Let’s give Andy Serkis a hand as he makes his return as one of Black Panther’s best-known bad guys.
Black Panther stands largely alone in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with very few callbacks or connections to the larger narrative, but one link to the other movies in the series is Andy Serkis, who returns as the villainous arms dealer Ulysses Klaue after making his debut in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. Klaue (or as he is known in the comics, Klaw) is a major Black Panther antagonist, so his introduction in that earlier film was certainly a signal that T’Challa himself (Chadwick Boseman) would soon surface in the MCU and that Klaue himself would almost certainly face off against him.
Klaue does play a crucial role in director Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, helping Eric Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) make his way into Wakanda while still on his never-ending quest to obtain and sell that country’s precious vibranium. Serkis’ version of Klaue takes such obvious delight in his insanely dangerous and illegal lifestyle that in a weird way, the character is terrific fun to watch — and in a movie that’s already packed with scene-stealing supporting performances from people like Jordan, Letitia Wright and Danai Gurira, that’s not necessarily an easy thing to pull off.
Serkis himself has had a busy 12 months as he bid goodbye to Caesar in War for the Planet of the Apes and, more controversially, Snoke in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and is prepping his next directorial effort, Mowgli (based on The Jungle Book) for release. Black Panther gives us a rare opportunity to see him play a character without motion capture (well, except for a certain deadly arm). We spoke about Klaue, Snoke and more when we sat down with Serkis recently in Los Angeles.
Den of Geek: Did Marvel tell you when and how Klaue would be back?
Andy Serkis: I kind of had an inkling that it was going to happen if the Black Panther movie was going to happen, because I knew that Klaue was a major adversary in the universe, in the comics. When Joss Whedon asked me to do Klaue in Ultron, I knew that was the introduction to something, but I didn’t know what. I didn’t know at what capacity. Then when Ryan took it on, he just wanted to have more fun with it, really. We’d already set him up as a slightly kind of left field … dangerous, but kind of slightly bizarre sense of humor and slightly quirky character. Then Ryan really took it to town and we really played with it and invented stuff as we were going along.
He seems to really enjoy being a bad guy and what he’s doing.
Yeah, yeah. Really, in the spectrum of this movie, he represents one of the world’s takers. There is nothing about him that gives or commits or gives to anybody else or cares in any way. He has no empathy whatsoever. He is obsessed with obtaining as much vibranium as possible. He is an arms dealer. He’s a negotiator par excellence who works with governments, keeps everybody at arm’s length. There is no one that’s close to him.
But we wanted to make him appealing and sort of like you actually wouldn’t mind having a drink with him. He’d be fun to hang out with, until you realized he was quite dangerous.
Did you go back into looking at some of the comics, or do you stick with what’s in the script and then build it from there?
Well, I mean, certain aspects of the comics. Like his back history. You know, he was a South African, he was a Boer. He was a South African Boer and has always had that attitude towards people of color. There is a kind of racist element to him, for sure. He talks to Killmonger and calls him “boy” in that old South African way. That sense of apartheid that he’s grown up with has never left him, really.
In terms of the invention, I think we have free rein because people don’t really know who he is, so much. I mean, obviously aficionados would, but he’s not an overly scrutinized character, I don’t think.
What was your overall impression of how Ryan ran the set?
It was just great fun. Ryan is a very chill person. He created this incredible atmosphere. You’d work off the script, but then every single take would be like, “Oh, let’s try this,” or, “Let’s try this.” He could see if you were coming up with something, he’d go, “You’ve got something. Let’s just go with that.” It was very fluid and creative and exploratory.
How did that come across in the finished product?
This is going to be a sea change movie. This is going to have huge cultural impact, as we probably knew it would. I’m sure it will, because it will speak to the world. It’ll empower people across the world and connect them, I think, to these kind of movies in a way that we haven’t seen before. I think it is and will be an incredibly significant movie in that respect.
You’ve been part of several shared universes. What makes them successful?
We’re living in a very interesting time cinematically because these films, these grand entertainments like Planet of the Apes, like the recent Star Wars, Last Jedi, they’re all taking on the world’s issues and putting them through the mythological pipeline, if you like, and creating a story that both resonates and yet is a piece of grand entertainment, and yet has importance. I think these huge tentpole movies speak to millions of people and they’ve become this platform for actually, really examining who we are in a quite profound way, I think.
Did you follow the online debate about Snoke’s death and the fact that we didn’t know much about him?
No, no. I know it was infuriating for some people. I keep saying to everybody jokingly, “Well, in the Snoke spinoff, you’ll find out,” hoping that they’re going to pick it up. But we’ll see. I don’t know if they will. It was good because there is a mystery about that character, and I think it did fuel that, but I know some people were outraged by it. I mean, I think it’s important just in case he does come back not to say anything now.
Have you heard from J.J. (Abrams, Star Wars Episode IX director)? Can I get a scoop?
I have not heard from J.J., but I’m putting it out there. I think there is interest in Snoke. I think there is genuine interest, because it is Star Wars, and as we know, anything can happen.
Any regrets, if that’s the right word, about the fact that Caesar’s story ends here and that you won’t continue on with the Apes franchise?
I love that franchise. Of course, the beauty of performance capture means that you can come back and play another character, for instance, or even a live-action character. I love the world, I love that world and the stories and again, the metaphors that world has. But it was a perfect arc, it was a really perfect arc, and I wouldn’t have wanted to do another film with Caesar, I don’t think, because to play a character all the way through from birth to death is a very rare opportunity for an actor across three movies and see him not only change in terms of who he is, but evolve as well, becoming a leader, a father figure, all those things. It was a huge character for me. I do mourn the loss of him for sure.
We’re into Oscar season again, and I think people have talked a bit about the fact that maybe there should have been a nomination for you for War for the Planet of the Apes. I think the same has even been said about Doug Jones in The Shape of Water. Any thoughts on whether the Academy needs to broaden its horizons?
In actual fact, the Academy have been very vocal this year about broadening the idea of what performance is. They’ve literally sent out emails and memos to all of the actors’ branch to say, “Consider performance capture roles, consider voice roles, consider costume work like Doug’s character.” Basically, if a character is moving, if it touches you, if it changes your perception on life, if it means something to you, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s an actor’s face on there or whether it’s manifest as a CG character. Look, Gary Oldman’s performance in Darkest Hour is completely encased in prosthetic makeup. One could argue you don’t see the face of the actor. Again, there has been a difference of opinion about prosthetic makeup, like the ownership of the character is still there in some way. But no, the Academy are definitely behind it now.
What’s happening with your next directorial effort, Mowgli?
We’re finishing the movie. Within three months, we’ll be done. Then it is coming out in October this year. We’re very, very excited about it. I think it’s really come together in the way that I wanted to and had always hoped to.
Black Panther is out in theaters tomorrow (Friday, February 16).