kingdom of the planet of the apes Kevin Durand Owen Teague interview

Owen Teague and Kevin Durand talk about their ape roles in Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

“It’s 100% more liberated than I’ve ever felt as an actor.”

Over 50 years after the original Planet of the Apes film graced our screens, the franchise is going strong. The latest film, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, follows the critically acclaimed trilogy that began in 2011. It’s set generations into Caesar’s reign, and the film opens with the iconic leader’s funeral. Apes have asserted dominance over the earth and live peaceably across many colonies. But soon, a young ape, Noa (Owen Teague, best known as Patrick from the It franchise), will make a discovery that will change his perception of his perfect world, and lead him towards a journey with a human named Nova (Freya Allen). 

The film features a whole new cast, including Canada’s own Kevin Durand, who steps into the role of the new Ape leader, Promixus Caesar. The actor is known for his villainous turns in films, bringing a venomous edge to the film. His firm, grave voice evokes a strong but untrustworthy leader. 

Since 2011, the VFX-heavy franchise has pushed boundaries for actors. Despite its leads playing computer-generated apes, the actors embrace a full-bodied performance. They wear grey suits equipped with sensors to capture their performances. Filmmakers worked with New Zealand-based company Wētā FX, considered among the world’s most groundbreaking digital visual effects studios. In an era where even major franchises seem to show a drop-in-quality of effects, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes pushes verisimilitude to new heights.  

Owen Teague and Kevin Durand sat down with Cult MTL via Zoom to discuss their work in Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.

Justine Smith: As actors, is it challenging to get into character wearing these strange grey suits and sensors? Is there a steep learning curve?

Owen Teague: There isn’t a challenge getting into character; it’s almost easier. It’s intuitive by the time you go to the camera. It affords you a great deal of freedom because you can really disappear and not think about yourself. There is a learning curve to working with the technology, but it’s short. After two days, you forget you’re wearing it and it just becomes normal.

Kevin Durand: It really doesn’t, but thanks for noticing how skin-tight the suits were. We look so good, especially after a big lunch.

Owen Teague: Oh God, you really see every bit of bloating.

Justine Smith: Building on that, I wonder then, was it as liberating to play a non-human character? A way to explore physicality that you normally can’t tap into?

Kevin Durand: It’s 100% more liberated than I’ve ever felt as an actor. You get to use your instrument completely in new ways. Humans have all these constrictions and these restraints. As humans, we spend our days fighting our instincts. 

Owen Teague: We’re so out of touch with our natural state and bodies. You are suddenly told you can just be, it’s really kind of nice. 

Justine Smith: How do you tap into that?

Owen Teague: Well, I watched a lot of documentaries. Before I went to Australia, I spent a week with chimpanzees at a sanctuary in Florida. A lot of it for us was that we gave each other a licence to go there. It removed some of the self-consciousness and silliness that would have otherwise been there. We all bought in with each other 100%.

Kevin Durand: That trust amongst each other, that trust in Wes, in Wētā and everyone in the crew. Everyone bought in. Everyone was putting everything they had into the film. When we see it, it’s just such a glorious rush of pride because I just think of everyone that we made this with. Everyone’s contribution is so important to what’s on screen.

Justine Smith: What kind of energy does director Wes Ball bring to the set?

Owen Teague: He’s like a little kid in the way he’s infectiously passionate and truly visionary. I remember the first time we saw the movie, we were both like, “This is the movie that Wes set out to make.” This is what he pitched us. He knew from the very beginning what he was doing. That gives you a lot of confidence.  When you have that kind of helmer, someone who is so on top of it but also so passionate and leads with so much empathy, it’s impossible not to follow him.

Kevin Durand: It’s a beautiful thing. He’s like a fearless leader. For someone with such a detailed idea in his mind, he’s incredibly open to collaboration. We all have this same story, where we put in the audition and he took us through this incredible art. He really told us what the movie was and he made that movie exactly as he set out to. We were lucky we got to ride along.

Justine Smith: After over 50 years of Planet of the Apes films, do either of you have a special relationship with the franchise?

Kevin Durand: We both go pretty far back with it. It was the movie where my mother explained to me that those apes that I was terrified of, that were talking on TV, were actually humans, and they were called actors. I remember thinking how amazing that was. I feel like it was the first time my brain went, “People do this as a job? They do that? How does that happen?” I’d be aping in the forest behind where I lived in Thunder Bay. It was amazing that people could do that for a living. So, to be getting to do this years later, talking to you about it is quite surreal.

Owen Teague: One of the big reasons that I’m an actor is because I saw Andy Serkis play King Kong when I was six years old. I had the same thing where my mom explained to me that’s a man in a performance-capture suit, that it’s his performance. I was like, “Oh my God, I can do that.” 

Kevin Durand: Like Christoph Waltz, “That’s a bingo!”

Owen Teague: Exactly. We had similar experiences in that we both saw Planet of the Apes as little kids, and it scared me, too. I guess that’s the response of children watching Planet of the Apes. Then I saw the trilogy in theatres, and it was so good.

Kevin Durand: I’d love to see all the movies in succession on a giant IMAX. It would be amazing to watch the progression. It would take about two days. ■

The Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (directed by Wes Ball)

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is now playing in Montreal theatres.

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