Since his breakout role as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Andy Serkis has established himself as one of the most brilliantly transformative actors in modern Hollywood. Obviously a big part of it is his dedication to and expertise in the world of performance capture, but even when it comes to his “live-action” parts he rarely appears as he does in everyday life.
All that being said, you wouldn’t necessarily expect him to bring that same kind of energy to a role in a comedy like Jonathan Levine’s Long Shot, and yet he did… with absolutely nobody actually telling him to do it.
I learned the full story about Andy Serkis’ serious commitment when I attended the Los Angeles press day for Long Shot late month and had the pleasure of sitting down with the director and stars. Having gotten word about Serkis’ special initiative in the making of the movie, I first brought up the actor’s work during my interview with Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron, and both of them expressed their genuine surprise about their co-stars’ transformation into the role of Australian media mogul Parker Wembley:
Seth Rogen: We offered him the role, and then he was like, 'Okay.' And then he started sending ideas for what he would look like. And we were like, 'What do you mean? I thought he kind of looked a lot like Andy Serkis.' But he was like, 'No, I got this whole thing.' And we were like, 'Whatever, man!'
Charlize Theron: It was impressive!
The same sentiment was echoed later by Jonathan Levine, who confirmed that nobody actually asked Andy Serkis to sit in the make-up chair for many hours each day so that he could fully embody his vision of the character. At the same time, though, the director ultimately came to the realization of what the actor was doing, and got to understand the importance of physicality in the parts that Serkis takes on. Said Levine,
Andy Serkis made choices that nobody asked him to make, and that sounds like a negative thing, but as a director, actually, that's one of the most beautiful gifts you can give a director. Because he really dove into the character, and he really wanted to make it his own. The biggest thing was that he decided to be in prosthetic makeup for six hours a day. But you start to realize that this is how Andy Serkis accesses characters. If you think about Andy Serkis' career, it's facial expressions; it's very primal stuff. And so that really helped him figure out this guy.
In Long Shot, Andy Serkis’ Parker Wembley is basically halfway between Rupert Murdoch and Richard Branson, and is quickly introduced to the story as an antagonist. He winds up purchasing the independent newspaper for which Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) works as a reporter, and because Flarsky disagrees with Wembley’s politics he decides to quit. This quickly establishes legitimate conflict, but his role becomes more substantial because of his interest in gaining influence over Secretary of State Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron), who has ambitions to run for President of the United States.
Andy Serkis’ level of devotion to his craft should be obvious to this point, but what makes the whole thing even more jaw-dropping is the extra detail that Seth Rogen dropped during our conversation. After all, it’s one thing to be willing to sit in a make-up chair for six hours every day, but the choice becomes even more extreme when you learn that sometimes he would go through the entire process and then not shoot a single frame of footage:
Seth Rogen: It was ridiculous! And there were some days, because it was self-inflicted, there were some days - and this happens a lot of movies - where you think you're going to shoot a scene, and then you don't, and then you shoot it the next day or something like that. And he would go through like six hours of makeup or something like that, and then we would just be like, 'Oh, we're not to do it today.' And he's just like, 'All right!'
Charlize Theron: He was fine!
Seth Rogen: You're just like, 'Dude! Like, wow.' He's truly one of the nicest dudes in the world, which is weird cause he like exclusively plays evil people. [laughs]
This is pretty insane to think about, particularly when you consider that actors regularly complain about the process of going through extreme transformations – but perhaps it’s a bit like taking long car trips: if you go on them regularly enough, eventually you just kind of get numb to their monotony.
You'll obviously be able to see Andy Serkis' full performance in the film, but he can briefly be spotted a couple times in the trailers - the first being in the screenshot above, and a second time in the shot below:
Regardless of exactly how Andy Serkis was able to put himself through that painstaking process in the making of Long Shot, at the end of the day it was something for which Jonathan Levine expressed extreme admiration and appreciation. Said the director,
It was amazing for us, because for me it reminded me of Coming To America or Dick Tracy, you know - movies where you're like, 'Who is that guy?' and that part of it becomes part of the fun of the movie. So it was always came from a fun place, and it was always consistent with what we were going for tonally. What's great about Serkis is he's a director too, so he knew he wasn't like 'going rogue.' It was a collaborative decision, but it was one that I was just kind of like, 'Dude, you really want to be here six hours longer than you have to?' I love directing, but you know, as soon as that whistle blows, I'm out the door. [laughs]
You can watch Seth Rogen, Charlize Theron, and Jonathan Levine discuss their time working with Andy Serkis in the making of Long Shot by clicking play on the video below.
Also starring O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ravi Patel, June Diane Raphael, Alexander Skarsgard, and Bob Odenkirk, Long Shot is a romantic comedy that ultimately follows the relationship between the aforementioned Fred Flarsky and Charlotte Field, the latter having previously been the former’s babysitter. After losing his job, Flarsky winds up becoming a part of Field’s speechwriting team, and while he starts to learn how to not constantly get in his own way, she is also inspired to stand up for the ideals in which she believes. It’s one of the best comedies of the year so far, so be sure to look for it in a theater near you when it’s released this Friday.