Monday, January 27, 2003
Andy Serkis At ArcLight: Report II - Xoanon @ 12:55 PST
Cimorene writes:

On Saturday, (January 25th) my daughter ran into my room yelling, “Mom, Mom guess who will be at the ArcLight tonight? Andy Serkis, can we go, can we go?” After a few minutes of sorting details with my husband, he hopped on the computer and we were fortunate to get front row – almost exactly center tickets! So off Shiara and I went on to an unexpected and thoroughly delightful evening.

At 8:05 p.m., Mr. Serkis came out and greeted the audience and asked us if any of us had seen the movie yet. We all laughed and he said, how many times? And then said (in response to “multiple times!” from the audience) “You people are insane!” very humorously. After the movie (my second viewing and Shiara’s fourth) and a chance to stretch, Mr. Serkis came out and sat about 12 feet in front of Shiara! We felt so lucky!!

Early on during the Q&A, someone asked Mr. Serkis how his voice was done in the movie, computer generated or what, and he shook his head no, and said, “I want to tell you, it was my voice.” Someone shouted, “Do it for us!” That generated a laugh, and the commentator said, “Oh come on folks” (we were very well mannered, by the way), but Mr. Serkis very generously nodded in the direction of the voice and said, “I will a little later.”

Shiara had wanted to ask Mr. Serkis what was his inspiration for the voice of Gollum, but someone beat her to it. He told us that he had 3 cats, and laughingly asked the audience, have you ever seen a cat cough up a hairball? And described how the cat goes into this convulsion and hacking to get rid of it. He went on to say that his visualization of Gollum is that the burden of guilt – for killing Deagol to get possession of the ring – is physically centered in his throat. Very interesting.

Mr. Serkis went through the whole process of the filming of Gollum’s part for us – describing the three separate processes of filming, the white unitard and blue suit he wore, and the sensors used to track his movements. It was very interesting. When asked how he kept fit for the role – especially because he spent so much time crawling on all fours, he mentioned that he is a rock climber. And how did he preserve his voice? With Gollum juice – lemon, honey, ginger and other stuff – gallons of it every day!

At some point someone asked how he had auditioned for the role, and this brought up the story that when his agent first called him about it, he was told that it would be for a 3 week voice over project. And he said to his agent – Lord of the Rings, it has such meaty parts, can’t you do any better than that? But he thought about it and put together a tape and sent it off to Peter Jackson. Then when he finally met with Jackson, it turned out the part was broader.

When he got to New Zealand, he was overwhelmed with the scope of the filming process – and said that working with Peter Jackson was phenomenal – it changed his life and it changed everyone’s life who worked with him. The production involved so many different people, and was so detailed, and there was no hierarchy at all. He was in awe of the complete attention to detail – by the armory and all the different aspects of filming. So many people were involved and everyone contributed their bit.

I believe it was at this point that he mentioned that someone had told him that Peter Jackson was interested in having Serkis for the part because he looked like Smeagol – and he told a very funny story – he got there and there were all these heads of Smeagol and they did indeed look like him! And he went on to say that they had certainly gotten his gene pool down. He can see Smeagol in his 4 year old son – especially when they are in a store and leaving and he wants something (and he mimed being pulled by a rope!), and certainly his dad looks like Gollum. It was very funny.

Sometime during this part of the session, while discussing how Gollum evolved, and about receiving the Gollum/Smeagol scene from Fran Walsh (and it was so well written that he said, Thank you after he had read it) that Andy Serkis without a shred of makeup, transformed himself into Gollum and Smeagol, and did a bit of the dialog. Computer generated voice? I’ll say NOT. It was truly awesome to watch him.

Did Mr. Serkis have any regrets about taking this role? Well, he said yes, sometimes it was very dark. At the end of filming with Elijah and Sean, he knew that they would go home, they were done, but he would have to do it two more times. And his son was born 2 ½ years ago. But, he told us, it was a great opportunity. He so clearly enjoyed doing this project, that perhaps he had doubts, but wouldn’t say no if asked again. (Someone said would he like to play Gollum if they filmed The Hobbit, and he said yes, the riddle scene is wonderful.)

By the way, if anyone is interested in reading about his body of work, Mr. Serkis discussed his training a bit in response to a question, he has a web site up now,

Naturally, the conversation turned to whether or not he should be nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actor (YES! We think so!!), and he talked about how this role transcended doing the voice-over for a CGA character.

After the Q&A, he did sign autographs (and was passing out a wonderful picture of the transformation of Andy Serkis into Gollum). I was sad that we hadn’t brought a camera because Mr. Serkis allowed people to take photographs with him. All in all, it was a truly wonderful evening. He is so intelligent and articulate, and was so in tune with Gollum’s character. No wonder he stole the film. I so wanted to thank him when we finally made it to the front of the line, and all I could do was smile broadly and say, Thank you. I do hope he understands what a gift his time was to us all.

Yours in Fellowship, Cimorene