Andy Serkis crouches on the hotel room couch, his deep blue eyes narrowing as he hisses his famous line from “The Lord of The Rings” trilogy ... “My preciousss.”
Serkis looks more like a musician than an actor with wild black hair, jeans, a maroon T-shirt and blue hooded sweatshirt. But then he grins and the rock star disappears, replaced by that creepy little computerized creature, Gollum.
“They copied my facial expressions to make him as real as possible,” Serkis said in a recent interview. “We wanted the character to be very rooted, both emotionally and physically, so what you’re looking at on screen is how I acted the part during filming.”
The resemblance is strange for him, too; Serkis said he sees his father in Gollum, and his 3-year-old son in Gollum’s eager-to-please alter-ego, Smeagol. “My dad wasn’t too happy about that,” he joked.
The process of creating the character was so involved and complex that Serkis wrote a book about it: “Gollum: How We Made Movie Magic,” (Houghton Mifflin, $9.95).
The British actor details how he developed Gollum’s voice after watching his cat cough up a hair ball, and the difficulties of acting out a computer-generated part. (For the record, the scratchy, pitiful voice in the movie is 100 percent Serkis.)
Smeagol's transformation into Gollum
In Tolkein’s mythology, Gollum was once a Hobbit-like creature named Smeagol. After discovering the One Ring, the evil object transforms him into a withered, hissing wretch, and he spends years searching for it after the hobbit Bilbo Baggins takes it from his lair.
Gollum is tortured by the wizard Sauron’s forces until he reveals Baggins’ name; he later returns to reclaim the ring from Frodo, but ends up leading Frodo and Sam to Mount Doom.
During much of the filming, Serkis wore a skin-tight white suit while slithered through the rocky New Zealand landscape as he acted alongside Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin).
Director Peter Jackson would shoot the three in a scene together, then re-shoot with Serkis doing Gollum’s voice off camera, and lastly a shot of just the backdrop.
“We knew what the objective was with the character, but we didn’t know exactly how we were going to get there, and what ideas would work,” Serkis said. “The acting process, too, was so complex because he’s a living manifestation of what the ring does to someone.”
Originally Jackson thought he’d use the scenes with Serkis off-camera, but the energy was often stronger with Serkis on screen, so the animators painted Gollum over those shots.
“I acted Gollum. I didn’t approach that part any different than I did other parts. It wasn’t just me standing in a room doing a voice,” said Serkis, whose previous screen credits were mostly British movies such as “24 Hour Party People.”
A complicated process
Later, Serkis would act scenes wearing special suits that allowed him to control Gollum’s movements on a computer screen. By the end of the four years of filming, Serkis was able to shoot the actual scene wearing a specific suit that would allow animators to translate his movements to Gollum.
The process wasn’t easy. Serkis often felt frustrated and isolated from the other cast members, though he admits some of it was his doing.
“I wanted him to be isolated, because he really is cut off from everyone because of his addiction to the ring,” he said. “So I did a lot of stuff on my own and that ended up making me feel more separated.”
Serkis said all the talk about the cast members having a spectacular time is mostly true, and he does miss New Zealand. But he’s glad the journey has come to an end.
“It’s time to move on. I want to experience other things, I spent so long on this film, and it will always be a part of me, precious,” he said with a huge smile.
The book is also filled with snippets written by the animators, film director Peter Jackson, and script co-writer Fran Walsh.
Serkis said he wrote the book to be sort of a guide for future films, but also to have closure on the character.
“It’s like my diary of the past four years, which was such an unusual journey,” he said. “I was the strand that held Gollum together, the emotional strand. But the animators, directors, they were the pearls.”