War for the Planet of the Apes Terry Notary Talks Playing Ape

first_imgStay on target 8 Nostalgic Board Games Based on Old Sci-Fi FlicksPlanet of the Apes: Visionaries is Unpredictable, Stunning and Wild While Andy Serkis gets a ton of (deserved) praise for his portrayal of Caesar in the Planet of the Apes reboot trilogy, he’s far from the only actor doing amazing work in these films. Terry Notary plays Rocket in all three of the recent Apes movies. More than that, he’s spent years studying ape behavior, and served as Ape choreographer for the entire cast. See a performance you like in War for the Planet of the Apes? There’s a good chance Notary had something to do with it. Notary took some time between set-ups for his next project to talk to us on the phone about what it takes to play an ape.It turns out, playing an ape in these movies isn’t much different from playing a human character. In fact, it may be some of the most human acting Notary’s ever done. “Rocket is a total extension of myself,immitating” he said. “It’s the self I aspire to be. When you’re playing an ape, you’re nimitatingreally ape, it’s more about shedding all the B.S. that makes us human.” Notary described playing an ape correctly as being an open, well-rounded, more centered and vulnerable human. “When I drop into Rocket, I just drop into the real self, myself, who I am and who I try to practice to be.”Notary says the experience of playing Rocket has taught him a lot about who he is as a person. “I’ve matured as an actor as Rocket has matured as a character in the films. We’ve kind of grown up together.” Notary believes playing Rocket has made him a better actor and a better human as he’s now more aware himself. “What I feel like the character’s done for me is made me more open to receiving and ingesting, digesting and expressing feeling… If I’m feeling jealous or fear or anything, I actually don’t try to mask it. I’ll just assimilate it, feel it and try to rationalize, like ‘why am I feeling this?’”Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Andy Serkis and Michael Adamthwaite on the set of Twentieth Century Fox’s “War for the Planet of the Apes.” (Via Twentieth Century Fox)This sense of how apes behave, and how honest they are with their emotions comes from years of working with and studying apes. Notary’s time with apes predates even his work on Rise of the Planet of the Apes. He started studying their behavior to prepare for a film he said he’s not particularly proud of: Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes. He was Tim Roth’s double in that movie. He was also tasked with teaching ape movement to the other actors, which is what got him started learning about how our relatives behave. He read every book about apes he could get his hands on, watched video of apes and spent hours upon hours at the zoo.“Every week, I was going to the zoo, sometimes twice a week, just sitting there watching them. And I was imitating them, seeing if I could emulate them,” he said. “Also, I got to work with these two chimpanzees, Jacob and Jonah. We just hit it off, and they were ready to play and they were hugging me, and jumping into my arms. Jacob gave me a hug, and I was like ‘Whoa, I get it.’ They looked me in the eye, and they were so open. It’s like they look into your soul. They just open up and let you look into their soul. They’re so human. The more you play with them, the more you realize they’re so much like us.”Notary says he realized it wasn’t about acting like apes. Humans, he says, should ask how they can become like these chimpanzees again. “We’ve lost the beauty. That innocence and openness is all covered up by fears and social conditions.” That’s when Notary realized that playing an ape is just about removing the emotional barriers and baggage that make us human. So it would appear at least some good came out of that Tim Burton movie.Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Andy Serkis and Michael Adamthwaite (Via Twentieth Century Fox)He especially enjoys taking those experiences and teaching them to other actors. He says that when a new actor joins one of these movies, they all want to know what they have to do to play an ape. Almost like there’s some kind of trick they’re looking for. His first piece of advice: “You don’t have to do anything.” When that inevitably confuses the actor, he hits them with, “you have to undo everything.” And yes, he says, it’s just as scary as it sounds. That’s why he makes sure the actor feels safe before he starts working with them. Examining who you really are inevitably brings up fears and past traumas that a person doesn’t like to deal with on a day-to-day basis. Notary says he tries to make the actors aware of the subconscious coping mechanisms they have to avoid dealing with their feelings. Once those are identified and washed away, they can allow themselves to be vulnerable.Once the actor is open and in what Notary calls “a neutral state,” they start bringing in the fears, feelings and baggage that the character has “without bringing in your own stuff.” That’s not to say the actors don’t draw on relevant personal experiences. They can, and often do, but playing an ape is allowing yourself to be honest and expressive with those feelings. Notary says it’s a different process for every actor. Some get it within an hour, some took a full week to get into that state. It’s only after all that work is done that he brings in the physicality of being an ape, meaning how you carry and move your body. All of this serves to get the actor operating on what he calls a “soft connection” between the mind and the body. That’s the point where they’re just acting on instinct, rather than constantly thinking through their movements. Once they master that, an actor will often be playing an ape without even realizing it.Steve Zahn as Bad Ape (Via Twentieth Century Fox)After most people see the movie, one character that’s sure to be a fan-favorite is Bad Ape, played by Steve Zahn. Bad Ape is a wonderful addition to the Apes universe and opens up so many possibilities for where these movies can go now that Caesar’s trilogy is over. Notary says it’s a character he and director Matt Reeves discussed a lot early in production. “We basically thought of this little old Russian man who’s a survivor. He’s endearing and sweet, but he’s such a tough survivor. I just thought of this little Russian peasant who just got off the boat, and he has nothing and managed to save up everything and survive.”Then Steve Zahn came in and brought a whole new perspective from which to approach the character. Notary says on his first day, Zahn dropped into a character and put his finger in his mouth, letting out a high-falsetto “Oh!” That was it. Notary describes that simple action as the seed for who Bad Ape would become. “It was this sweet… It was like a little old man baby.”Rocket isn’t the only ape Notary has played this year. He also played the titular character in March’s Kong: Skull Island. Though the movies are very different, Notary made a point that he wasn’t trying to play an ape. To him, Kong was a 14-year-old boy with the weight of the world on his shoulders. “He’s the last of his kind and he knows it. It’s all up to him. It was basically playing a sensitive boy who’s just starting to come out and be awakened by a connection between the humans and him.” Where Rocket has had a ton of life experience at this point and is almost human, Kong is still a scared teenager.Twentieth Century Fox’s “War for the Planet of the Apes.”So where do these Planet of the Apes movies go from here? Notary has a few ideas of what he’d like to see. The introduction of Bad Ape means that there are other intelligent apes out there in the world not related to Caesar’s group. Notary would like future movies to explore the alliances and conflicts that come out of these different ape tribes interacting. He’d also like to see groups of apes allying with groups of humans and exploring the stories that come out of that. “I hope they can stretch out a few more (movies) because there’s a lot more in there to flesh out. I feel like there’s so many rich characters, and the potential for rich characters and situations is boundless where we leave off.” Notary thinks the series has at least another trilogy in it. We’ll have to wait and find out if that ends up happening.Of course, it wouldn’t be a Geek.com ape interview if I didn’t ask about our favorite ape, Gorilla Grodd. In conducting this interview, it occurred to me. Who better to play Grodd than someone whose spent more than 15 years studying ape behavior. And with Matt Reeves directing The Batman, Notary has at least one in. Notary’s answer to whether he’d want to be involved in a Gorilla Grodd movie was an enthusiastic “Yes!” He even giggled when I filled him in on the character’s powers, “that’s really cool, that’d be awesome!” Notary then took the opportunity to get serious and say that Reeves is one of the best filmmakers he’s ever worked with. “He’s a genius storyteller. He’s all about subtlety and detail. If it doesn’t move the story forward, he won’t put it into the film.”As the interview concluded, Notary mentioned that they’re marketing the arm extensions used in the Planet of the Apes movies. Aparently, everyone got into such incredible shape working on these movies that they wanted to keep the ape arms to work out with. So now he’s selling ergonomic arms that he says provide a low-impact workout. He calls the system Quadrufit, and says it’ll teach you all the movement stuff he did with the actors on set. So if you come out of War for the Planet of the Apes wishing you could move like them, there’s a way to do it. If someone gets good enough at it, maybe they can make their own Ape movie.Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey.last_img

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