TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW WITH
ANDY SERKIS (GOLLUM)
RH = ROBERT HIERONIMUS AS = ANDY SERKIS
[BEGIN ANDY SERKIS, DECEMBER 5, 2002, TAPE 1 OF 1, SIDE A]
RH: Good morning, Andy?
AS: Good morning! How are you?
RH: Oh, Andy, I just saw Two Towers yesterday, and you were even better at schizophrenia than J.R.R. Tolkien!
AS: [laughs] Thank you very much!
RH: No, really. You really fleshed it out.
AS: Oh good.
RH: It seemed really real!
AS: Oh cool! Oh, Iım really glad you--
RH: --and I had never been that sympathetic towards Gollum.
AS: Oh, well, you know, I think we should. I think itıs important. You know, thatıs one thing I aimed at. I wanted to make him a kind of sympathetic character because , rather than kind of prejudging him as a sniveling evil wretch that weıd probably lose interest in after two minutes, you know.
RH: Thatıs exactly right, because when you read--when you watch some of the cartoons that they did of him and everything, all that you did was get impatient with him.
AS: Yeah, exactly.
RH: Itıs really--oh, that voice! It was really powerful. But when did you first read the books, and how great a study did you make of them in preparation or during the filming?
AS: Well, I read The Hobbit when I was a kid, but I didnıt actually--and I remember Gollum from that, and he kind of made a bit of an impression on me, I guess--but I didnıt read Lord of the Rings til I was up for the film. So thatıs when I read Lord of the Rings, when I found out--when I was auditioning for the film I started reading it very quickly, and then, obviously, when I was offered the role, in preparation for the role I read the whole thing.
RH: Well, since you read it when you were a child, did you ever imagine that some day youıd be a participant in bringing this epic to life?
AS: No way! No no no. It was--itıs been an amazing job and a fantastic life experience really, the whole thing.
RH: Well, in the official movie guide book, Andy, you said you played Gollum as an addict--
AS: Thatıs right.
RH: --and that you believe Gollum carried a lot of his pain in his throat. Would you elaborate on that?
AS: Yeah. I mean I wanted to find--I mean there are two kind of elements to that question, really. The first thing is I did--I wanted to give him a modern analogy for an audience. Because heıs such an extreme looking creature, I wanted him to be--and we spent a lot of time with him--I wanted to give him real human emotions. And for me that was tapping into something I could relate to and I thought an audience could relate to. And the ring--you know, itıs a difficult concept to personalize. But I thought addiction was a really good metaphor for it, you know.
AS: Because he really is affected physically and mentally by this thing. And the ring once it leaves him kind of leaves him with--he suffers the withdrawal from it. It affects him physically. Heıs in physical pain from being away from it. It screws his head up. He becomes schizophrenic, a bit of--you know, his whole pathology is driven by this addiction.
AS: And also that would then feed into Frodoıs story because Frodo is going that way.
AS: And so then to find that connection and know exactly what itıs like to bear the weight of the burden of the ring then impacts on the fact that Sam has no idea whatsoever. And so they grow--Frodo and Gollum kind of grow closer together through this understanding. So that was that thing. And then the other thing about the voice is I wanted to find a constriction, which is kind of the way that Tolkien describes the way he--I mean heıs--Tolkien is very generous in the way he kind of gives us the descriptions about Gollum and gives him his idiom of speech and everything. But I wanted to find, again, a psychological route to this trapping in his throat, that why he became called Gollum.
RH: Um hm.
AS: And so I figured it was to do with--it was to do with the almost like a Turrets syndrome kind of constriction or involuntary action and his throat kind of tightening up in the guilt of killing his cousin for the ring.
AS: And that was combined with--I mean the physical way I did it was, I think it says in that companion, was thinking of all the animalistic description that Tolkien gave. And we had cats at home, and I kind of observed them and saw what they did when their whole bodies convulsed in that kind of involuntary way when they get fur balls in their throat, you know.
AS: So this whole body convulses, and then, again, to do the constriction in their throat, kind of [makes choking sound]--like that.
RH: Yeah, I was gonna ask you if youıd give us a little sample of your two voices, Gollumıs and then Smeagolıs.
AS: Sure will. I mean Gollum--then after I devised that voice, obviously the writing of the character became much more in depth as the character evolved over the last--I mean weıve been shooting for two and a half years to get into what you saw in Two Towers. The principle photography took a year and a half, and then weıve been doing all the post-production motion capture and so on. But the writing evolved throughout that time, and particularly Fran Walsh really got a grip on the character, and we decided that we really wanted to flesh out the schizophrenia and hence the two different voices. Gollum became this kind of low and more guttural--heıs more of the predator, the vicious side of his personality who hates hobbits and wants the ring back. And then Smeagol who is the lighter, naive, innocent side thatıs been crushed by Gollum until, you know, that schizophrenic scene where Frodoıs almost got Smeagol to come out and stuff.
RH: Well, you know, your performance really is of Oscar caliber.
AS: Oh, well itıs very--
RH: Youıre gonna hear that a lot through these interviews because Iım certain--I was with a lot of folks from the media yesterday, and everyone was truly taken by that particular performance--
RH: --because Tolkien I donıt think--uh, well, he might have written about it, but I donıt think he could have carried that, you know, the scene--the image that convinced me that there really was a good Smeagol there. Could you tell us how the motion capture suit of reflectors you were wearing functioned?
AS: Yeah, I mean Iıll take you through the process very quickly. I mean we shot every single scene first of all, you know, conventionally--how youıd shoot any film. You know, with three actors rehearsing and blocking, and Peter would direct us. And then weıd--Iıd crawl around as Gollum and do the voice and be in character as Gollum. And then--but we would always shoot two versions, one with me in the frame, and then one with me stepping out of the frame, and then the actors would act to a voice where I had been.
And this, then, gave sort of two avenues for the animators to work with. They either painted over my exact movements, which they, for instance, when thereıs the fight when I crawl down the rock when Iım fighting with Sam and Frodo and the beginning--when thereıs a lot of close interaction they would paint, frame by frame, over my exact movements. Or when Iım dragging Frodo out to the water in the dead marshes--something like that. And if Peter liked the particular performance that Iıd given, the animators would copy my exact facial expressions on the set.
But then the other version, where Iıd stepped out of frame and left the void there, weıd then do it post-production using motion capture, which is wearing the suit with the dots on. And basically these dots are reflectors and are picked up by 25 cameras in the studio, and that information is fed into a computer, and on screen I can see a computer-generated image of Gollum. And my movements, wearing this suit, in real time the image on the screen will move according to my movements. So if I raise my right hand, the puppet on screen raises his right hand. So I had full control over this motion, you know--so--and it can pick up very fine movements like breathing. You know, very slight movements. So then I became almost like the virtual puppeteer as well as an actor, and then I would redo every single scene again.
RH: Did you have to--were you allowed to vary your performance, or when you had to do lines and movements did they have to be exact over and over?
AS: Well, because Peter was then directing me--and Fran Walsh. They both directed me in the motion capture studio. And sometimes we felt that we wanted to copy exactly what weıd done on the day on set, and sometimes we felt we wanted to augment or change it or we had a different idea or--yeah. So he gave us kind of the freedom to hone the performance. And actually what happened, which is why I think it kind of has a level of reality kind of greater than most animated characters, is that we got bolder with it and kind of did less and less, so that it felt more like an active screen performance than perhaps--you know, the temptation to move around to much was--we realized we wanted the character to be able to hold close ups and you to be able to see the internal processes of the character.
RH: Um hm. Well, you can. You can. At this moment in time, can you see any contemporary message or story in The Lord of the Rings?
AS: Well, I mean I certainly think, you know, in terms of looming war, I guess, is one thing that weıre all feeling, isnıt it?
AS: And obviously the desire for one species to conquer another or one nation to conquer another is something that weıre beginning to really worry about. So I think those things you canıt help--you know, these are big archetypal stories.
RH: Yes, they are.
AS; Itıs one big archetypal story, but itıs obviously gonna--the resonance is gonna really ping out at the moment according to what we feel and see around us. So I think--I do think that. I do think we all feel the sense of dread as Saruman is standing there. Itıs almost like a revisitation of the Third Reich, isnıt it, you know, when heıs standing there, and all the Uruk-hai are ready to march to war?
RH: Yeah, thatıs right.
AS: And I find it personally quite terrifying watching that stuff because itıs not a million miles away from what could happen I believe.
RH: Yes, especially in regards to our environment. We are on the brink in so many ways.
RH: And now the green light has been given to start playing with our planet maybe a little bit more than I think we should.
AS: Absolutely. I mean the whole destruction of the Fangorn forest--
RH: Yeah, yeah.
AS: --itıs absolutely--and I think thatıs particularly--you know, from filming down in New Zealand where theyıre very reverential towards the environment. You know, the Department of Conservation down there is extremely protective. And of course we filmed in some of the most beautiful places, and they were very, very strict about controlling what we did there. And that is to say they really revere it. And also there is a spirituality about the environment down there, which I think we are not in touch with.
RH: Well, youıve been quoted as saying: ³Gollum is the dark side of humanity.² Could you elaborate on that a little bit?
AS: I think heıs both that--I mean I think he is both the dark and the light side in a way because heıs like you and me. Heıs an every man character that has made--has been--you know, he is perhaps a weaker version of Frodo. Frodoıs the strong version, and theyıre the flip side of a coin in a way, and I found it really important for an audience is they have to link into this character so to kind of understand the duality of--that we all have that duality and that there is the potential of good and that there is a dark side in us all really, and that he is someone that is just not able to police his dark side. Whereas most of us, I guess, can.
RH: All along the lines of Jungıs collective unconscious and archetypes, etc.
RH: Tolkienıs work just fits so well in those patterns.
AS: Oh sure.
RH: Now a little while from now weıll be talking to Philippa Boyens.
AS: Oh yes.
RH: Were there any elements in Gollumıs character that were changed by the script writers or left out of that that particularly pleased or disappointed you?
AS: Well, I think the whole examination of the schizophrenia of the character is something actually theyıve done amazingly, you know, Fran particularly, and Peter decided to really examine that area as writers. But I think that for me was the most satisfying--was the most satisfying area to really explore, as I say to not--I think you were absolutely right when you said you could get really fed up with Gollum very early on and judge him very quickly--
AS: --if he didnıt have the possibility of redemption really, I suppose is what weıre talking about. And the sympathy--and that comes from Frodoıs--again it feeds so well into Frodoıs story and the dynamic with Sam, and , you know, they have this bond, Frodo and Gollum, which excludes Sam and which, again, is a great dynamic for a trio of characters. So I think thatıs really successful, and I was really pleased with it.
RH: Well, so was I. So was I. Now also in Brian Sibleyıs book you were quoted, quote: ³I tried to look at him in a nonjudgmental way,² as you noted earlier, ³not as a sniveling, evil wretch, but from the point of view of There but for the grace of God go I.ı ³
RH: Yeah, and so, you know, as you said, we can choose to demonize anyone with uncontrollable obsessions, but if we donıt seek to understand them then we can never hope to grow as human beings. Boy, Dr. Rollo May would love to have had you in his class.
RH: [laughs] Thatıs exactly the point of being human as we move towards the mechanization of planet earth and the mechanization of its people. Of course I donıt expect you to go along with that idea. Itıs just that, having been in the media some time and watching this crazy dance between the politicians, the environment, the military--
RH: --etc., etc., etc. is certainly gripping everyoneıs insides.
RH: And thatıs why I think this movie carries such power.
RH: Boy, you guys really did a hell of a job.
AS: Oh great!
RH: Really, just fantastic.
AS: Oh cool.
RH: I wanna thank you for joining us.
AS: Itıs been a great pleasure.
RH: Well, it was a great pleasure to finally enjoy watching Gollum, or at least listening to him, whereas before all I wanted to do was get out of his way.
RH: [laughs] Now I can pay a little bit more attention, even though my Ph.D. is in psychology in that area. Itıs wonderful to see these sort of things happen in the arts.