Black Panther Set Visit Interview: Andy Serkis

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Black Panther Set Visit Interview: Andy Serkis
Posted by Jacqueline Coley

January 24, 2018

Nearly a year ago, a number of journalists, including Blackfilm.com, traveled down to Atlanta to visit the set of one of the highly anticipated film of 2018, and of Marvel’s comic book films. This is of course, the standalone film for Black Panther starring Chadwick Boseman.

Fans have been eagerly awaiting this film since the character first made his appearance in Captain America: Civil War. Ryan Coogler (“Creed,” “Fruitvale Station”) is directing from a screenplay he co-wrote with Joe Robert Cole. Marvel has done great job loading this film with star studded names and newcomers who we will come to know. Besides Boseman, we have Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Florence Kasumba, Shaunette Renée Wilson, Isaach de Bankolé, John Kani, and Sterling K. Brown.

As most of these folks have participated in some highly anticipated projects – everything from Star Wars, The Hobbit, and Marvels own Avengers movie – they didn’t let too much slip. But we did learn a lot about the world of Black Panther and the type of film they are producing.

On set, we watched a scene between Everett K. Ross, T’Challa, and the Dora Milaje, and after piecing our set visit with clips from the trailer we can confirm that scene, in particular, was taking place in South Korea – one of the principal locations. In the scene, Klaue/ Klaw is being held in an interrogation room. Ross it seem to not fully understand the World of Wakanda, but he knows that they have been keeping things from him.

Here’s what Andy Serkis had to say on working on this film.

How long have you known that you were gonna be a part of this movie?

Andy Serkis: Of course, Klaw appears in “Age of Ultron,” and the way that all happened was, they were actually working with the Imaginarium, which is my performance capture studio. We were working and consulting back on Ultron, working with James Spader and working with Mark Ruffalo, and initiating them into the process of motion capture, because they were both using performance capture and we were providing services for that.

Then, Joss Whedon said, “Hey, this is crazy. Why don’t you come and be in the show?” And it’s like, “Well, yeah, all right. That’d be fun.” So that happened, and then of course, when this came along, I knew that he was part of the Black Panther story. It’s just really great being back.

Getting to actually be yourself.

Andy Serkis: Which I haven’t done for a while.

Is there a different level of connection that you’re able to get to this character, or is there a difference between when you’re doing motion capture?

Andy Serkis: No. No, I think everyone knows now that at the end of the day, it’s just acting, and it doesn’t really matter what you’re wearing; it’s just another costume at the end of the day, you’re looking into another actor’s eyes, and you’re communicating with them, and you’re playing the role that you’re playing, whether it’s an ape or a human or whatever. Obviously, the next “Planet of The Apes” movie is coming out soon, and the level of connection in that is exactly the same to the level of connection I have with my fellow actors in this.

What has Klaw been up to since “Age of Ultron”?

Andy Serkis: He’s just been, basically, causing mayhem in the world, on minor and major levels. He’s a smart guy in the sense that he’s a businessman as well as an arms dealer. He manages to cover his tracks. He has a mercenary army that works with him in different locations all around the world, and he’s able to go down rabbit holes and appear other places, so he’s got the smarts, but he’s a little whacked out.

How did you come to the voice? Because it was in “Ultron” that you came with this African mix. How did you come to that?

Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER
Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis)

Andy Serkis: Yeah, we decided that we would make him South African, a very strong Afrikaans, quite bullish … very edging towards not being particularly politically correct person, let’s say. He’d fit in the White House quite perfectly. I didn’t say that, though! I didn’t say that.

I don’t think you’re allowed to say that in the USA.

Andy Serkis: Or, in fact, in Britain at the moment. So that was … it was quite a smart decision, actually. I think it gives him a real edge, and it gives him- Also because of the relationship to Wakanda, as well, which is a “Misunderstood” African nation, if you like. So it fits very well politically that he was of South African descent at a time when apartheid was … he grew up through apartheid.

Klaw’s a very prolific adversary in the comics, and now we’re dealing with another adversary, Killmonger, so are you guys working in tandem together against T’Challa, or do you guys have your own separate plans?

Andy Serkis: Klaw doesn’t really trust or work with anybody. He is his own man. He does deals with people, he interacts, but he doesn’t form allegiances or alliances to anyone. He’s very much ultimately a lone wolf, but as I was saying, he has these pop-up groups wherever he happens to be in the world. So, Killmonger and he aren’t working together.

Can you say if we’re gonna see a closer iteration of Klaw to the visual that we’ve seen in the comics?

Andy Serkis: We’ve established the character, and the character is what we saw in “Ultron,” or our version of Klaw. He obviously had his arm chopped off, and he has a weapon which we will discover, and I don’t know if I’m allowed to say too much about.

Villains, especially super-villains in comic movies, there’s a danger of coming across as too cartoony, or one-sided. What kind of balance are you able to find with this character to make him a full character?

Andy Serkis: I think he’s definitely not one color. He’s definitely different shades, and he has a humorous side to him, and he has got a sense of humor, but he can be very deadly. He’s quite mercurial, and transitions emotionally very quickly; he turns on a six pence, so he can be outwardly friendly to some people, or funny, or amusing, and then turn. There’s a darkness to him which grounds him.

Having worked on so many other huge franchises, what stands out about Black Panther, specifically, and how Ryan works?

Andy Serkis: In the short time that I worked with Ryan, which is literally two days, he creates the most incredible atmosphere on set. He really is the most … very subtle actor’s director. He knows what he wants but he allows you to play and explore with the other cast members, then gives great, very specific notes. I was told, actually, because of course Martin Freeman I’ve worked with before in … what was it, what was it? Oh, “The Hobbit.” We’ve faced off with each other there, and Martin and I were emailing before I came down and he said, “Ryan loves the freedom of what actors give, and then bouncing back and circling around.” So there’s a great deal of play in this, which is really exciting.

Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER
L to R: Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman)
Credit: Matt Kennedy/©Marvel Studios 2018

In the context of the scene that you guys are filming today, what is Klaw’s first reaction when he sees T’Challa walk in the door? 

Andy Serkis: Again, without giving too much away, he’s aware that he was … It’s not a great surprise, put it that way. It’s not a great surprise.

Dovetailing on what you’ve been working on before, you’ve done a lot of work now behind the camera. How is that translated to how you approach a film now? After “The Jungle Book” and “Hobbit,” does it make it like, “I’m glad I don’t have to be the director”? 

Andy Serkis: No. I mean, I’m actually right in the middle of posting two films right at the moment as well, so this is actually, it’s great. I’m really enjoying not having the responsibilities. But I’m right in the thick of it with “Jungle Book,” that I’m in post on, and also another small independent film that I’ve directed at the end of last year called “Breathe,” which is coming out at the end of this year, with Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy. They’ve turned in the most amazing performances.

I tell you what I find, when I was on “Jungle Book,” I found that I’m not the sort of actor/director who likes to direct himself as an actor, if you like. I find that I don’t like to split my skills, and I much, much prefer- I mean, I love this. Just coming in and digging straight into the character and getting into it. Lots of actors do direct themselves in movies, it’s just not my thing. I like to concentrate on one or the other and bury myself into that world.

With the movie version of Klaw, will we see a longstanding connection with Wakanda or is this a bit of a reset? 

Andy Serkis: He’s got a very specific relationship to Wakanda.

I was gonna say, the brand on your neck is still there. 

Andy Serkis: Yeah, exactly. Don’t give too much away. Yeah, so he’s kind of got a little bit of a love/hate relationship with it, really. And he certainly has discovered things about it that nobody else has, and we discover that in this movie because he’s one of the few people who’s actually been into Wakanda. He reveals quite a lot about it.

Does he have a personal relationship with T’Challa?

Andy Serkis: He has and again, he doesn’t really have a personal relationship with anyone.

Right. I just meant how they cross paths. 

Andy Serkis: Oh yeah. Definitely. They definitely cross paths, and they spar.

What was new for you about the character? The thing that you were like, “Oh, okay. I get to play this side of him”?

Andy Serkis: In this one, there is quite a lot more humor, actually, which is great. Again, it’s that thing where you don’t know whether he’s actually really enjoying this, or whether he’s playing enjoying it, whether he’s really laughing or whether he’s just hiding behind it. It’s very interesting, the way that Ryan’s put it together, the writers have put it together.

A lot of actors talk about villains who don’t look at themselves as villains. They’re always the heroes of their own story, or they have their own goal. Does Klaw look at himself as a villain? Does he recognize that he is?

Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER
L to R: Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) and T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman)
Credit: Matt Kennedy/©Marvel Studios 2018

Andy Serkis: Oh, of course he doesn’t. No, no. He thinks what he’s doing is existing in this world in the way that he’s created his own moral relativity, really. He is quite Nihilistic, he’s squared it with himself, he knows life is cheap, and you’re either at the bottom of the pile or you’re at the top of the pile and that’s it. It’s very, very simple; it’s quite clear to him where his moral compass is.

What he doesn’t like is hypocrisy. He absolutely despises hypocrisy. So, uncovering that is definitely a part of the way I’m playing him, anyway.

We know this particular scene we’re watching is about a third of the way through the film, it’s in South Korea. Can you talk about what Klaw is doing there?

Andy Serkis: At this point in time, he’s actually been … can I say it? I don’t know what I can say, really. But he’s been caught and he’s being held and interrogated, so they’re trying to work out what he’s planning to do.

A huge element of the Klaw character in the comics is the fact that he kills T’Chaka, which isn’t something that’s being put into these movies, so I’m curious how you’re able to use the comics as a source material for your performance.

Andy Serkis: With all of these, it’s about how you expand on a character, which is bring your take on it. Obviously some of the plot lines are gonna be different. Obviously they’re not gonna be exactly the same. So, it’s importing the essence of those stories and the character into this particular version, this retelling of those tales.

What kind of research did you put into Klaw, because in addition to the comics, there was also a really great animated series for Black Panther that featured Klaw, so what research did you put into the role?

Andy Serkis: Again, this is so hard without giving away too much of it. I was just about to launch into it but I just don’t want to say too much. (Imitates taser noises) Gosh, what can I say? Just in terms of the weapon he might or might not have, he is actually quite a brilliant assembler of … weaponry and technology, and putting those together. So I looked a lot into that, to be very superficial about it.

Okay, here’s one that’s not plot, so you can maybe answer. So you’re now part of this huge family; you and Martin have both done previous MCU films. If you could play any character, who would you, if you could be like, “I want to play somebody else from the MCU” just to be like, “I want to do it,” who would you do?

Andy Serkis: Oh, golly. Wow. Let me think. I’ve always wanted to play Iron Man, actually. I think Iron Man’s a great character. I’d like to play Iron Man next time when they make them again.

So, your last few characters like Caesar and Snoke are both kind of enigmatic, and very inherently powerful leaders. What kind of qualities are you able to draw from past roles like those that you’re able to put into Klaw as well?

Andy Serkis: What kind of inspiration from other characters in…

Yeah, from other characters that you’ve played and just this idea that you tend to, it seems like you tend to fall into more leadership roles, or at least somebody that thinks they’re a leader in a lot of ways. 

Andy Serkis: Right, right. Well, I don’t know if Klaw thinks of himself as a leader, because he is just a solo operator, ultimately. He’s mercenary. I mean, he is, literally; he would’ve come out of the army and become a mercenary, and amassing on small scale of getting into deals, and working with agencies, and building up his own network. In this case, it is slightly different to a lot of the roles I’ve played in that he is the master of his own destiny, and he’s very accepting of that. I don’t think he ever feels like he’s leading a gang or a mercenary army; he picks people up as and when he needs them.


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