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Interview with Andy Serkis

Many thanks are due to TheOneRing.net for allowing me to go along to the HarperCollins book launch on November 6 2002, where this interview was conducted - watch out for the exclusive TORn Digital video!

There is a moment of silence as his audience glance at each other and then rapturous applause. Andy Serkis has us all entranced.At this moment in time you may not have heard of Serkis. In two months, this will have changed, as cinema audiences up and down the country start calling each other precious. Gollum is about to arrive.

Last winter, critics and fans alike flocked to see the first instalment of New Line Cinemas three-film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkiens The Lord of the Rings. In three hours of epic movie, we glimpsed Gollum for ten seconds as he tracked the Fellowship in search of the precious, evil Ring. An aged, nocturnal creature often compared to a frog, Gollum once held the Ring and wants it back. This year, the computer-animated character will have much more screen time, and the man behind both the movements and the sibilant voice is British actor Andy Serkis. In London to help launch the movie tie-in books written by Brian Sibley and Jude Fisher, he is keen to share his thoughts on the complex creature usually referred to as a villain.

I dont think Tolkien wrote him as a villain. I think hes a very complex character. In The Two Towers its important for the audience to see how the Ring affects a human being, what our connection is to the Ring. It is clear Serkis feels something for his role, wanting the audience to be empathetic towards him. This is unsurprising, as he explains. Im still living with Gollum. Even going away on other projects, working on other films, Im having to return to him a lot during each year. So hes very much with me, still inside my head.

Not only his head. As we talk, the actors physicality shows. He sits leaning slightly forwards, gesticulating, his own slightly protruding eyes glinting with enthusiasm for the whole project. It is this physicality which helped win him the role and which helped the animators from Weta Workshop in New Zealand create the character. Serkis explains that three techniques are employed to bring Gollum to life: principally motion capture. I wear a suit with dots all over it in a motion capture studio with 25 cameras all around me. Each camera picks up a coordinate from the dots on my costume, which then relates to the computer-generated image. In addition, the animators use films of Serkis on set acting the scenes out, and rotoscoping. The latter was also used in Ralph Bakshis 1978 cartoon version of The Lord of the Rings.

Behind us, a large lady sits down and listens eagerly to Serkis. As yet, fans who recognise him are few and may remain so, given that he plays an animated character but those who do ask for autographs are treated with respect.

I think the fans are great, he says, when questioned on this. Theyre absolutely passionate about the book, passionate about the films, and they love talking about it. So do I, so its great.

The Lord of the Rings has been part of Serkiss life for well over three years already, and will continue to be so until post-production on the third movie, The Return of the King, is complete late next year. He speaks with enthusiasm of New Zealand, where all the filming and post-production work is taking place, and relates an anecdote which shows how deeply into the role of the lonely Gollum he has got.

He smiles, remembering.

I end the interview by asking him what he considers to be the moment in The Fellowship of the Ring which defines the spirit of the work a question which earlier had caused Brian Sibley and Jude Fisher, authors of the movie companion books published by HarperCollins, no difficulty. Serkis frowns, and eventually decides upon the first time we glimpse one of the first films main villains, a Black Rider. Its not necessarily an essential moment in the film, he adds, but it is chilling.

Whether Gollums desire for the Ring will be as chilling as the shrieks of the Black Riders is yet to be seen, but I go away impressed by Serkiss devotion to the part. Film audiences will hear his hissing voice and see the painstakingly created movements at cinemas worldwide on December 18th Jar-Jar Binks, watch out!

© Joanne Harris 2003