Pay some attention to the man behind the curtain.
As part of the digital and Blu-ray debut of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, EW presents this clip of Andy Serkis as Snoke, with the computer-generated mask of the battle-scarred First Order ruler removed.
Instead of the towering alien humanoid in a golden robe, we see Serkis in his black performance-capture gear, face speckled with dots so that his halo of cameras can record every subtle expression.
The man behind The Lord of the Rings’ Gollum, Planet of the Apes’ Caesar, and the director of the upcoming Jungle Book adaptation Mowgli (debuting in October), walked us through what we’re seeing now that the veil of Snoke is stripped away.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What surprises people when they see you as you, performing a motion capture character?
ANDY SERKIS: I think a lot of people think that you have to almost pantomime the performance or heighten it in some way. What’s illustrated is, in fact, the opposite. And it would be the same if you were playing Caesar or Gollum for that matter, or any character. You don’t exaggerate facial expressions. You’re not pushing through any false artifact.
As opposed to prosthetics?
It’s the opposite of something like the original Planet of the Apes. They had layers of prosthetic makeup on their face that they had to fight through. I can remember seeing a documentary that Kim Hunter was explaining how she literally had to keep her face moving at all times just to create some sense of life in the character.
Tell me about finding the emotions and physicality of this creature.
I’ve always approached him as someone who is obviously in a position of supreme power, but actually, there is a level of vulnerability about the character. The way that his face is caved in, he has those deep scarifications. His skull’s almost been crushed.
It’s amazing to see the same smugness and cruelty on your face that wee see in Snoke.
I take my cues from very much his bone structure, his physiognomy, his gimletty eyes. Again it’s all drawn from trying to breathe life into a character by being inspired by the look of it too, by the mask that you’re playing.
He also seems very unstable. Like he’s trying too hard to be grandiose.
He knows that as a leader you run the risk of people rebelling, you run the risk of people turning against you, the people that are closest to you. Even in that position of power, there is a level of fear. When you’re operating from a level of fear, you operate dangerously as a leader. As we know across the world, there are leaders who have famously done that — and do. That’s what I really wanted to bring to the character. There’s this incredible danger and volatility.
As part of this clip, we see you draw the lightsaber to your hand. Did they throw this lightsaber to you, and you just casually caught it? Or is there a trick there?
[Laughs] Oh, no. No, that was definitely a visual effect.
I see they removed the visual effects from your body, but left that one in for the prop.
You have to be able to use your imagination to make your body do those kinds of things, to imagine that you’re catching a lightsaber. What is the weight of it, how does it feel, what’s the shape of it. You have to be quite precise in all of those things, and it sometimes takes a few takes to get it right. It’s the with a character like [Black Panther’s] Ulysses Klaue, how the arm is used and how it turns into a sonic disruptor and all of that. You’re working off your imagination, basically, to sense the weight of these things.
Another thing I notice about your physicality is how you tilt to one side, and there’s almost a slouching quality to Snoke, rather than someone who is stiff and formal.
I always imagined that he had a scoliosis of the spine, so that his body was contorted like he’s corkscrewed up. He is withered and slightly twisted in his spine, so that gave him that lurch. Those injuries are things that he has carried for a long time, and it’s almost like a form of arthritis.
Are we allowed to know what kind of damage that is? What was it that messed him up so badly?
It is to do with previous battles. It’s a sort of decay as well. He’s quite an old character, and those battle scars are affecting his recovery and his body’s started to break down as well.
How old would you say he is?
I would say that he’s a couple of hundred years old.
The fans continue to be fascinated with Snoke and his history. I wondered if you were privy to any insight into his past that the movies don’t address, and whether you can shed any light on that?
We wanted him to have a great deal of mystery, but we did … J.J. [Abrams] and I discussed it, and Rian [Johnson] and I did discuss backstories to him, where he came from. I’ve been asked to not shed anything, should we want to bring him back in any way whether [in a] prequel or whatever. I think there’s something cool about that. It still does remain a mystery for people. I know that some people find it incredibly frustrating, but I think it allows for further exploration and layering at a further point.
Do you anticipate a return for Snoke in some future stories?
Yeah, I would love to think that there is room for him to come back. I think anything’s possible in a Star Wars movie. I’d be all up for it. I think there’s a lot more to be had from the character for sure, but I’m not in discussions with anybody at all about it.
For now, Supreme Leader Snoke is no more. What else should we know about him?
I played him as incredibly threatened by this female, which he’s not used to or doesn’t understand. He completely underestimates Rey, obviously, but he can sense that there’s a strength there that certainly Kylo Ren doesn’t have. I would say he’s pretty misogynistic in that respect. Interestingly. For our time.
The Last Jedi‘s download release is March 13 (available in both HD and 4K Ultra HD, and by way of Disney’s Movies Anywhere app) and it debuts on Blu-ray on March 27.