All Hail the King: PLANET OF THE APES Returns to the Big Screen

Proximus Caesar (played by Kevin Durand) in 20th Century Studios' KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

In the 2010s, 20th Century Fox resuscitated one of film history’s most unique and iconic franchises, breathing new life into the mythos of Planet of the Apes. The new trilogy showed the downfall of mankind and the concurrent rise of the ape kingdom, as seen through mo-cap master Andy Serkis’ groundbreaking performance as Caesar, the lab animal-turned-revolutionary leader.

The trilogy wrapped in May of 2017, with War of the Planet of the Apes standing out as a critical, commercial, and word-of-mouth success. In a summer where “franchise fatigue” was used to explain disappointing entries in legacy franchises—including Pirates of the Caribbean, Transformers, and AlienWar delivered: Riding a wave of positive reviews and word of mouth, the Apes trilogy brought in a combined $532.1 million domestically and $1.13 billion internationally for a global cume of $1.67 billion.

Looking to add to that total is 20th Century Studios’ Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, helmed by The Maze Runner’s Wes Ball, taking over from Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) and Matt Reeves (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and War of the Planet of the Apes). Ball’s Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes reintroduces viewers to Earth’s new ruling class several generations on from the death of Caesar. Proximus Caesar, the tyrannical bonobo leader, has his iron rule challenged by the curiosity of young chimpanzee Noa, who goes on a journey and learns more about the history of his world than he ever could have imagined.

Stepping into the shoes—or the mo-cap suits—of the supremely talented likes of Serkis, Toby Kebbell, and Terry Notary of the earlier trilogy are Kevin Durand (“Locke & Key”) as Proximus Caesar and Owen Teague (It and It Chapter Two) as Noa. As the film was in postproduction, the pair spoke with Boxoffice Pro about their upcoming spectacle, which demands to be seen on the big screen.

This film takes place a good chunk of time after the earlier trilogy and thus brings in a whole new cast. What can you tell us about your characters?

Owen Teague: When the film is opening, Noa is basically about to become an adult. He’s about to go into the ceremony that initiates young chimpanzees into adulthood, and he’s under a lot of pressure because his dad is, essentially, the religious leader of his clan. Not religion in our sense, necessarily, but he is the master of birds. He’s the one who really deals with the eagles and the eagle clan, which is a pretty big deal. Noa and his dad have a rocky relationship. He’s unsure of himself. He’s extremely smart. He’s essentially an engineer in the form of a chimp. He’s always thinking, always coming up with devices and ideas. But he’s also still very much a kid. And then things happen, and he has to go on a journey and learn about this world that he’s never been exposed to, because [his home] is very much a protected society. He has to find out who he is.

Kevin Durand: This is always interesting for me to dance around, because I’ll try not to spend the whole interview going “I don’t know if I can say that.” I’m the self-proclaimed Caesar: Proximus Caesar. We’re talking several centuries since [Andy Serkis’] Caesar passed, and he’s become a martyr, a godlike figure to the apes. Proximus is, I think, to this point—not including the 1968 film—the most articulate, the most forward-thinking [of the franchise’s ape characters], which is very outside the realm and the scope of what animals are capable of. He can think about the future and plan for the future. He’s basically trying to ensure that apes will have a future that doesn’t require going back into cages.

I’m excited to see this one on the big screen, because in the earlier trilogy–especially the last two films–the scale is so epic, and from the trailer it looks like this one will be, too. The worldbuilding on the previous three was just incredible.

Durand: Yeah, I was blown away by them. It actually took me a while to realize that Andy Serkis was playing Caesar. With the first movie, I just could not piece it together in my head, like: “How did they get this chimpanzee to … are chimpanzees that responsive? Can they do all this stuff?” [Serkis] is phenomenal. He took us there along with him, the wizardry of it. By the end of the first one, by the time he actually spoke, I was like, “Okay, well, I know that’s [a human actor.]” [laughs] But I was so mesmerized. I was so transported. When my wife and I heard that they wanted me to read for Proximus, it’s probably the most excited I’ve been in I don’t even know how long. You put in a lot of work and try to make that audition tape sing as loudly and clearly as possible. Luckily, they chose me, because this really has been the best experience.

The motion capture technology on the earlier films was amazing. What is it like performing these scenes when so much of your character is computer-generated later on? How much do you get to see, and when?

Teague: I’ve actually seen a lot. I’ve been back and forth to L.A., and I’ll just hang out with Wes and [producer Joe Hartwick Jr.] and watch stuff. When you’re actually making [the film]—I was lucky, because they had pretty much figured out [what Noa would look like] when they cast me. One of the first conversations Wes and I had was over Zoom, and he showed me a little bust of Noa, and it looked like me, which was the weirdest thing. So I kind of knew what Noa was going to look like from the beginning. I didn’t know what every scene was going to look like, but we have so much concept art, and Wes is so good at visualizing things for you. He’s a very visual director, which is crucial for a movie like this. So I had it kind of easy. But a lot of the other actors had no idea what their characters were going to look like. It was very weird. When you’re moving around like a chimpanzee with a bunch of people, you just get used to it.

Durand: Honestly the first time and every time since I’ve seen stuff—because I’ve gone in to do ADR, we’ve gone back to New Zealand to add scenes and reshoot certain angles. What I love about this process is that even though the script sang like crazy and was such a beautiful script—I really was like, “How the heck are they going to take off from where the last one left off?,” and as soon as you start reading it, you’re just like, “Oh my god, this is where we’re going. This is so exciting.” But [regarding] the world in itself, sitting there and watching [in-progress footage] while I’m doing ADR is so inspiring. When I saw Proximus—I kid you not, tears started to run down my face. I’ve been acting for a living since I was 17, and I just turned 50. I’ve been at it for a long time. This part just clicks in the way that I had always dreamed and hoped [for]. To see work at this level, getting to work with the top people in all these different aspects of the industry—what WETA does is completely insane. I had an hour or two hour conversation with [visual effects supervisor] Erik Winquist, and he was asking me very specific details, idiosyncratic stuff about why I did certain things. He wanted to get inside my mind before they started to paint on top of [the mo-cap performances]. They nailed it. I’m so excited for everyone to see.

Owen, you grew up in Tampa, Florida. What was your hometown movie theater when you were a kid?

Teague: We had a movie theater that has since closed. I don’t know what actual chain it was part of. But it was in a part of town called Ybor City, which is still there. It’s the historic Cuban district of Tampa. It’s been there since the 1920s, and it’s a beautiful part of town. They still hand-roll cigars there and everything. It’s neat. And there was a movie theater there that was kind of old school, and that’s where I would go to see movies. It’s a shame that it closed. One of my earliest memories of going to the movies was seeing [Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake of] King Kong at that theater—the [one where] Andy Serkis [played] Kong. I was so blown away by it.

Later on, I remember going to see The Day the Earth Stood Still, in Imax, with Keanu Reeves like 70 feet high. That was intense. I was a Lord of the Rings kid, but I missed them in theaters, and the closest I’ve ever come is my projector at home. Which is okay, but …

I have very fond memories of waiting for the midnight premieres of those movies to start. Nowadays you have Thursday preview screenings, which isn’t the same.

Teague: Yeah, you really don’t have that energy. This is a weird anecdote, but I just moved into a little apartment [in New York City], and I was couch shopping yesterday. The guy who was showing me around was like, “I love movies. I go to the movies twice a week, at least.” I was like, “Wow. So people like this do still exist!” And it gave me hope and made me very happy. I’ve met like a few people like that just within this week. I don’t know if it’s something about my neighborhood or what, but …

We have some amazing theaters in New York. I’m sure Lord of the Rings will pop back up eventually.

Teague: I was working in Virginia over the summer, and there was an old movie theater there that was screening Lord of the Rings, and I missed it because I was working all three days. The nice thing about Kingdom is that I can go to see it multiple times, and nobody will care about it because they won’t recognize me!

Proximus Caesar (played by Kevin Durand) in 20th Century Studios' KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

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