Oscar hopeful Serkis ‘Towers’ over CGI brethren

As Gollum in 'Rings' sequel, thesp puts his lifeblood into a central figure

There was never any Oscar buzz for the performances of Jar Jar Binks or Dobby, but New Line is hoping that Gollum will be up for an acting Academy Award in March.

Andy Serkis is the British actor who performs the centerpiece role of Gollum in Peter Jackson’s second installment of the “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Only you might not realize it, because his personage has been painted out and replaced with a CGI creation. Other CGI characters were purely figments of the imagination, like Jar Jar Binks and Dobby.

The 20 minutes of “Two Towers” footage shown recently by New Line indicates a breakthrough with Gollum, who looked as real as a blue-tinted, bent and gnarled creature could look. And Jackson went back and subsequently improved the character, which the media observed.

New Line will push Serkis for a supporting actor nomination. And the actor has just signed with the Gersh Agency, hoping that his cyber-work in “Two Towers” and next year’s “Return of the King” finale will propel him into regular Hollywood film work.

“This all started with an offer to do three weeks of voiceover work as Gollum,” said Serkis. “I remember thinking, a voiceover? Why can’t I get offered a decent acting role in a major movie? I’m known for being chameleon-like as an actor, and I’ve played a lot of quirky, physical roles in Mike Leigh’s movies. This didn’t seem that involved.”

Serkis soon learned from Jackson and his screenwriting-producing partner Fran Walsh that vocal skills would be only part of the Gollum job. “Peter had the idea to do something unprecedented,” Serkis said. “Even though Gollum would be computer-generated, Peter wanted all the emotion and the physicality to come from a single performance.” Instead of three weeks, Serkis worked the better part of the last year, logging more hours than any other actor in the “Rings” ensemble.

First, Serkis acted the scenes with Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) as they carried the ring toward Mordor. Serkis repeated the entire performance, clad in a skintight bodysuit, wired to capture his every move and transfer it to the computer. Serkis did the role yet again, both to supply Gollum’s slithery rasp of a voice, and to transfer his facial expressions to every enunciation. He spent countless more hours with the 40 animators who refined Gollum. The performance is signature Serkis — even though the actor was erased from every scene.

“In a way it’s a bummer,” he said of being excised for his computerized counterpart, “but I honestly feel strongly that the essence of what I’ve done is up there. Much the way that John Rhys-Davies hardly looks like the dwarf Gimli after being shrunk and wearing heavy prosthetic makeup, I feel like I’m wearing CG prosthetics. There is a satisfaction in playing one of the great literary character creations, being able to play Gollum without being pinned down by him for the rest of my life. Some anonymity is the actor’s greatest weapon.”

CARLYLE’S SECOND CHANCE: Robert Carlyle seems destined to play Adolf Hitler. He was set for a Michael Radford-directed BBC mini that was supposed to shoot this fall, but fell apart. CBS is now eyeing him for the title role for its four-hour miniseries on one of history’s most despised figures. Carlyle, who’s repped by ICM, is a versatile thesp who has played sympathetic textured characters in “The Full Monty” and “Angela’s Ashes.”

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