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Rise of the Mo-Cap Actors: Andy Serkis’ Oscar Campaign Begins!

Apes with awards

In 2010, after 82 consecutive years of unrecognition, a woman, Kathryn Bigelow, finally won the Oscar for Best Director. Now attention must be paid to another, similarly maligned segment of the entertainment industry. Grinders all, men and women who have toiled in the shadows of their better paid, more famous peers for literally fours of years, doing yeoman’s work for the love of the craft, despite being underappreciated, disrespected and, occasionally, covered in ping-pong balls. We’re talking about the stuntmen, dancers, extras and people with bad teeth who everyday don form-fitting lycra without complaint to bring quasi-life to the motion-captured, CGI creatures that populate modern blockbusters. The flesh and blood behind the fake flesh and blood of uncanny, otherworldly entities like Paul, the entire cast of Green Lantern, and the artist formerly known as Nicole Kidman’s forehead.

Finally, we’re pleased to report, these undersung heroes have a champion: Andy Serkis. The 47-year-old Londoner has made a spectacular career out of crawling around in front of a green screen: He’s the man responsible for Gollum’s annoying squeak and King Kong’s mighty, if box-office underperforming, roar. And now, thanks to a lead “performance” in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Serkis — and his studio — have decided it’s time to give the man his due and get him what he wants most. No not a banana, or a proper role. An Oscar.

Indeed, all of the stars have aligned for this, the first full-fledged Oscar-campaign mounted for a completely digital performance. (Kim Basinger in L.A. Confidential doesn’t count.) Apes hinges entirely on Serkis’s reportedly virtuoso turn as Caesar, a sort of revolutionary Che Gorilla — a performance aided not only by breakthroughs in mo-cap technology but also by the benefit of playing against attractive replicants James Franco and Freida Pinto. And he seems to be the sole focus of the movie’s publicity push. Expect to see a surfeit of “could he win?” chin-scratching and explaining-to-the-olds-in-the-Academy puff pieces as 20th Century Fox gears up its big, trophy-snagging guns. 2011 could — and should! — finally be the year when the spandex ceiling is shattered once and for all!

And we here at Grantland couldn’t agree more. Outside of the Serkis family and, perhaps, this young lady, no one will be more vigilant than we will in tracking the ups and downs of the race to give a monkey an Oscar. It’s time. And so, in memory of all the hard work that has come before, we stand in complete solidarity with you, Andy Serkis! S1mone’s sacrifice will not have been in vain. Today, truly, we are all Jar-Jar Binks.