While the focus of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the evolved chimpanzee leader Caesar — played to perfection by Andy Serkis — director Matt Reeves has assembled a potent supporting cast to play the human survivors of a worldwide viral plague who find themselves in a desperate confrontation with the rising ape society.
Keri Russell plays Ellie, a former nurse and now the lover of human leader Malcolm (Jason Clarke), who has sustained terrible losses in the collapse of civilization yet retains her compassion and empathy for all beings. Also haunted by his own unspeakable tragedy is Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), co-founder of the human colony with Malcolm. Angry and frightened, Dreyfus sees the apes in only one light — as a menace which must be destroyed.
The sharp contrast between Dreyfus and Ellie’s assessments of the simians is just one of the many complex dynamics that make Dawn of the Planet of the Apes such compelling, powerful viewing. Den Of Geek had a chance to sit down with Russell and Oldman at WonderCon in Anaheim not long ago, where we discussed working with Reeves and Serkis, making a humane movie about interspecies conflict and, briefly, what Dark Knight veteran Oldman thinks of the new Gotham TV series.
Den Of Geek: Were you surprised at the amount of humanity in a movie about apes?
Gary Oldman: I just thought the movie was developing a sort of emotional trajectory of the characters and everything else. I mean the script, the story and the script coupled with Matt’s vision for it — he’s really been in there with the studio as well. Really the way he wanted to shoot it and the way he wanted to take the cameras out into the locations…he was very specific about the environments, the mood of the film, the feel, the look of the film — I mean, it’s all from Matt.
Keri Russell: I feel like that’s Matt’s interest too. I mean I think when they brought Matt into this, I think that’s Matt’s sort of specialty. I think he is always, in all of his films and work, that’s always what it is. He really focuses on these kind of vulnerable human people who are trying to be brave and struggling through something. I think that’s very much Matt’s personality in his work. So I wasn’t surprised because I feel like, of course would be his take on the story.
Your characters are pretty much polar opposites. Dreyfus harbors a lot of anger towards the apes and Ellie has a lot of compassion. Do you represent the dynamic within the human camp of how to deal with this new civilization?
Keri Russell: Well I think we all, as the survivors, have very different feelings about what happened. I think the only reason I’m slightly less fearful is because I had any kind of medical experience. I know that the apes had nothing to do with the creation of the disease. I mean, I know more about the genesis of the virus, I guess, just from medical experience. Still, I think it’s natural that the humans have this predisposed fear and they’ve lost everything — but yes, we represent two of those takes on it.
Gary Oldman: That’s natural to be skeptical after losing a family. I mean, look at them — they’re terrified. We’re trying to sort of get it together. We don’t know if the apes are out there. And then they turn up, and the damn thing talks. They’re a lot more organized, which is also terrifying. I don’t think my character is ordinarily a closed-off person — I just think it’s the experience he’s had that’s made him so hyper-vigilant and paranoid.
How much did you get into Dreyfus’ background with Matt?
Gary Oldman: Well, when we met to discuss it, you know, we talked about him being in the services, like in the police force at one time before the plague struck. Maybe a little bit of military service. He might be from a different area and has come to San Francisco and we’ve all found ourselves there. But, you know, I think he’s just a really resourceful man as those sort of types often are. It takes a certain, I think, type of person to want to be a policeman or a fireman or in the military. But he’s just a family guy. That’s the thing about it. It’s just a whole bunch of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.
Was working with Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbell (who plays Koba) while they’re wearing the motion capture suits any different than normal acting?
Gary Oldman: You’re still getting the emotion from the actor. I mean in a way it’s better than wearing a mask or some sort of suit. I didn’t really – you’re in the moment with the actor, and if it’s emotionally connecting and working you don’t have to then kind of go, “Oh no, I’ve got to imagine he’s all hairy.”
Keri Russell: (laughs) Right.
Gary Oldman: You just play the scene with Andy.
Keri Russell: Yeah, and Andy’s so good that you’re just kind of present with him.
Gary Oldman: All that other stuff comes later, for the audience to see. But if we establish the characters and the relationships on set, then that’s the magic of it, you know. (to Keri) I mean you really feel like that little monkey crawling over you was really there.
Keri Russell: Right. And it wasn’t. I wanted a baby monkey.
Mr. Oldman, any thoughts on the new series Gotham, which will center on a younger version of one of your best-known characters, Commissioner Jim Gordon?
Gary Oldman: The story is a fantastic one, you know, so it should be great –- but my question is, can it work without Batman?
We’ll see him as a child.
Gary Oldman: It’s certainly a great idea. Great idea to do it. There’s a ton of material there. I wish them luck.