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The Strange Way Andy Serkis Prepared To Play Gollum

Hollywood has a long history of actors going method for roles, including Christian Bale losing a scary amount of weight to play an insomniac in The Machinist and Daniel Day-Lewis texting his castmates in-character as Abraham Lincoln while he was filming Lincoln. However, the lengths Andy Serkis went to in order to prepare to play Gollum in The Lord of the Rings are truly next level.

It's important to remember Serkis and director Peter Jackson were pioneering a new kind of filmmaking technology on the set. While motion-capture acting is employed in a wide variety of films now, it was in its infancy before The Lord of the Rings was released in 2001. As a result, the actor had to get creative as he figured out how to fully inhabit Gollum and convey the character's unique physicality to the audience.

Ultimately, Serkis decided the best way to create Gollum's movements was to get used to walking on all fours, which he did even when the cameras weren't rolling. "I used to walk on all fours off set when we were filming Lord of the Rings," he said in an interview with The Guardian. "I spent a lot of time in preparation for that [as Gollum]; I would go off for walks on all fours for hours."

As you can imagine, seeing a grown man walking on all fours on the streets of New Zealand could be confusing for the locals, so the actor had to come up with a way to explain his unusual behavior. "I did occasionally come into contact with other people, so I just had to pretend I was looking for something," he revealed. "It's fair to say that's pretty method."

Andy Serkis almost missed out on playing Gollum entirely

These days, Serkis is known for his motion-capture acting roles, but before he decided to play Gollum one of his actor friends actually tried to talk him out of taking the role entirely. Their argument? It wasn't worth Serkis' time since his face wouldn't be seen in the movie.

"I remember I was in Prague working on an adaptation of Oliver Twist actually and I said to this other actor I was working with, 'I think I may be going down to New Zealand to do this digital character,'" Serkis told Josh Gad during a virtual Lord of the Rings reunion in May 2020. "He said, 'Well, is your face going to be on screen?' I said, 'No, it's not.' He said, 'Mate, I wouldn't touch it with a barge pole.'"

Luckily, Serkis forged ahead, and in the process, he helped pioneer a new kind of film performance — one that allowed him to embody characters like Gollum, King Kong, and Caesar from Rise of the Planet of the Apes. And while his process for bringing such a diverse range of characters to life involved some method acting, the end result was undeniably worth a bit of embarrassment along the way.