When Andy Serkis got to grips with Gollum, the slithery, cave-dwelling creature he plays in the latest installment of the trilogy The Lord of the Rings, he headed for the hills.
“Gollum is a very isolated character, so when I was in New Zealand I spent a lot of time in extreme surroundings,” Serkis said in London after returning from the filming of The Two Towers, the second in the Rings series.
“I went up in the hills and mountains trying to get into the head of a character who is terribly isolated and lonely,” he said.
Serkis, whose previous films include Topsy-Turvy and 24 Hour Party People, relied on his main hobby – rock-climbing – to get himself in shape for the part.
“Gollum is possessed by the ring, so it is a very physical role,” he said. “He is so depleted by the loss of the Ring, it has taken so much out of his body, that he literally crawls all the time.”
Serkis also likens Gollum to an addict – he spends much of the trilogy looking for a lost magic ring he possessed for hundreds of years and refers to simply as “my precious”.
“Gollum has an incredible lust, an urge and craving for the Ring like an addict in withdrawal, and is in a lot of pain from being away from it,” Serkis said.
The 38-year-old actor auditioned to provide only the voice-over for a computer-generated Gollum, but director Peter Jackson was so impressed by his physical presence that he decided to make Gollum semi-human.
The film’s producers used computer wizardry to transform Serkis into Gollum. His bone and muscle are seen rippling under translucent skin on screen as he pursues the film’s hero Frodo in his desperate search for the Ring.
“On the screen he looks like an animation, but most of Gollum’s features, movements and the expressions are mine,” Serkis said, speaking in a London bookshop.
“It’s been technically very challenging, and I have had to go through more costume processes than any of the other actors.
“I had to wear a skin-tight suit when filming so the animators could work with my movement, and I was also plastered with make-up.”
When Serkis’ piercing eyes light up, his chiselled features bear an uncanny resemblance to those of Gollum, one of the most celebrated characters from the J.R.R. Tolkien books on which the films are based.
“It was daunting at first because Gollum is one of the most well-known characters in the book and everyone has their own interpretation of what he is, what he looks like and how he sounds,” he said.
“So it was up to me to just trust my own instincts.”
Serkis said he is convinced The Two Towers, opening on December 18, one year after the release of The Fellowship of the Ring, will disprove the traditional Hollywood wisdom that audiences need a break of two to three years between a blockbuster and its follow-up.
“The Lord of the Rings is not made in sequels,” he said. “It is one giant epic told in three installments, and this is the second part of the journey in the book.
“The narrative structure of the story is very strong.”