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Gary Oldman and 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes' co-stars share stories

Matt Reeves, Keri Russell, Gary Oldman and Andy Serkis on the "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" panel at 2014 WonderCon in Anaheim, Calif.
Matt Reeves, Keri Russell, Gary Oldman and Andy Serkis on the "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" panel at 2014 WonderCon in Anaheim, Calif.

In "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" (which takes places 10 years after the end of 2011's "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"), a growing nation of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar (played by Andy Serkis) is threatened by a band of human survivors of the devastating virus unleashed a decade earlier. They reach a fragile peace, but it proves short-lived, as both sides are brought to the brink of a war that will determine who will emerge as Earth's dominant species.

Gary Oldman, Keri Russell and Jason Clarke are among those who play the human survivors. Oldman, Russell, Serkis and director Matt Reeves were at 2014 WonderCon in Anaheim, Calif., for a "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" panel, which included showing sneak-preview footage from the movie. Here is what they said.

Where does “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” pick up from “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”?

Reeves: What’s so amazing about “Rise,” it’s sort of a sucker punch. It’s this story about how Ceasar brings intelligence to the apes and leads this little insurrection. And then in the end at the title sequence, you see the viral apocalypse is about to hit the human race in the solar plexus. It really is going to be Planet of the Apes. You know the story is all leading to Planet of the Apes, not Planet of the Humans and the Apes.

And what we thought was this was an opportunity to do was tell the story of the next step. And the idea is that there actually is a moment when humans and apes could have lived together. There’s a lot of post-apocalyptic movies today. We seem to be endlessly fascinated with our own destruction. In “Planet of the Apes,” that’s certainly the features of one of those stories.

What we wanted to start instead was an ape world creation movie. It’s 10 years later, and when you start the movie, you think that the viral apocalypse may have been wiped out all humans. And so, it’s the dawn of a new species, which is intelligent apes. It’s their world. And you spend 15, 20 minutes in their world. You see Ceasar and the world he’s created.

We think it’s very exciting. I’m really excited to share it with you guys. And what ended up happening is you start to get engaged in the relationships and the drama of that huge ape family that’s taken that evolutionary leap. And you realize, “Oh, there are humans too.” And so, there are two families: an ape family and a human family. The question is, “Who is going to survive?”

We’ve never seen humans and apes co-existing in such a way in these “Planet of the Apes” movies, right?

Reeves: Yeah, that was what was really exciting for me. I am such a huge “Planet of the Apes” fan. As a kid, I had all the dolls. I had a 8mm reel with “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” which I watched until the holder fell apart. I was so obsessed with “Planet of the Apes” and actually wanting to be an ape.

And I think the thing that blew me about “Rise” was I finally got to be an ape by watching the movie and feeling like the most human performance and the most human character in the story was not human. It was Caesar. I thought, “Wow, what an incredible thing they’ve done.”

And when I was approached about continuing the story, I was incredibly excited about it because of exactly that: continuing the emotional journey of Caesar and not coming into the story with this idea of humans as villains but humans as us, and the idea of this difficult problem. Caesar has ties to both worlds. His father was essentially human. He, of course, has a huge ape family.

When the humans show up, it’s not a story about villains. It’s a story about survival. And it’s a story about what these two populations do. I thought, “Wow, that I haven’t seen. That’s really exciting.” We’re really excited to share it with you, that ape world.

We went there and shot in crazy conditions. The [“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”] was so beautifully done, we wanted to take it further. We went up into the woods and we shot in the rain, we shot in conditions that you wouldn’t shoot a mo-cap [motion-capture] movie in, so you could feel like you were in their world. We used these 3-D cameras. The movie, we think, is very, very immersive. And hopefully, you all will become apes from watching it.

Matt, can you talk a little more about doing a performance-capture movie using practical sets?

Reeves: It’s not that it’s never been done … No one has ever done it on this scale. Someone has done mo-cap and done it in practical locations. In fact, I think Andy can probably tell you all about it. But nobody has done it to this extent. The last movie was shot primarily on stage. And this movie was shot primarily 85 to 90 percent in actual settings.

We shot in the rain, and we took the cameras in conditions we should never take them into. If the people who rented us the cameras knew it, they probably wouldn’t give it to us again. But basically, the idea was to make it a very immersive and realistic experience.

Keri, can you tell us about your “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” character?

Russell: I think the main thing that they created very well is the idea that any of the humans in this story are survivors. They’ve lost pretty much everything. Just by their circumstance, they must be incredibly resourceful people. They’re all incredibly damaged at this point. They have strange, makeshift families.

I think they have gained some semblance of peace, and they don’t want to lose that. And they don’t want to lose those few loved ones that they have with him. So I think that’s how my character enters the adventure — not wanting to let the people you’ve loved that you left out of your sight.

Gary, what can you say about your Dreyfus character, since he’s lost everyone he’s loved to the simian virus?

Oldman: It’s affected him and changed him. In some respects, it’s kind of a tragedy the magnitude. It’s like what Keri said. They have to be survivors. They’ve survived the chaos of the post-apocalyptic insanity. They are resourceful people. You have to be a survivor to have gone this far.

Andy, what did you bring to the Caesar character that was different from what you did in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”?

Serkis: Life has become more complicated. This is the character I’m talking about, not my life. Caesar, we’ve seen him brought up with human beings and believing himself to be human, as Matt was saying earlier. And in his teenage years, he feels a rejection from humanity and then has to re-engage with what has to be his own kind, and galvanize a disparate group of gorillas and chimpanzees and orangutans and finding a way to bring them together and leading them on. That’s where we left the last movie with Caesar.

In this movie, 10 years later, he has become their leader. He has become an elder statesman, if you like, and all the complications that entails. But he’s not a ruler that rules with an iron fist. He’s an egalitarian. He listens and values all of the apes’ various opinions. He has some tenets of beliefs which he carried from the things he grew up with. All the things he’s carried, which perhaps the other apes don’t know.

He is a father. He has a teenage son, which has its own obligations. He has a wife and a young infant. He is a family man. He is forced into this incredibly difficult situation once the humans arrive.

There are no absolutes. He’s not a fundamentalist. He is an empathetic creature, because he remembers that there are people from another tribe who are equally compassionate and who are equally struggling and equally going through this situation. And to explain to his own people, and to retain their strength as a group as a country and as a village and as a people, he’s under an enormous amount of pressure. And that’s basically where it is.

For more info: "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" website

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