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Movie Tin tin
Director Steven Spielberg
Producer Peter Jackson
In our second interview with the stars of Steven Spielbergs up coming adventure Tintin and the Secrets of the Unicorn Andy Serkis talks about taking on the role of Captain Haddock.
Andy Serkis has long been at the forefront of the pioneering use of performance capture technology and is an established master of the art. His latest challenge was to play Captain Haddock in Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.
Spielberg has formed a unique collaboration with Peter Jackson – a filmmaker that Serkis worked with on the hugely successful Lord of the Rings trilogy – to bring the late, great Belgian artist Herge’s much loved Tintin books to the big screen.
Filmed using state of the art performance capture techniques and in 3D, Spielberg directs with Jackson producing. The Adventures of the Unicorn is the first in what could be a series of films based on Tintin and his best pal, Captain Haddock.
Serkis joined an all-star cast for the film with Jamie Bell playing Tintin, Daniel Craig as the pirate Red Rackham and Simon Pegg as Inspector Thomas.
Serkis was born in London and began his career as a professional actor on stage at the Duke’s Playhouse in Lancaster in 1985. After several performances on the London stage, he began to work in television (Streetwise, The Jump, Touching Evil) and film with his incredible performance as Gollum in Lord or the Rings earning him huge acclaim.’
He has been nominated for a BAFTA twice – for playing rock star Ian Dury in Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (2010) and for the TV movie, Longford (2007). His other credits include Inkheart, Brighton Rock, Burke and Hare and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. He is currently filming The Hobbit in New Zealand with Peter Jackson directing.
Q and A follows:
Q: You’ve become an acknowledged expert on performance capture. What’s your view?
A: I’ve always seen it an amazing tool, a fantastic tool that lets actors let run with their imaginations and as long as you can physically, psychologically and emotionally embody the character it is the most incredible tool. It is actually becoming more of a transparent process and I think the technology is really the least interesting thing about it now. Because it’s just another way of recording an actor’s performance and I think it’s a really misunderstood medium still, within our industry, and I think that will change over time. This film is a wonderful, unique blend of performance and animation. I don’t know where the fear stems from – perhaps it’s vanity, actors who don’t like being seen on screen as anything but themselves. But for me that’s never been a problem because what I really love about acting is that’s the art of transformation.
Q: How much of you seen of the film?
A: We’ve seen it in various stages and I know the story of course – which is great – so obviously I can fill in the spaces. It’s looking great.
Q: When did you first discover Tintin?
A: When I was 8, 9 years old the two books that I read a lot were Tintin and Asterix. My father, who has passed away now, was Iraqi, and I used to spend a lot of time going backwards and forwards to Baghdad and some of my really strong childhood memories are of reading Tintin when I was in Baghdad.
Q: Did your Dad introduce you to the books?
A: No, they were just sort of around. We had a lot of French and Armenian relatives and they were just sort of passed around. And I loved them and I was really into them.
Q: in Belgium there’s been a lot of discussion about Herge’s background and his time during the war. What did you make of that?
A: Herge’s political background? Yes, we were aware of it. But he was a man of his time and basically as far as I’m concerned he was a storyteller who wanted to create a world from his armchair, a fantasy world with characters that he really cared about. And I think storytellers when they are in politically difficult situations at the end of the day they pull up the drawbridge and concentrate on what they are good at doing. I think he was a product of his environment at the time. It’s easy to judge with the benefit of hindsight what someone’s actions might be. I think he might well have apologised for that time. People do things to survive and cope with it in different ways. It’s a hard one to go into now, really.
Q: Were you aware of that going into this project?
A: I wasn’t really aware of it until I started doing some background reading going into the film.
Q: It’s an unusual collaboration with two great filmmakers. Do you think that this film marks a step forward in terms of the technology they are using?
A: I think what this film represents is the collaboration of two visionary filmmakers who are not afraid to push boundaries. They are not the kind of artists who are happy to sit back on their laurels. Every time they make a film they are pushing the form forward in a variety of different ways and I really do believe that the way they have made Tintin is the only way that serves Herge and his artistry as well as it could. You have the immediacy and the reality and the emotional connection of the characters but you are also looking at the colour, the sensibility and the palette and the style of the source material. And the combination of those two means that what they have done is to create something very original and very unique for this film.
Q: Captain Haddock is a colourful character. Is he an alcoholic?
A: (laughs). He’s basically a ship-wreck! He’s a wreck who carries the sins of his father and his forefathers, so he bears the weight of that. And actually what was interesting about finding out why he is an alcoholic is what’s pushed him there. He has moved so far away from his lineage that he is just caught in his own world – part of it is he doesn’t remember, his mind is destroyed by the alcohol and he is very self pitying. But actually at the core of the character, which is why he is great to play, is that he has a great heart. And it just needed someone like Tintin to come along at the right time to get him to break out of this habitual self-pity. And when that happens we see this journey and their relationship grows throughout the movie and you see a point where he actually begins to care for Tintin for the first time. And it’s quite a heart-warming moment and really it’s an important moment. And Haddock and Tintin is such a key relationship in the story.
Q: It’s a buddy movie then…
A: I think so. It is a buddy movie in many ways. Because if you only have the adventure and you don’t have that emotional centre to it, it would not rise above the sum of its parts. But it is an emotionally engaging relationship.
Q: When you are bringing such a well loved character to the screen does that add a certain amount of responsibility to your job and are you aware of that whilst you are playing the part?
A: You are because you want to honour the source material. You want the fans to enjoy it and be satisfied with it but you can’t shy away from the fact that it’s always your interpretation. We all have our own versions of those characters and so you can’t please all of the people all of the time. So you have to stick by choices that you make and you are bringing something off the page, and so there is licence there. Ultimately you want to serve the story and character.
Q: But at the same time presumably you can’t sit there fretting over what the fans would make of every nuance in your performance?
A: You can but I think that would be a dangerous route to go down. You can’t be dictated to by the fans. As long you honour the source material and you approach it in a truthful way I think you are pretty safe. There are choices about what story you are going to tell and in this there are elements of The Crab With The Golden Claws and The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure – and that’s one film but it’s three separate books. So in the same way that with Lord of the Rings people were upset that certain things were left out and it focused on other but that’s the prerogative of the director and the screenwriters because you have to condense it and make it emotionally engaging and fast moving. With Tintin it’s all about the sensibility of Herge – it’s about honouring that sensibility.
Q: There’s talk of more Tintin films, would you be happy to play Haddock again?
A: It was always about seeing how the first film goes but I hope that there will be more because there are so many great stories to tell. There are plans to make other films but nothing is set at the moment.
Q: How do you think the film will play to an American audience? Tintin isn’t so well known there…
A: I think it will do very well in Europe where people are really excited about it. And there are plenty of films that do well in Europe that then take the States by storm. Look at The King’s Speech, which did so well in America. So you don’t know. Steven Spielberg knows how to make an adventure story work and I think in the States people will want to see that. It is funny, though, because in the States we’ve had people thinking we’re making Rin Tin Tin and I’ve people saying ‘well, are you playing the dog?’ I’m not joking. The awareness of Tintin isn’t really there in the States and so it will be interesting. I’m not sure why it’s not known there. It’s incredible really how some things can just have a boundary and may be this did. I really don’t know.
Q: Is the Haddock/ Tintin relationship a bit like father and son?
A: It’s interesting because Tintin is quite an isolated character and in a way the relationship should work the opposite way around, it should be Haddock being a father figure to Tintin but Tintin is more like Haddock’s father in many ways. Tintin lives a fairly isolated existence in lots of ways so I think the friendship is very mutual.
Q: Is Tintin a nerd?
A: (laughs). I think he’s just very driven and I think he’s quite an ambitious reporter.
Q: But in the books you never see him publish any stories…
A: No, that’s right. It’s very bizarre. There are lots of unsolved clues all the way through.
Q: You’ve done performance capture a few times now. When you work with actors who are new to it are they a little intimidated? And do you help them out?
A: As well as acting, I do direct performance capture. But in actual fact, with most well centred actors who embody their characters physically as well as emotionally, there is very little to say. I think there are some key things to remember about performance capture – one is that it’s not any different from shooting a live action film except you don’t have a costume. In terms of what you put across emotionally and if you are acting a scene with someone it’s the same. If you are playing an extreme character like Gollum or Kong or something that’s a whole other thing, because you are learning a physicality if you are playing a creature. But if you are playing a heightened human being, like these are in Tintin, the main thing to remember is that it’s very subtle, it very subtly picks up your performance. So with all the markers on your face and the head mounted cameras and the suits there’s a tendency for people to think that they might have to over act to get their performance across. And actually, the opposite is the case. So it’s about trust. All these markers on your face track your eye movements, any sort of facial expression and you don’t have to over do it and on this film there are a lot of close ups and you are playing it as you would on a live action shoot.
Q: Is it uncomfortable with the head camera and the suit?
A: It’s just something that you absorb and after a couple of days you forget that it’s there.
Q: How did Jamie deal with it?
A: Well Jamie is a great actor and he’s totally centred, he’s physically capable and he had the perfect energy for playing Tintin. I think people come a cropper when they over do it, when they think they need to over act. I was watching some behind the scenes footage of the actors on the original Planet of the Apes and they talked a lot about having to keep their faces moving all the time, to keep the latex, the make up, alive, because if they stopped for a moment it became an un-movable mask. But it’s the opposite with performance capture because it picks up every tiny muscle movement and eye tracking. So it’s very truthful to what you are doing.