James Franco on Andy Serkis: “There is an acting revolution that has taken place”

Count previous Oscar nominee James Franco as one of the many voices calling for the Oscars to recognize co-star Andy Serkis‘ spellbinding performance as Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes

In a piece Franco penned for Deadline, Franco not only highlights the importance of performance capture to the future of filmmaking but praises Serkis for his groundbreaking work in the digital method.

Franco has the highest praise for his co-star, placing Serkis at the forefront of a new era of cinema.  He says, “There is also an acting revolution that has taken place.  Andy Serkis is the undisputed master of the newest kind of acting called ‘performance capture,’ and it is time that Serkis gets credit for the innovative artist that he is.” 

Franco reaches back to tell about Serkis’ history with performance capture, starting from his first role using the technique, Gollum in director Peter Jackson‘s Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Serkis was originally picked to provide the character’s voice — the character was intended to be entirely computer generated — but Franco reveals, “Serkis got so physically involved in the production of the character’s odd voice – Serkis was inspired by his cat coughing up a hairball – that Jackson decided to find a way to capture the performance so that it could be translated into a digitally rendered character. This was the birth of performance capture as we know it.”

One of the concerns raised about performance capture by many in the industry is that it might lead to studios using it in films to essentially replace traditional actors — and their high salaries. Franco dismisses that, pointing out, “I, as much as anyone, can get anxious when I think about the future of movies and the possibility of the obsolescence of actors, or at least actors as we know them, but after making Apes I realize that this is backward thinking. Performance Capture is here, like it or not, but it also doesn’t mean that old-fashioned acting will go the way of silent film actors. Performance Capture actually allows actors to work opposite each other in more traditional ways, meaning that the actors get to interact with each other and look into each others eyes.”

In fact, Franco argues that performance capture is both beneficial to the industry and to the other actors, because rather than having actors acting against a “tennis ball” that will later be replaced by a computer-generated character, performance capture allows actors to work off each other.  He describes it as, “In acting school I was taught to work off my co-stars, not to act but react and that was how I would achieve unexpected results, not by planning a performance, but by allowing it to arise from the dynamic between actors, and on The Rise of the Planet of the Apes that’s exactly what I was able to do opposite Andy as Caesar. And Andy got to do the same because every gesture, every facial expression, every sound he made was captured, his performance was captured.”

Will the Academy listen to Franco’s praise of Serkis?  Serkis has already been nominated for several best supporting actor awards for the role, but we’ll find out if he’s nominated for the Oscar on January 24!

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