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Credit: WETA (2)

Before 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, married screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver’s last screenplay credit was 1997’s The Relic. What a difference a few years make. Today, Rise sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes hits theaters, with a screenplay that Jaffa and Silver co-penned with Mark Bomback. But Dawn is just the tip of the iceberg. Jaffa and Silver are currently hard at work on Avatar 2 alongside director James Cameron. The writers also worked on next year’s dino-reboot Jurassic World. And they’re credited as screenwriters on Ron Howard’s upcoming Heart of the Sea.

EW talked to Jaffa and Silver about apes, dinosaurs, whales, and blue people.

On the genius of Andy Serkis

RICK JAFFA: When we wrote the first one, there were huge blocks of script that had no dialogue whatsoever. A big middle chunk of the movie is almost a silent film.

AMANDA SILVER: You cannot overstate the importance of Andy Serkis. The way he walks, there’s a gravitas, a leadership. He’s an extraordinary person, and it definitely shows in his performance.

On how the Apes reboots are Shakespearean

JAFFA: For the sequel, a lot of ideas were batted around. The studio had some thoughts, our producing partners had some ideas. From our point of view, we really believed the most important thing was to stick with Caesar and his band of merry brothers and sisters, and where they had evolved to.

SILVER: The guide has always been Caesar’s character. The first movie takes him from a baby to a geat leader, from the realization of his ape hood to leading the revolution. Now we find him at the next stage. We wanted to explore his character now: The burden of leadership, the family.

JAFFA: In the first movie, there was a bit of—forgive me for this!—there was a bit of Shakespeare’s Henry V, of Prince Hal. We thought it would be interesting to use Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar as a bit of a template for this movie, with themes of brotherhood and betrayal.

On how Rise and Dawn relate to the original Apes movies

SILVER: The thought behind Rise was: What dominoes would have to line up in a very specific way, so that if they tipped over right now, that you would end up with Colonel Taylor on that beach?

JAFFA: On the beach, in the year 3900-something. That was the original take.

On working on the Avatar sequels

SILVER: The creative process has been thrilling. I can’t emphasize enough how inspiration it is working with a man like James Cameron. He has amazing ideas. And the learning curve is very steep. We’ve been working on it for almost a year.

JAFFA: We’re very steeped in all things Pandora.

SILVER: What we’re doing is a saga, a three-movie saga. The movies are connected, and we had the great pleasure of being all together with the other writers, Josh Friedman and Shane Salerno, in a room with Jim breaking all three stories.

JAFFA: And Steven Gould, who’s writing the novels for all three movies.

SILVER: It took six months.

JAFFA: Nine to six every day. By the end of the day, our brains would be mush. It was great!

On Jurassic World

SILVER: We really fell in love with some of the dinosaurs.

EW: Do you mean like dinosaur species? Or specific dinosaur characters?

SILVER: I mean specific ones. I can’t tell you about them!

EW: Can you at least say whether Andy Serkis will be playing any of the dinosaurs?

JAFFA: [laughs] He’ll be playing all of them.

On the curious case of Heart of the Sea

JAFFA: We have a very long history with In the Heart of the Sea. It might be too long and too boring-

SILVER: But you can give the thumbnail!

JAFFA: The thumbnail is that Amanda and I had read about the whaling ship, the Essex, over 20 years ago and thought: “Wow, there’d be a great movie here.” Then we read that Nathaniel Philbrick had sold a book proposal about the Essex. We contacted him, and became friends with him. We actually set the book up years ago, back in the early ’90s, and worked very very hard on it. And then at some point we parted ways with the studio and the producers. And then other people came in and worked on it. We actually got a letter from the Writers’ Guild saying: “Congratulations! In the Heart of the Sea is going into production!” Like, wait a minute, WHAT?

[Minor spoiler alert] On whether the ending of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is optimistic or pessimistic

SILVER: He’s in a tight spot, which comes with being in the position of being a leader. But the most cynical thing would be if Caesar had lost hope, or if Caesar had lost his heart.

JAFFA: I think that Caesar represents the better part of who we are. As downbeat as the ending might appear to be, I think it’s also very hopeful.