The New York Times

Time to Give Andy Serkis His Due: The Man Behind Apes' Caesar Rules

The third installment of the rebooted series resumes the fight to get Caesar star Andy Serkis some awards consideration.

Friday's arrival of "War for the Planet of the Apes" not only kicks off a battle for the box office – it marks the latest round in a fight for respect.

The first two installments in the latest reboot of the classic movie series climbed to impressive heights on the back on Caesar, the conflicted simian leader struggling against humankind.

But Andy Serkis, the British actor behind the performance-capture-spun character, finds himself as misunderstood as his cinematic alter ego – at least when it comes to the Hollywood awards battlefield.

Actors who make magic in front of green screens largely have been shut out of the Oscars gold rush, suggesting that clueless, self-destructive humans aren't limited to the ones depicted in the "Apes" movies. The latest film offers a chance to prove the third time is a charm, as Serkis vies for another shot at awards glory he's long deserved.

It’s far past the third go-round for Serkis, whose breakout performance as Gollum grabbed and shook audiences in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, beginning in 2001.

His turn as the ring-obsessed demon showed not only advances in CGI technology, but spotlighted the game-changing interplay of great acting and digital effects. Serkis' rubber face and haunting voice combined to create the series' most memorable (if not most precioussss) character.

His tormented Gollum clawed a path for compelling hybrid roles, from the Na’vi of "Avatar" to Maz Kanata in “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.” Credit Serkis’ work with helping Brad Pitt notch a Best Actor Academy Award nomination for playing the age-morphing title figure in 2008's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."

Serkis’ Caesar leads an evolving continuum that includes the costumed droids and wookies of the original "Star Wars" 40 years ago, as well as Roddy McDowall and Co. in the initial "Apes" movies nearly a half-century ago. Longer movie roots stretch to acting and make-up magician Lon Chaney, the pioneering “Man of a Thousand Faces” of silent film days.

Serkis, who has spoken in defense of his art over the years, isn't ready to give up his quest for proper acknowledgment of performance-capture-aided acting. He recently told The New York Times that "the awarding bodies should not discriminate about this being different."

Movies thrive on illusion, however it’s wrought. Just because you can't reach out and touch Caesar doesn't mean he's not there. He’s the undisputed star of the reimagined “Apes” series.

That's an incredible accomplishment, one that’s earned Andy Serkis the right to compete for Hollywood awards recognition with the rest of the humans.

Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

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