Exclusive Interview : Andy Serkis

Clint Morris talks to the “Flushed Away” star


He’s played an Ape that gives the Empire State a man-hug, an emaciated New Zealand creature that’s obsessed with his ‘ring’, and a Michael Jackson-dancing magazine editor to Jennifer Garner’s penner, yet despite how dissimilar Andy Serkis may be to the characters he’s played, he’s still been able to say he shares at least some things in common with them – A minute link with “Kong”, one assumes – at least until now. Serkis’s latest role is as a rat whose “mum does his ironing for him”, and that’s the one the actor can safely say he hasn’t got much in common with. “Because we don’t even do our ironing”, he laughs. “We aren’t big on that”.

Serkis, best known for giving life to the mischevious ‘Gollum’ in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, is again lending anything but his face – which he doesn’t get to use too often in movies of late – to the role of in Dreamworks’ new family hit, “Flushed Away”.

The film tells of Roddy, a decidedly upper-crust “society mouse” who lives the life of a beloved pet in a posh Kensington flat. When a sewer rat named Sid comes spewing out of the sink and decides he’s hit the jackpot, Roddy schemes to rid himself of the pest by luring him into the “whirlpool.” Sid may be an ignorant slob, but he’s no fool, so it is Roddy who winds up being flushed away into the bustling sewer world of Ratropoulis. There Roddy meets Rita, an enterprising scavenger who works the sewers in her faithful boat, the Jammy Dodger. Roddy immediately wants out, or rather, up; Rita wants to be paid for her trouble; and, speaking of trouble, the villainous Toad–who royally despises all rodents equally, making no distinction between mice and rats–wants them iced … literally.

“Bill Murray and I play these two toads, Spike and Whitey, who are sent by the Toad to go after our heroes”, says Serkis. “Spike is a guy who thinks he’s this hardened criminal, but of course his mum still does his washing for him, and things like that, so he’s clearly not”.

After his bravura voice/CGI-movement role in the “Lord of the Rings” series, Serkis was inundated with offers from studios wanting him to be their next ‘man in the shadows’ – or in this case, voice without a face. “It’s interesting”, explains Serkis, who also appeared in “King Kong” and “13 Going on 30”. “This is actually my first voice over role in an animated film; the way people talk you’d think I’d done a lot of them.”

Granted, that’s probably only because American audiences know Serkis better for his role in “Rings” and “Kong” – two films that we didn’t actually see his face in, well, we did, but only briefly – and aren’t familiar with seeing him in the flesh.

In his native England, where he lives with his wife and two children, Serkis has been a stappe of British cinema since the early 90s, when he made his film debut in 1994’s “Royal Deceit”. Since then, he’s appeared in such films as “Stella Does Tricks” (1996), Topsy-Turvy (1999), “Shiner” (2000), “The Escapist” (2001) and “24-Hour Party People” (2002).

Now, thanks to Peter Jackson’s money-spinning “Rings” and “Kong” films – in which he was the model for lead characters – Serkis has found himself the taste of Hollywood. His first big Hollywood foray was starring opposite Jennifer Garner in the bubbly romantic comedy “13 going on 30”.

“That was a lot of fun”, says Serkis of the 2004 comedy. “I’d just done Kong, which was pretty heavy going, so it was nice to go out there and just do something fun”.

There may be more offers on the table these days, but Serkis says he still hasn’t changed how he makes his decision in whether or not to do a film or not. “It’s all script dependent”, he says. “It really depends what it is. Flushed Away, for instance, was all the script. It was just a generally surprisingly pleasant film. It just seemed like a wonderful thing.

“The only problem with doing a film like this is that you don’t have time to build up a character – because you’ve got nothing to go by. There’s no reference – you can’t see how it looks. And also, you’d record your scenes, go away and do something else, and then come back and do some more later – all over like a two and a half year period”, explains Serkis, noting that he shares many of his scenes with Kate Winslet, Bill Murray and “some Aussie guy” (that’s, of course, a joke referring to Hugh Jackman – who voices the lead role).

And having just seen the finished product a day before this interview, Serkis is still in awe of the result. “It looks amazing”, he gushes. “Even the environment, all the detail and so on, looks amazing. I’m totally in awe”.

As for whether or not a certain “Lord of the Rings” prequel is in his future – “The Hobbit”, has been entangled in legal woes for years – Serkis says it’s anyone’s guess, noting that “There’s rumours all the time, and I think Peter Jackson would love to do it, and I’m sure he will one day – but there’s some rights issues at the moment”.

- CLINT MORRIS