I recently got the chance to talk to Karin Konoval about her role as ‘Maurice’ in ‘Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes’. Here, Karin talks about what it was like working with performance capture rigging, how she got into acting in the first place and which three historical guests she would invite to dinner…
Hey Karin. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me. ‘Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes’ is currently in UK cinemas and has also been released worldwide. The film is a origin story set in San Fransisco, where man’s own experiments with genetic engineering lead to the development of intelligence in apes and the onset of a war for supremacy.
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the movie…
Maurice is a former circus orangutan who lives in the San Bruno sanctuary. What’s Maurice like? Well, he’s a solitary soul. He watches. He sees everything going on around him and considers deeply. He acts or communicates when he has something important to do or say. He doesn’t waste energy. My journey to finding/creating him as an actor was one of the most astonishing, challenging and rewarding roles I’ve ever had. Maurice is a very big, old, heavy, MALE orangutan – finding his physicality, his weight and slowness, strength and agility – quite the undertaking! Just as importantly – and I felt a huge responsibility to this from the moment I committed myself to “becoming” Maurice – I had to find the integrity of his spirit as an orangutan, his inner life. I began by reading or watching anything I could find about orangutans, then spent time with two old male orangutans in particular, Bruno at the Los Angeles Zoo and Towan at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. What Bruno and Towan gave me (and it did feel like a gift) became the core of my portrayal of Maurice.
As an ‘ape’ member of the cast, was it purely a motion capture, CGI job – or was it something else? Can you tell us a little bit more about how this area of the film and your character were developed during the production process?
I can only speak to what my own role as an actor was in this process. Performance capture is as it sounds – the capture of my performance as Maurice. My physicality, facial expressions, thoughts, choices – I became Maurice the Orangutan. It involved wearing the full performance capture rigging, which took some getting used to as I was a “virgin” to the process. I’d played roles in prosthetic before, but this was a whole new ball game. And physically, as I said in answer to your previous question, it was quite the undertaking! Weeks of practise learning to walk and run on arm stilts – in the studio and on my own, around my home, even out into the park at dawn when there would be few onlookers, anywhere and any time I could find. Teaching myself to eat like an old male orangutan, sit like an old male orangutan, climb, nest, think, look, breathe. I did things physically while playing Maurice that I never would have believed it possible for me to do. I’m a reasonably fit and athletic actor, but being Maurice took me to places I couldn’t have imagined. There’s a certain magic that becomes available when you fully inhabit a role, and I’m grateful that I was able to tap into that.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
I got a call from my agent one day asking me to attend an audition for a chimpanzee. I thought she was joking. I’ve played some pretty “out there” roles on-screen and stage, but a chimpanzee? I did the audition and got a callback, and then was called back again for an orangutan. Somewhere between the first and second call backs it went from seeming like a bizarre acting opportunity to something I felt I absolutely must do. I would say I got involved in the project because Rupert saw something in me that I didn’t even see in myself, gave me the chance to explore it, and guided me throughout. I’m incredibly grateful to him for this.
Obviously, taking into account the previous franchise – which is your favorite ‘Planet Of The Apes’ movie?
I confess, I’ve only seen the first one. But I loved it!
The film stars the likes of Andy Serkis, James Franco, John Lithgow and Brian Cox – what was it like working with the cast and crew on-set?
It was a stellar experience. Working with our director Rupert Wyatt was as good as it gets. His guidance was always specific, intuitive and true – and his unflagging patience and kindness – it was a joy working with him. Working with Andy Serkis was also a joy and as good as it gets. His brilliance, generosity, grace, tirelessness – he inspired me at every moment, and was incredibly generous with his support. I also really appreciated Terry Notary’s support, and enjoyed sharing the journey with the other ape actors and the whole Weta crew. I have a special affection for Richard Ridings, who plays Buck the Gorilla, he’s a wonderful man. As Maurice, I didn’t have any scenes with James Franco, but we did work together later on when I played a brief “human” role in the film, and I enjoyed working with him too.
Let’s talk a bit about you, Karin. What made you want to get into acting in the first place?
I was originally trained as a dancer, then while I was at university taking a degree in theatre history I found my way into acting. I’ve always felt though that it was more like acting found me – not like something I chose to do, more like something I HAD to do. It still surprises me in a way – I was terribly shy growing up, and that’s still a part of me. But in becoming a character (like Maurice) and being part of a company of people telling a good story – somehow that brings me “home.”
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into the industry?
Well….all I can say is, see my answer to the previous question! The route will be different for every person who aspires to be an actor and I wouldn’t presume to advise on that, but I do feel that if it’s going to be rewarding in a life-long, career way, it’s connected to a very deep place inside you. It’s not about fame and fortune. It’s about…having to do it. So you do.
You’ve had a huge career spanning at least twenty years – who has been your favorite actor to work with so far and what has been your favorite TV series to guest on?
I’ve been blessed to work with many, many fine people in film, TV and onstage throughout my career. I couldn’t single one out – but, I could certainly say that working with Andy Serkis is right up there at the top of my list! In terms of memorable film or TV experiences, I particularly enjoyed the filming of the Canadian feature ‘Cable Beach’, in which I played the lead role of Mary Leonard. That was a joy. I’ve also loved working with Glen Morgan – he wrote the infamous ‘X-Files’ episode “Home” in which I played the woman who lived under the bed, then years later cast me in a film and it was just a delight to do that with him. Last year I played the recurring role of “Nurse” on ‘Tower Prep’, a series he was involved with. That was great fun too. The mini-series ‘Tin Man’, in which I played the “Wicked Witch” was also a memorable experience, especially working with Bill Teresakis, the brilliant special effects artist who designed the prosthetics that I wore in the role. Working in full suit prosthetic is unbelievably challenging, but I loved working with Bill. There are so many fine people I’ve had the chance to work with, I could go on and on…
If you could have dinner with three historical guests, living or dead – who would they be and why?
That’s a fun question. Well – off the top of my head – one would have to be the dancer choreographer Twyla Tharp. I’ve been inspired by her work since I was a child. Another would be the author Morley Callaghan. A third? Well – I would be pretty thrilled to be invited for dinner at the White House with President Obama…
What’s coming up for you in 2011?
Hopefully some very interesting roles on-screen! I’ve also become fascinated with the process of performance capture and would love to do more of this work – I relish the opportunity and challenge it offers to create character. Having played Maurice, I would love to take on the challenge of another performance capture role. I have a stage project in process at the moment that I am writing/creating, and a series of paintings celebrating life in the business called ‘auditions 2day!’ that is beginning to find an audience and will keep growing.
Thanks for the interview!