It just takes one person to change the world forever, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Whether it be Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon, Steve Job doing iPhone, or Osama bin Laden innovating the terror industry with his groundbreaking 9/11 attacks, there is no shortage of influential, depraved men who have altered the course of history with a single powerful and perverse act.
As I continue my completely scholarly study of our CGI-ified, franchise-obsessed media landscape, I’ve been thinking about a particularly wet and depraved man of history who doesn’t get nearly enough credit: Andy Serkis, the founding father of the motion capture craze.
Let’s go back in time to 1999. Mr. Bin Laden had yet to transform the business of terror, and a New Zealand man named Peter Jackson was getting ready to make a little indie flick known as The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
When Jackson was first casting Gollum—he explains in a video I happened to find on YouTube—he thought he was just looking for a voice actor. But Andy Serkis’s audition was so good, it changed the role of maniacal little cyber-weirdos in movies forever. “He was almost cast from the second that we met him,” says Jackson. “What was interesting is that in order to create the [Gollum] voice, he was having to distort himself and put all this expression in his face… It was in that audition that I came to realize that…the voice and the facial expressions are related. You can’t separate the two.”
Jackson decided he needed Serkis on set to perform as the character. While filming the movie, Serkis donned a skin-tight white suit, gave his wettest, most deranged performance as Gollum, and became the first animated motion capture movie character people actually liked. (Jar Jar Binks, from the Star Wars prequels, came before that—and was so widely hated by audiences that it made the actor who portrayed him, Ahmed Best, consider suicide.)
“That suit took a beating,” Elijah Wood says. “They made it all and it was kind of clean and pristine. And Andy, his approach was so intense and he gave absolutely everything every day and physically bashed himself about, so the suit was just screwed.”
Andy Serkis brags about how a shot of his spit made it into the first LOTR movie.
One man making a choice in a dirty white suit, writhing and spitting around, changed cinematic history. Serkis’s performance as Gollum drew such wide acclaim that many big budget pictures began to embrace motion capture, and the technology began to rapidly improve. Serkis also became Hollywood’s go-to motion capture guy, starring as King Kong in Jackson’s 2005 remake. Getting cast as King Kong was “an epiphany,” Serkis told the Guardian in 2017. “It was like: you can now play anything.” And "anything” Serkis has played—not only has he become a big gorilla, he also plays Caesar, a highly intelligent chimpanzee, in the surprisingly good Planet of the Apes reboot. He was Captain Haddock in Spielberg’s 2011 motion-capture Tintin movie, and he recently directed his first mo-cap movie for Netflix.
Thanks to Serkis, motion capture is now so commonplace it barely evens registers. Avatar, Alita: Battle Angel, and many a Marvel movie all involve actors wearing colorful body tights and dots on their faces in order to be animated over in post-production.
Andy Serkis performs as Caesar in The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
After watching Andy Serkis video upon Andy Serkis video, the YouTube algorithm offered up another portrait of a wet, desperate man who changed history—a 60 Minutes interview with Mark Zuckerberg from 2008. This is pre-tech overlord Zucc, a positively babyish 23 years old, meaning he was just as awkward as he is now, but somehow even greasier.
A warm sense of nostalgia washes over you when Lesley Stahl expresses concerns about Facebook wasting people's time, a small throwback to the good old days before the website was connected to bigger problems, like literal genocide.
“Are you changing the way candidates are running for president?” Stahl asks Zuck, dripping and wooden. Stahl explains in the VO that more Republicans than Democrats are utilizing Facebook, although some guy named Barack Obama (not yet the Democratic nominee) was very popular on there.
“Well I think, because politicians can communicate with tens of thousands of people at the same time, it’s pretty effective for them for campaigning,” Zuck responds without really answering the question.
Mark Zuckerberg teaches Lesley Stahl how to block her then-boss, the now-disgraced Les Moonves, on Facebook.
“People signed up for Facebook thinking it was just a way to keep in touch with their friends, and now some of them feel that there’s some snooping going on,” Stahl asks Zuck about Facebook’s failed Beacon program, which monitored users’ web activity and automatically opted them into publishing some of their online purchases on their timeline. “Is there any concern you’re turning Facebook into something much more commercial?”
“I actually think this makes it less commercial. I mean, what would you rather see? A banner ad from Bloomingdale’s or that one of your friends bought a scarf?”
The depravity of believing most people would choose the latter option of that not-so-hypothetical scenario! (I can accept a banner ad as part of life. It’s much harder to accept a company using my purchase to create ad revenue, and also collecting my data without my permission.)
Now, maintaining privacy on the internet feels impossible—how many apps do you let read all your web activity in exchange for their services? (I let too many! Hi apps, I bet you fuckers are reading this now.) Zuck is wet and depraved in a way I simply cannot get down with, and I fear his impact on our cyberworld is irreversibly fucked. But there is beauty in depravity, and at the very least, we live in an Andy Serkis-ized world, where Mr. Disney-Sony-Warner-Brother made a law saying every movie that has a $100 million+ budget has to have at least three mo-cap characters. That’s the small upside to living in the time before the fall.
All I can hope is that Zuck is merely an illusion—a wicked social experiment—and it will soon be revealed that he’s actually just Andy Serkis in a filthy white suit, doing his most powerful motion capture performance to date.
That’s all for this edition of Evemail. Tell your friends to subscribe. Forward this to your grandmommy and daddy. Print it out and put it in the trash for all I care.
Thanks for reading!