The role of Gollum in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings really pushed the boundaries of motion capture and spawned a whole subindustry in cinema. The centerpiece of this new wave was Andy Serkis, whose portrayal of Smeagol and many other subsequent revolutionary roles have immortalized his name.
When Jackson, Philippa Boyens, and Fran Walsh were developing their adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s world, mocap was a fairly new technology that, at its best, didn’t do much to suspend the disbelief of moviegoers. That is, of course, until Andy Serkis came along and took our breaths away with his other-worldly performance as Gollum. And to give credit where credit’s due, the VFX team also made sure that the render looked as photorealistic as the technology at the time allowed. In the years following that, Serkis dedicated his attention to expanding the use of motion capture in movies, landing him roles in films such as Jackson’s own King Kong, the Planet of the Apes series, and the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy.
Apparently, though, Serkis almost turned down The Lord of the Rings because of one of his co-stars. As he recalled from when his agent offered him the role:
“I remember I was in Prague working on an adaptation of Oliver Twist actually and I said to this other actor I was working with, ‘I think I may be going down to New Zealand to do this digital character.’ He said, ‘Well, is your face going to be on screen?’ I said, ‘No, it’s not.’ He said, ‘Mate, I wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole.’”
Serkis revealed this as part of Josh Gad’s Reunited Apart special featuring the cast and crew of The Lord of the Rings. He also explained how even Jackson wasn’t sure about how to pitch the role, saying:
“Pete [Jackson] did say, ‘I’m not exactly sure how this is going to happen, but we’re trying out this new methodology called motion capture. You know, we want someone to be on set, to be Gollum, but not you know, no actor could be actually how we envision him,” Serkis said.
The director, who was also present during the Zoom call, confirmed this by noting that during those years, they had a difficult time imagining what this technology could look like or what opportunities it could present. Thank goodness that Serkis decided to ignore his co-star’s advice and take up the offer, though. Or else we’d have to live in a world where many of his iconic parts didn’t exist.