Last month, Andy Serkis’ rep hinted to EW that he expected a legitimate Best Supporting Actor Oscar campaign for his client, whose Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes was by far the most compelling and fully-formed character that motion-capture technology has yet produced. At Monday’s Gotham Independent Awards, Fox CEO Tom Rothman seemed to confirm such an effort, telling the Hollywood Reporter that the studio planned to “push … hard” for Serkis to become the first mo-cap performance to be recognized in the Academy’s acting categories. “I think part of what we have to do is help educate people to understand that that is 100 percent his performance,” Rothman said. “The emotionality — what you see and what you feel — [Serkis] did it. I saw him. I watched him. Then they digitally overlaid — you can think of it as a costume — the skin and the hair of an ape. But I tell you the thing that people felt — and a lot of people were moved when they saw the movie — is because of his performance.”
By now, Serkis is the unquestioned gold standard of motion-capture acting, beginning with his heralded work as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings films and then as the giant ape in Peter Jackson’s King Kong. With Caesar, the brilliant chimp who outwits his human captors and sparks a revolution, Serkis went even further, capturing the playfulness, the frustration and isolation, and ultimately the rage of the film’s hero at various points of maturity. There’s no doubting the brilliance of the performance, but there remain questions whether the industry is finally willing to recognize this brand of artistry and expression on equal footing with traditional cinematic acting. Does Serkis’ Caesar deserve to compete against Albert Brooks in Drive or Christopher Plummer in Beginners? How can you compare “naked” acting with a performance that is layered and manipulated digitally, no matter how subtly?
Perhaps skeptics would be less so if Serkis’ non mo-cap roles — like his magazine publisher in 13 Going on 30 — were equally revered. Though he’s appeared in many esteemed films without digital assistance, his somewhat overlooked supporting roles perpetuate the theory that motion-capture requires a very different set of acting skills. What he does when he’s wearing those green dots is magic. Other, more-renowned conventional thesps have proved underwhelming when handed the same motion-capture opportunities. But if it was Daniel Day-Lewis who had created Caesar to such acclaim — mind you, I’m not certain Day-Lewis, or anyone, could equal what Serkis accomplished — I suspect that the debate about whether motion-capture performances deserve a fair shake at the Oscars might be very different.
What do you think? Has the cinematic technology finally reached the point where digital imagery actually enhances — and no longer obscures — the expressions and essence of a performer? Do you think a more famed acteur would make the argument for motion-capture equality more convincing? Vote and comment below.