*While sitting with a colleague who had just arrived for the “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” press junket because I didn’t want her to be alone, in walked a nattily dressed affable gent who sat at our table in one of the meeting rooms at the Ritz Carlton Hotel. His aura was not that of the typical writer and my associate said to him, “You must be the director.” He laughed graciously and said, “No.” Anxious to get to the interview room and set up, I finished my coffee and said to her, “You’re in good hands now, so I’m leaving,” as the mysterious gentleman looked on with a concurring smile.
Shortly afterwards the mysterious gentleman walked into the press conference and it then dawned upon me that we were having breakfast with Caesar, better known as Andy Serkis-the most famous unrecognizable talent in Hollywood and go-to-guy for motion-capture creatures. Serkis was last seen playing “King Kong” and before that he was remarkable as Gollum in “Lord of the Rings.” Unmatched by any other of his performances, Serkis’ portrayal of Caesar in “Rise” takes that character to another level. So why “Rise…”? “I took the role because it was a fantastic role, an amazing story and something I totally believed in from the moment I picked the script up,” he says. “I just thought it was a real challenge, totally different as a character to anything I’ve done before, regardless of the fact that it’s a similar species to a certain character I played before that absolutely has no relevance whatsoever. Caesar is an amazing challenge.”
One of the most jarring images from the first “Planet of the Apes” films was Taylor (Charlton Heston) seeing the head of the Statue of the Liberty on a beach after escaping from the apes. To his dismay, Taylor realizes he landed on a post nuclear apocalyptic earth. That movie based on the 1968 Pierre Boulle novel “Planet of the Apes, was seeped in the sentiments of the cold war era and fear of extinction from the Atom Bomb. Fast forward to the 21st century with five other Ape films in between and you have director Rupert Wyatt infuses technology and genetic engineering to take “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” to new heights. The Film Strip asked Wyatt why he thought it was time to revisit the simian realm. “For me, it’s that first time you see the ape on a horseback in the original film. That was always a kind of shocking moment, I think. And I think the audience of that day was completely bowled over by the image. They sort of usurp us, and they rise up within our midst and then take over.
“That’s not like an alien invasion film. This is very much a sort of factual belief of what could happen if an already stronger species than us became more intelligent that us, especially if our numbers are reduced and our technology is taken away from us. The mythology is so timeless and 40 years after the original film we’re still making these movies. I guess the whole idea that we as a civilization, as a species are sort of constantly evolving and constantly looking to progress. James [Franco] is a scientist who is using animals for his own personal reasons and his own professional reasons. And it just so happens that a chimpanzee humanizes him, which is ironic, in a way. And that’s his journey.”
Even before the movie opens, images have been etched in some people’s minds. “The other day somebody said to me they watched the final scene at the bridge and they were thinking of the Civil Rights Movement,” Wyatt recalled. “But I think any sense of an uprising, enslavement, the idea of the oppressed and the exploited and the put-upon, breaking their chains and rising up, which is very much our story, could refer to that, could refer to any number of things. It could refer to Spartacus, and the revolution within the Roman Empire.”
James Franco (Will Rodman) was asked to weigh in on the journey of the apes and their relationship to man. “I was just thinking about what Rupert was saying and it’s really interesting. And also, one thing that I studied-and I hope this doesn’t go too off-track–but there’s a book by Michael Cunningham called ‘Specimen Days’ and in the first section the characters are in the 1850s and dealing with Walt Whitman, and by the third section, they’re in the future, and there are these androids. What it shows is up until this point, we as humans kind of define ourselves as superior to animals because of our intelligence.
“Now, with this story, you get a weird kind of combination of what we normally would consider our primitive side, our animal side, the apes, and our connection with the apes. It’s kind of leaped over. And so these movies, and all the other movies, really define who we are as humans by the way we treat both animals and other intelligent, or equally intelligent species, or cultures.
“In previous films, all the apes have been around for a number of years, so their cultures are fully developed. So, those are much more about culture clash. This is an origin story, and so the tension is more between the animals and the humans. But it’s still all about, ‘Who are we? How do we define ourselves? How do we treat ‘The Other,’ whatever that may be?'”
Rounding out the cast are David Oyelowo, the Corporate tycoon Steven Jacobs who bears witness to an uprising that will ultimately lead to the rise of the apes; Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox and Harry Potter alumnus, Tom Felton.
When there are so many horrific stories about sex trafficking, it’s always wondered why is still exists in the 21st century. Well, one look at “The Whistleblower,” which is based on true-life events, and it’s clearer than ever why that is an ongoing tragedy. The subject matter is so disturbing that it was said when Rachel Weisz was first offered the role of UN peacekeeper Larysa Kondracki in Bosnia, turned it down. “Well, when I was first offered the role,” she told me, “I was actually pregnant, very pregnant. And I read it and thought this was one of the most incredible stories and scripts I’d ever read, but it was too challenging and traumatic to engage with at that moment because of my physical state. [Chuckles.]
“But I just couldn’t forget it. I was haunted by this story, and it just kept coming back into my mind. And after, I think it was two years, I called the producer, Amy Kauffman, and I said, ‘Hey, what about that script, ‘The Whistleblower’-I don’t remember the details-but we met.” And as they say, the rest is history.