Veteran actor Michael Adamthwaite discusses his role as Luca in War for the Planet of the Apes
Still dragging its damn dirty knuckles in theaters worldwide is director Matt Reeves‘ third entry in the revamped Planet of the Apes franchise War for the Planet of the Apes. The breathtaking, beautifully-orchestrated and intelligent science fiction future-shocker once more stars physical actor Andy Serkis as the hyper-sentient Chimpanzee leader Caesar, still ruling over his tribe/family of assorted simians, but living life on the run from bloodthirsty humans who, after the events of the second film, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, still see the apes as aggressive killers. As Caesar continues trying to answer the humans’ assaults with peace, he is attacked by a deranged General (Woody Harrelson, never more evil) who murders members of Caesar’s family, sending the otherwise benevolent monkey King into a rage and out for bloody revenge.
Serving as his devoted Lieutenant is Luca, played by veteran Vancouver-based actor and voice performer Michael Adamthwaite (The BFG), taking over from actor Scott Lang who played the character in Dawn. As Luca, Adamthwaite matches Serkis, drawing out an intense, intimate and still resoundingly physical performance. Much of the movie’s humanity hangs on Luca’s Silverback shoulders, in fact, and though we cannot see the actor buried under the digital make-up, Adamthwaite is marvelous in the role and makes it his own.
We caught up with Adamthwaite to get some insight into both his portrayal of Luca and the process of becoming an ape, full stop. Beware: there are a few choice spoilers below!
ComingSoon.net: You are primarily known for your voice work and I find it amusing that here you are in this major role in such a big movie and you’re essentially mute…
Michael Adamthwaite: Almost, yeah.
CS: How did you get the role?
Adamthwaite: Well, fortunately living in Vancouver we have so many great shows here, such a huge talent pool and I count myself lucky to be part of that talent pool. And so I just auditioned. The name of the movie was fake, the sides were all fake, and it was just like “come in and talk to somebody!” and that day, that somebody just happened to be Matt Reeves. It was like 3 or 4 minutes and then he was like, “sorry, have to go Michael, popping on a plane”. I was totally gobsmacked. He gave me notes and he left. So when I got a movement callback, I bumped into Terry Notary and Terry and I had worked together on Warcraft, where I played King Magni. We made that character together for Duncan Jones and I think that movie turned out beautifully. And again with Steven Spielberg on The BFG as Butcher Boy and that was incredible and life changing. So walking into the room and finding Terry was the most comfortable thing ever. And he was like, “So…who are you reading for?” and I told him what character I had. And he said, “Yeah, I don’t like that guy…I got something else for you.” He went to Matt Reeves and told him what he thought of me and yeah, here we are, the rest is history.
CS: Luca is a massive Silverback gorilla. Are you a big guy?
Adamthwaite: I’m 6’3 and just under 250 lbs. I’m not a featherweight. Luca has a huge physiology but a big heart to match. It was an honor to play him.
CS: Did you study your predecessor’s performance?
Adamthwaite: This is a brand new version of the character but I have to say that Scott Lang did do an incredible job as Luca in Dawn. But thankfully, because of Terry’s “Ape School”, anyone can learn to walk and move and behave like a Silverback gorilla. So for me the movement wasn’t an issue, it was about becoming the character.
CS: Describe a day in the life of Terry’s ape school…
Adamthwaite: It started with horse training. First thing in the morning, we’d drive out to the country and be on horseback for hours. Then we would drive back to the city, then we would be back to Ape School, eat, wear comfortable school and work for hours. We’d be walking around on stilts, we would sleep together, be together. We would find our place in the community of apes. We would go out into the woods and sit by the creek and jump and climb. It was amazing and it totally transformed by whole body.
CS: The beauty of this current batch of Apes movies is, despite the motion capture, these are complex characters who have chemistry together. You four on your journey, palpable chemistry, moving. Presumably Andy wasn’t part of Ape School, but when did you start work-shopping that chemistry with him?
Adamthwaite: The first time I met Andy was the first day of “ape family”, and ape family is when the whole cast was there, the stunt performers too, who were the peripheral apes. Andy showed up and Matt Reeves and Matt said, okay, let’s not think about anything or our characters names, let’s just be ourselves as a community. Caesar is Caesar, of course, but the rest of us had to figure out our place in the community. So we ran around the studio for two breathless hours, up stairs, down stairs, hallways and corridors, we ran out into the parking lot, we chased cars. We accosted a very unfortunate man just checking the content of his van and we had to explain what was happening and he was like, “cool”. It was wild.
CS: Has the motion capture technology advanced itself enough that you can see yourself digitized live during on-set playback?
Adamthwaite: There is and has been such a leap in the technology for playback, even more than last year when I did Warcraft and 2 years earlier with The BFG. Now, the technology is almost breathtaking in its infancy. It is mind blowing to step into the “volume” -which is what we call the shooting space and what is really just a large carpeted area with a grid of cameras above you – and see those camera live rendering the character right in front of you. You can see how your body moves, when you’re out of posture and when you’re in posture…it’s mind-blowing. And then they go 8 million steps further refining the process so you’re in the theater and you’re tricked into thinking these are real apes.
CS: The most interesting and beautiful moment in the movie is the hyper-close up sequence in the movie when you tuck the flower behind Nova’s ear and then she later reciprocates the action. Never mind the body movements, this is when we really see both characters’ inner voices. And neither of you speak…
Adamthwaite: The interesting thing is that in that sequence, Luca isn’t what human beings think of as a gorilla, rather he’s an evolved, sentient being. That scene with Amiah Miller – who plays Nova – giving the flower back to Luca, is a moment of honor and sacrifice and loss. Luca is essentially in the armed forces. He’s a service man and he goes down for his beliefs and that’s a huge sacrifice. That flower is a beautiful symbol of peace and a reminder that if we could just dig a little deeper we’d see the humanity in everything…
War for the Planet of the Apes is currently in theaters.
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