listen to Oscar talk without hearing the name Zoe Saldana thrown around in the mix for the Best Actress category. I was relieved when she was passed over for  a nomination -- not only was the performance aggravatingly over-the-top, but it didn't feel right to have a film like Avatar heralded as the first to have an actor nominated for a motion capture performance. I kept thinking that, once Peter Jackson got around to directing The Hobbit, Serkis would have another shot at a nomination. I didn't anticipate the success of Rise of the Planet of the Apes or the critical accolades Serkis earned in the role.

Serkis paved the way for actors who dare to venture into the physically demanding world of motion capture performance. It takes a certain level of talent to convey subtle nuances through a CGI mask. For his groundbreaking work as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings (and the upcoming Hobbit films) and his motion capture performances in King Kong, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the upcoming The Adventures of TinTin, Serkis has become, without a doubt, the go-to guy for this type of challenge. 

As Serkis himself said in a recent interview with Britain's The Telegraph: "I am a bit evangelical, I know, but performance-capture is still misunderstood. Ten years down the line people say, 'Oh, so you did the voice for Gollum?' Or people go, 'You did the movements for Kong?' It's frustrating because I play Gollum and I play Kong. It is acting."

The Academy Awards need to get with the times -- and, should there still be enough open nomination spots come the February telecast, there's no better time to start than now with Serkis' performance in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.


  1. This is a good point you make. Just because Serkis can't be seen doesn't make his performances any less than an actor's whose can.
    For me Gollum was always going to be the making or breaking of LOTR. Gollum is such a central character that if he didn't work then the whole series would flop. I was saying that ten years ago!
    Agreed, the Oscars have got to get with the times. I mean even Johnny Depp as Rango this year shows that voice acting alone is a skill that should be acknowledged.
    Ooooo The Exorcist tomorrow night! Can't wait!

  2. Brilliant post, couldn't agree more strongly with you. Gollum is the best character and Serkis' performance the best in the whole trilogy. And Caeser is a hugely sympathetic anti-hero. I've never wanted to see the hiuman race overthrown so much thanks to Caeser and his confused, righteous anger. Serkis delivered heart and soul into computer generated characters. However I thought Saldana did an amazing job as well with Neytiri.

  3. Just left a link to this in one of my own posts!

  4. @Brent: Yeah, and it has pretty much gotten to the point where Serkis is *the* go-to guy for motion capture performance. He's a talented actor, whether you see him or not, and it's about time he's recognized for his achievements in bringing recognition to motion capture technology.

  5. @pturner1010: Thanks so much! I know I'm in the minority with Avatar (just wasn't a huge fan of the film as a whole); however, I agree with you about what you said about Serkis making his characters believable. He gives 110% to every performance.

    Thanks for adding that link to your site! I'll check it out now.

  6. Interesting post, I don't really agree that he should get the Oscar nod for best Actor. That being said I don't think my choice Ryan Gosling for Drive will get selected either.

  7. @3guys1movie: Thanks for the comment! :)

    Are you saying you think he'd be better suited in the Best Supporting Actor category? If so, I'm inclined to agree.

    Because of how old-fashioned the Academy can be, they will likely overlook Drive in every possible department. Too violent. But agree that Ryan Gosling was great!

  8. I completely agree with you Andy Serkis deserves a nomination. It would be unfair if someone broke through with a nomination for mo-cap work because he is the King of the format. Unfortunately, I don't think he will get nominated but maybe he can get a Special Achievement Oscar next year to coincide his return to the role of Gollum.

  9. At the moment I think he still has a decent chance at a nomination. There haven't been any early frontrunners for Best Supporting Actor yet and Fox will be pushing for him in an Oscar campaign. We should be able to know for sure if he has a chance at a nomination in another month or so, once all those other Oscar-calibre films come out!

    Thanks for the comment, Ryan!