Andy Serkis is pondering the challenges of revisiting a character who is now 60 years younger than he was the last time he played him. The actor himself, at 48, is 12 years older. But as the character is Gollum - a slithering, naked, hobbit-cum-junkie - which Serkis plays via cutting-edge digital technology, it’s not like the Englishman had to slim down to a younger, fitter, hairier version of himself. Plus, in The Hobbit, Gollum is now aged “only” 540.
“But Gollum looks very hot, I have to say – he’s got more hair!” jokes the world’s foremost unrecognisable actor. “Well, he has a good combover,” clarifies the man who has also acted the roles of the titular gorilla in Peter Jackson’s remake of King Kong, Caesar in last year’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and Captain Haddock in Jackson and Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin: the Secret of the Unicorn.
“But actually, I did have to forget almost everything from Lord of the Rings, because in The Hobbit Gollum hasn’t been through any of [the trials] yet – he’s less physically scarred in the sense that he hasn’t been tortured by Sauron, and he’s not come out of the Misty Mountains. He’s been in this cave, on his own, going crazy - but with the comfort of his “Precious”, the Ring, the thing that he loves the most. It’s his fix. His whole physicality represents the way that he’s at war with himself, and that’s all about a sense of addiction to this ring.”
Gollum’s distinctive, sibilant cackle remains the same, however. But is the legend true that Serkis based his vocal performance on the sound of his family cat coughing up a fur-ball?
“That’s absolutely true!” laughs the married father-of-three. “But it’s not just the sound - it’s how the sound is linked to the body. The way that a cat coughs up a fur-ball sends this involuntary ripple right through its whole body. It’s almost like it’s throwing up, so you want that movement and the constriction of the throat in order to produce that fur-ball.”
Serkis’s acting commitments on the set in New Zealand amounted to two weeks, but the born-and-bred Londoner of Iraqi descent, ended up spending 270 days behind a camera.
“Pete’s known for a long time that I wanted to direct,” says Serkis, whose own new production company, The Imaginarium, recently announced a slate of live and performance-capture films, including a fresh adaptation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
“And because of the way that performance-capture technology has evolved, he knows that I’m not really just an actor, in the sense that I can embrace and work with the technology, too. So I was receiving the actors from the main unit -because there’s a lot of principal cast - and being Pete’s eyes and ears, and having his sensibility and understanding of the world of Middle-earth.” Jackson’s “precious” vision couldn’t have been in a safer pair of hands.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is in UK cinemas from 13 December