Andy Serkis tapped to play lead chimp in Fox prequel

Andy Serkis has been cast in the key role of Caesar in 20th Century Fox’s “Rise of the Apes,” the studio’s “Planet of the Apes” prequel toplining James Franco.

Rupert Wyatt begins lensing the origins pic next month. Franco and Serkis star opposite Freida Pinto and John Lithgow.

Chernin Entertainment is producing the film, which unspools in theaters June 24, 2011.

Set in present-day San Francisco, “Apes” deals with the aftermath of man’s experiments with genetic engineering that lead to the development of intelligence in apes and the onset of a war for supremacy. Franco plays a scientist who becomes a crucial figure in the war between humans and apes.

Serkis, who starred as Gollum in Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” franchise and as Kong in Jackson’s “King Kong,” plays the chimp who leads the uprising among the apes after having been raised by Lithgow and Franco’s characters, who are father and son in the film.

Project reunites Serkis and Jackson’s visual effects house Weta Digital. Weta is rendering photo-realistic apes, rather than costumed actors, for the first time in the franchise.

Wyatt will direct “Rise of the Apes” from a script by Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa, who will produce with Chernin Entertainment’s Peter Chernin and Dylan Clark.

Serkis’ upcoming pics include Steven Spielberg’s “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.” He recently starred as rocker Ian Dury in “Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll,” and appeared in “Inkheart” and “The Prestige.”

Actor is repped overseas by U.K.-based Lou Coulson Associates and Larry Taube in the U.S.

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