Where in the world is Andy Serkis’ Best Actor nomination?

Andy Serkis as Caesar and James Franco in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes".

Hollywood is so precious, don’t you think?  It would love to be lauded as a creative centre – a place where artists can congregate, collaborate and create important and entertaining work in an environment which thrives on the financial and artistic success of the work which results.  But the reality, of course, is quite different.

Yes, just so long as you agree to fit into your pre-ordained box and don’t do anything which threatens the carefully constructed (and constricted) status quo, you’ll be just fine.

Witness the case of actor/director Andy Serkis.  Unfamiliar with the name?  Perhaps you might recognize his most famous character:

Andy Serkis as Smeagol/Gollum in "Lord of the Rings"

Or perhaps this fine figure of a man primate?

Andy Serkis reacts to an acting snub with grace and civility.

Perhaps you’re beginning to see the problem.   Serkis’ most prominent work to mainstream audiences has been in collaboration with the likes of Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg, and often realised via performance capture technology.  In essence, his very best work is oddly invisible – or a combination of his physical acting performance being subsequently animated by CG artists.  It’s in a kind of nebulous, foggy half-place where art meets the bleeding edge of computer-assisted creativity.

It’s a hard concept to grasp for many – without Serkis’ original work, there would be no building blocks for the artists to design their character around and the result on-screen is contingent on the work of artists to take the raw material of Serkis’ work and give it visual life.  Where, to cut a long story short, does Serkis end and Caesar in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” begin?

In the best sense of the word, Andy Serkis’ best screen work to date has been inherently collaborative and the result of a seamless marriage between the best of what technology can bring to a film and what we have come to think of as the traditional theatre arts.

Is there any real difference between Serkis’ work as Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and, say, a performance like John Hurt’s in “The Elephant Man” or Eric Stoltz’s in “Mask”?

I would argue not.   Does anybody look at Hurt’s performance in David Lynch’s film and really say – “Well, he was okay, but the make-up appliances were doing much of the heavy lifting”?  Not unless they’re fundamentally ignorant.   Hurt’s work blends an external make-up job with the soul of the actor beneath it and delivers something which is unforgettable to anybody who’s ever seen it.  Likewise, Jeff Goldblum in “The Fly”:  There’s an extraordinary, singular, eccentric and compelling actor under some astonishing make-up but one without the other wouldn’t be nearly as effective.

I suspect that some of the blame for Serkis’ lack of acknowledgement from his acting peers is down to arrogance and snobbery – his work has largely been in science fiction and fantasy cinema, two genres which are consistently overlooked by the cinema’s great and good when it comes to awards season.  An establishment, it should always be noted, which is delighted to reap the financial benefits of those films when they succeed at the box office but glacially slow to reward them with the highest industry awards when the gongs are handed out.

It’s almost as though the people who decide on who gets nominated for acting awards are old farts who don’t have a clue. I know, I know – can you imagine?

If you want a somewhat biased view from one of Serkis’ recent co-stars, James Franco has written a heartfelt appreciation of his work and what it means for Hollywood over at Deadline.com.

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Filed under Films, Geekery

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