Steve Zahn is 'Bad Ape'
With War for the Planet of the Apes up for release, CE gets candid with the latest addition to the franchise, Steve Zahn
Steve Zahn, famous for his roles in films like Dallas Buyers Club and Captain Fantastic, can’t contain his excitement about being part of War for the Planet of the Apes. Excerpts from a conversation with him:
First up, tell us about the character you play.
He’s a new ape, a chimp that escapes from a zoo. All the other apes remain unaware of any others that survived. So, it’s somewhat of a coup that they find this guy. He’s a survivor, a prepper out in the woods with his cache, surviving on his own. And obviously, he’s thrilled to see other apes. He’s a big part of Caesar’s journey.
Is this your first time doing performance capture?
Yes! And it’s fascinating; it really is. I came into it blind, and until you do it, you really don’t understand fully just what goes into it. I decided I’d work in the same way that I have and think the same way that I’ve always thought when playing other characters. The technical aspect is somewhat on the periphery. There are more people on the sets because of the performance capture but these are people so brilliant that once you get plugged in, you really forget about them. You’re given the helmet, and we’re this strange, other kind of humanoid. And once you work on the physical aspects of an ape, you forget about it and you’re playing a character who just happens to be an ape. It’s all very theatrical.
You’ve done your share of work in theatre, aren’t you?
My baptism in to the business was at the American Repertory theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which is an amazing repertory company. At the time, it was all East European directors like Andre Serban, who was my mentor. His theatre was extravagant with huge production values and live music, and this reminds me of that a lot.
After learning you’d be playing an ape, what did you do, in terms of preparation?
I expected nothing! I was really nervous, to be honest with you. I was concerned; it’s a daunting thing to come in to. It’s hard enough to come into a franchise that’s already established, let alone play an ape. So it was useful to just watch Andy (Serkis) and Terry (Notary). I was paired up with Terry early on, and he was a remarkable teacher. He can feel you out and see where you are physically and how you work in a split second, and then get it out of you. I don’t think of them as anything other than great actors. Andy is just a fellow actor, who is great, you know? And he’s inspiring and has tons of ideas too.
You sound quite thrilled.
I am! I haven’t been this excited about something in a long time, and it’s been fun to go to work. The size of it is crazy; it’s amazing. It would have been easy for the production studio to go, “Hey, why don’t we just do that in that volume considering it’s all green screen?” But I’m glad they understand that you get a completely different performance when there are huge blocks of ice and snow and real fire, as opposed to when there’s just green screen.
In terms of scope, what does this third film promise?
Its scope is bigger… again. It’s a continuation of this incredible journey all the characters have been in on. It’s the last stand of the humans, and again, it’s about a simple right and wrong. I guess I could say it’s humane, but not necessarily human. There’s morally right and wrong, and that is a battle that any intelligent human is grappling with. It’s all a bit Shakespearean really.