“Who does Andy Serkis play in Star Wars: The Force Awakens?” is one of the thousand questions fans have been asking about next year’s Episode VII. And the actor himself seems to be bursting with the desire to talk about which galactic denizen he’ll be inhabiting.
But Serkis, best known as Gollum from The Lord of the Rings trilogy (and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey), the giant ape from Peter Jackson’s King Kong, and the smaller but more sophisticated simian Caesar from the new Planet of the Apes films, has been tight-lipped about Star Wars so far.
He’s also likely to be the highest-grossing actor of 2015, as he’s the only person with supporting roles in both The Force Awakens and the Avengers sequel Age of Ultron.
When Entertainment Weekly caught up with him recently at the premiere for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Serkis did offer a few Star Wars teases—and happily debunked some of the rumors making the rounds. Here’s what we learned.
1.) His voice was unaltered for the trailer.
We know now that the narrator of The Force Awakens teaser was Serkis’ unspecified character, but at first no one was sure which actor was speaking. Was his voice being deliberately masked? “That is the character,” Serkis says, adding that the gravelly, ominous voice is entirely organic. “There’s no digital manipulation. That’s just me.”
2.) Serkis, a pioneer of performance-capture technology, will not play multiple characters in the movie.
The rumor that Serkis will take on more than one part is “not true at all,” Serkis says. “I can say I only play one character.”
3.) Can we safely assume, from that weary voice, that the character has seen some harsh action in the galaxy over the years?
Serkis laughs, and considers what he can reveal. “I have to be very careful about how I answer these questions. The character …” he says, followed by a long pause. “He’s been through some stuff.”
4.) The actor knew those lines would be in the trailer.
It’s true—though Serkis simply didn’t know how large a role his voice would play in those 88 seconds. Apart from the background muttering of droids, his is the only voice that we hear. “Director J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy] told me, ‘You’re all over the trailer,’ but I didn’t know what that meant,” Serkis says. “I thought, ‘Oh great, they’re using the voice of the character I play for the trailer. That’s fantastic.’ Not thinking what that would actually translate into.”
5.) Will we see Serkis himself onscreen, or will his character be rendered through performance capture?
“I can’t say a single thing about that. I’m sorry!” Serkis says with a massive grin. “These things will all come out in the fullness of time, I promise.”
6.) Will Serkis’s character lead a “group of unbelievably athletic and acrobatic motion capture characters”?
This report from Jedi News also gets a big laugh out of Serkis – along with a sustained eyeball-roll. “I’m not leading a band of gymnasts or acrobats,” he says.
7.) Did the movie have a different subtitle at one point?
Citing multiple inside sources, Ain’t It Cool News reported over the summer that the title would be The Ancient Fear. Obviously, that proved to be incorrect–but did the title perhaps change? “No, no, it’s always just been called Episode VII to this point,” Serkis says. “Then I knew it was called The Force Awakens. It’s very pertinent.”
8.) Serkis wasn’t present when Harrison Ford broke his leg when a door on the Millennium Falcon malfunctioned.
“No, I wasn’t,” Serkis says. “But I talked to him about it, and it was all dealt with very seamlessly, so it’s all cool. And he’s fully recovered now. And he came back pretty quick.” Were people more cautious around the Corellian freighter after that? “I would think so!” Serkis said.
9.) Spies were all over the set, trying to catch a glimpse of the film.
“People were flying drones over the walls to see what’s going on,” Serkis says. The secrecy is not about wanting to withhold from fans, he added—“it’s about not wanting to spoil anything for anyone. The expectation is massive, and nobody wants to ruin it in any way. I think that’s right. No one wants to, by saying the wrong thing or being misleading, you don’t want to dilute it.”
10.) He’ll be getting an action figure (unless they want an unhappy actor on their hands).
“That, I hope,” Serkis says, crossing his arms. “I’d better.”