Andy Serkis is no stranger to creatures. The British actor has been globally acclaimed for his pioneering use of motion capture and CGI as Gollum in The Lord Of The Rings and as Caesar in the Planet Of The Apes films, as well as playing Snoke in Star Wars. But the next creatures he’s tackling are as a director, not an actor, and they carry with them the weight of expectation.
He steps into the director’s chair for the Marvel film Venom: Let There Be Carnage, a sequel to the 2018 blockbuster helmed by Ruben Fleischer.
Serkis, whose previous directing credits include the Jungle Book re-telling Mowgli: Legend Of The Jungle, didn’t have his eye on directing a superhero blockbuster until he got a call from the film’s star, Tom Hardy.
“I was working on something else, I was developing something to shoot, and out of the blue came this call from Tom, and he just said, ‘Andy, I want to throw your hat in the ring to direct Venom’,” he recalls.
“I was like, ‘OK!’ It wasn’t something that I was seeking out originally, but then we started to talk, and obviously I loved his performance in the original one, so very rapidly it became something, and I’m so glad he did because we had a ball making it.
“I’ve always wanted to work with Tom, and we’d talked around other projects, as director and actor and also acting together, so it was really wonderful to finally get to work together.”
The film sees Hardy reprise his role as journalist Eddie Brock, who is still living with the symbiote Venom inside him.
After Brock attempts to reignite his career by interviewing the serial killer Cletus Kasady (played by Woody Harrelson), the convicted killer becomes the host of the symbiote Carnage and Eddie and Venom must race to stop him on his deadly mission.
“I’ve never done anything like that before,” Serkis admits, “so it was a challenge at first but, the way it was written and the way the story was crafted, and where it sat in terms of the evolution of the relationship with Eddie and Venom, and also the introduction of such a main new character Carnage, allowed for a lot of exploration as if it were almost a film in its own right.
“I was standing on the shoulders of Ruben Fleischer’s great first movie and Tom’s performance particularly, and so there was wonderful material to work with.
“But what was exciting about this were two things really — where the relationship sits — you saw the meeting of the symbiote and its host, and now we get to enjoy the development of that, now we get to see the odd couple relationship, the seven-year-itch, the playfulness between them now they have spent time with each other, so that was really exciting.
“And then there was the design and finding the colour and palette and the tone of this movie, which is much more humorous in a way, but it’s also a lot darker in terms of the villain and the brilliant performance Woody gives as Cletus and Carnage.”
In fact it was Harrelson’s nerve-shredding performance that gave Serkis a real pinch-me moment on set.
“I was looking at Woody thinking, ‘I remember watching you playing Larry Flynt’ and thinking one day I’d like to do something like that, I’d like to be involved in cinema.
“Then suddenly you find yourself, 30 years later, working with someone you’ve admired all this time. So I always have to pinch myself and think how lucky I am doing the job that I do.”
For 57-year-old Serkis, time in the director’s chair means time away from acting, which has been long been his first love, and he’s adamant he is not planning on retiring from his career on screen any time soon.
“I’m really enjoying directing, I love it and it sort of satisfies all the variants I’ve gone off in during my career to explore,” he said.
“And even before I became an actor I was very much into painting and graphics and visual storytelling, so it really suits me, and I know I’m not going to stop acting.
“I love acting, and I will continue, and I’m doing more acting. But with this journey, the great thing is you can go from one to the other and I do love helming the whole thing and having the experiences of working with the entire crew and post production and visual effects and music and so on.
“But equally, I really enjoy just shutting all of that out and getting inside the head of a character and playing.”
It was particularly thrilling for Serkis to dive into the world of a Marvel film because he had grown up with Spider-Man comics as a child, although he had drifted away from them in later life.
“It was lovely to be able to dive back into that world,” he enthuses.
“The world of graphic storytelling is something I’ve been interested in and obviously creating characters of these kinds, working with technology which allows you to bring [them] to life, meant I felt very at home.”
And as a fan, that must surely means he wants what scores of Marvel fans want — the chance to see Venom and Spider-Man together on the big screen?
“Well, I think everyone wants that,” he says with a grin. “I mean, who knows what will happen? We hope that one day they might come across each other, I guess…”
Venom: Let There Be Carnage is released in cinemas on October 15th.