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Keri Russell and 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes' co-stars talk about the movie

Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Andy Serkis at the 2013 Comic-Con International panel in San Diego for "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"
Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Andy Serkis at the 2013 Comic-Con International panel in San Diego for "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"Getty Images

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. Russell, Clarke, Serkis and director Matt Reeves gathered at 2013 Comic-Con International for a brief Q&A panel discussion, which included showing some advance footage from the movie. Here is what they said.

Matt, what did you see as a new opportunity in directing "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"?

Reeves: First of all, as a kid, I was obsessed with "Star Wars," but way before that, I was obsessed with "Planet of the Apes." I wanted to be an ape. I did that John Chambers makeup that they put on with the prosthetics. I was always upset that you could buy a mask but your mouth couldn't make it open or close the way that thing does.

And then when I saw "Rise [of the Planet of the Apes]", I thought, "Wow, all those years I wanted to be an ape," but watching "Rise" really made me an ape. And the way that happened was because of what ["Rise of the Planet of the Apes" director] Rupert [Wyatt] and Andy [Serkis] and WETA did, which was make you completely connect to who Caesar was. I wasn't an ape physically. I was an ape emotionally. And that blew me away.

And that was the thing I wanted to carry forward, to really honor what they had done and carry it into a new story. And so the story we wanted to do was a Caesar-centric story that starts in the world of apes. It's basically the story that makes you all apes.

And the thing we wanted to do was make it work on a grander scale, because as fans of the movie know, when that movie ["Rise of the Planet of the Apes"] ended, there was a viral apocalypse, which was about to begin. We all know that this story is a sort of reboot of something that goes along a trajectory which leads to that film from 1969, which is not "Planet of the Humans and Apes" but "Planet of the Apes."

So this was really about how we were going to get there. For me, that was the exciting challenge: What can we take what Andy had done and basically bring in humans that were worthy of that story too. And hopefully, we tell a story that will engage you emotionally that they did so beautifully in "Rise."

Andy, what would you say is the most exciting aspect of returning to the Caesar character?

Serkis: In the last film "Rise," you saw him grow. I had a chance to play him growing from an infant ape to a revolutionary leader. Now, I was given the task of being a leader with responsibility who has evolved this society of 2,000 apes, to try and hold them together and to try and bring some of the humanity that he grew up with as an ape, to try and inject that into society, so that it is a peaceful and egalitarian one.

Caesar is in a position now where all apes together are strong, and not only is he 10 years older, he's a mature leader, he's a peaceful leader. He's a father. He has a teenage son. He has a wife and an infant baby. And he has a council of apes, into which the humans arrive. It's really all about the choices are in the reactions to the humans and how Caesar reacts to that.

And throughout the course of the movie, we see Caesar, this time around, as well as the other apes learning how to communicate, not just with ape vocalizations but words and with sign language that he was taught as an infant, and the ape gestures and so on. It's not only rich, not only for Caesar but the ape clan, not only for exploring the inner ape but also reflecting a lot about humanity.

Keri, what connected with you the most about the "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" story?

Russell: I'm here because of Matt Reeves and Matt's sensibility in taking the story on. I feel like he's created a world of these two communities to sort of survive. Each community is trying to protect their own families and survive. That was really my entry point and focus in the story.

Jason, can you talk about some of the action scenes that you are most excited to see?

Clarke: There's the great, sexy Andy Serkis leading the way. And to Matt and Fox's credit, they've hired Cirque du Soleil guys, parkour guys, so you're not going to see just a CGI ape leap across the screen. You're seeing incredible athletes that are inhabiting these simians and doing these live stunts that are motion-captured.

And you're going to see the body put on top of that. I tell you, it's extraordinary to watch every single day as these guys leap off tall buildings and bounce in front of you and drag you through the mud. And in the end, we all just want to find our inner ape.

Matt, does being part of a big movie franchise help you or does it make it an extra challenge?

Reeves: To me, it helps. And the reason it helps is I remember in film school, I had a teacher who would talk about story. There are stories about what happened. And then there are stories where you know what happened, and it's about why. And what's exciting to me is about this story, we know know where it goes, so the question is, "How did we get there?" So that's all about psychology.

And what's so great about the "Apes" franchise is that it's really about us. We talk about the apes and the animals, but we're the animals. It's really a way for us to look at our nature. Without getting lofty about it, that's what I think is so cool about it. The movie is really about character and psychology.

And that's what's so brilliant about what Andy did in the first movie, and why we have these guys [Keri Russell and Jason Clarke] in this movie, because it's really about, "Who are these characters? And how do we get from A to Z?" And it's that journey and the how and the why that really draw me in.

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