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Andy Serkis' Gollum Voice Has A Gross Origin (Especially If You're A Dog Person)

Andy Serkis has shared plenty of stories over the years about how he practiced the physical motions and got into character for his iconic role as Gollum in Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. But it was the origin of his take on the Gollum voice itself — and specifically the "gollum" sound — that turned out to be one of the most fascinating and odd journeys of them all.

In one interview, Serkis talked about the genesis of the voice and how it started with him looking for inspiration for the character. The British-born actor referred to constricted throats, obsessive behaviors, and trying to think from the perspective of an addict. This helped him wrap his mind around what it's like to be in Gollum's head. However, the physical and involuntary concept of the "gollum" sound itself didn't come from any deep introspection or masterful craftsmanship. It came from a chance meeting with his cat.

"I'm not the sort of actor who just can pull out a voice," Serkis explained in a separate interview at Awesome Con, "That's not how I work. I've never done that before in my life. I didn't know how to do that. But I was inspired by my cat, who was called Dizz at the time." The actor went on to describe that while he pondered what the "gollum" utterance should sound like, "My cat came in and literally coughed up a fur ball in front of me. Gospel truth, this is absolutely true, I watched his back rippling, and I just thought, 'That's brilliant. I really like that. I love this. I love this.'" Serkis mimicked the sound, added in the word "gollum," and the rest was history.

Serkis faced an uphill battle playing Gollum

When Peter Jackson created his Middle-earth trilogy, the production faced countless challenges. From massive sets to size discrepancies between actors to the need for endless costumes and prosthetics, nothing was easy, and everything was done on a massive scale.

In the midst of the epic nature of, well, pretty much everything Jackson and company accomplished, it's easy to lose sight of the immaculate performance that is Gollum. Nevertheless, the depth and emotion that Andy Serkis brought to the warped and twisted character created a (technically) off-screen performance for the ages. The proof is in the pudding, too. Serkis' Gollum has remained a fan favorite ever since.

While everyone in Jackson's trilogy delivered A-plus performances, Serkis' Gollum continues to stand out, if only because of the challenge it presented. The actor didn't have to don prosthetics or master Elvish. Rather, in an era when voice acting was uncommon, Serkis had to bring to life everything from Gollum's body language to his unique speech patterns without ever physically showing up on the screen himself. At the same time, he still needed to dig deep to understand what it meant to portray Gollum on the silver screen.

"I was trying to figure out how to make a voice which came from a physicality which came from a psychological center of being guilt-driven, and where's the pain of this character," he reflected in another part of the above-quoted interview. While he came up with a memorable, cat-inspired outward expression of the iconic "gollum" intonation, this shouldn't bury the lede. It was Serkis' holistic and comprehensive preparation that rounded out the character on the screen and gave movie Gollum such a compelling role in the story.

Gollum in the books sounds a little different

While Andy Serkis' Gollum is impressive, it's still just an interpretation in the end and one that is a tad different than the description we get in the books. The first time Gollum ever utters his titular sound in "The Hobbit," Tolkien describes it as more guttural and less of a cat-cough. As Gollum initially approaches Bilbo in the dark, the text specifically reads, "'Bless us and splash us, my precioussss! I guess it's a choice feast; at least a tasty morsel it'd make us, gollum!' and when he said gollum he made a horrible swallowing noise in his throat."

While "swallowing noise" implies a juicier gurgle, the sound isn't described further. This leaves plenty of room for artistic expression, and Serkis used it (along with his cat's example) to come up with his scratchier version of the sound.

Regardless of whether it comes via Serkis coughing like a cat or readers picturing more of a swallowing sound, the Gollum experience remains one of the most compelling individual narratives ever written. His double duty as an antagonist and a poor, lost soul tortured by the overpowering desire of the One Ring remains one of the most compelling and tragic story arcs in all of Tolkien's books — and the entire fantasy genre, for that matter. Here's hoping we see it resurrected on screen at some point in the future.