War for the Planet of the Apes exclusive: Michael Adamthwaite on his role as Caesar’s lieutenant, gorilla Luca

Michael Adamthwaite’s Luca, left, and Caesar plan an ambush on War for the Planet of the Apes

Michael Adamthwaite is one of the hardest working actors out there and of late his hard graft has started to pay off.

Fans of the Netflix series Dirk Gently will know Michael for his role of Zed, but it his recent movie work that has started to raise eyebrows.

Over the last couple of years, the actor has scored some pretty meaty roles in projects such as The BFG and Warcraft: The Beginning.

But his latest role as Luca in War for the Planet of the Apes is likely to be the subject of conversation for years to come.

In the new Apes movie, Michael’s gorilla character is second in command to Andy Serkis’s Caesar.

Monsters and Critics recently braved the intensive heat of the jungle and caught up with the actor to talk about his role.

Michael Adamthwaite holding his hand up to a girl with CG gear on
Michael Adamthwaite prior to his CG makeover in War for the Planet of the Apes
Adamthwaite, now turned into a gorilla through CG, in the same scene
Luca shows his gentle side to a young human girl, after the CG effects have been added

Monsters and Critics: How did you go about getting cast as Luca in the new Planet of the Apes film, and what can you tell us about your role?

Michael Adamthwaite: I initially auditioned for a “mystery” role. My movement callback was with Terry (Notary) who plays Rocket and trains us all in Ape School.

I have worked with Terry three times in the last few years — Warcraft, in which I played King Magni Bronzebeard, Disney’s The BFG, in which I played the giant Butcher Boy, and now this.

Terry was instrumental in my success throughout all of these films. Luca is Caesar’s lieutenant and Commander of the Guard, charged with the protection of the hidden Ape stronghold.

Luca’s main focus as a companion is Caesar’s safety — he’s a protective wall when his leader needs it most.

M&C: Luca was played by a motion capture actor in the previous film. How challenging was it for you to bring a voice to the role while simultaneously being as true as you could to the previous actor’s performance in terms of how Luca moves?

MA: Yes, stuntman Scott Lang portrayed Luca in Dawn. Joining the cast for War was incredibly important to me personally.

Giving a voice to a character who signs was a challenge I was more than ready for. Finding the breath and movement was a task to be sure.

But Terry’s Ape School has a way of teaching you to find the Silverback in all of us.

Matching movement wasn’t an issue — physiologically all Silverbacks (barring injury or impediment) move very much the same.

And time has passed. It was more about finding the attitude of Luca at this stage of his life and then putting it into the body. A pillar of military might. Thank you Terry.

M&C: If I recall, in the original Planet of The Apes films from the 60s and 70s the gorillas were the military end of Ape culture and often wound up being villains, yet Luca is Caesar’s second in command. How does that play out in the film and how would you say the modern gorillas compare with the ones from the original films?

MA: There are always parallels to be drawn and ways to show love to the originals. There are some beautiful “Easter eggs” in this film.

If I recall, the gorillas of old were very militant, but also pressed upon by a more modern and “civilized” Planet of the Apes, a time and place in their history when power could corrupt them.

Caesar’s true family is incorruptible. They see the vision of their leader and they match his sacrifice.

Caesar, holding a gun, being flanked by Rocket and Luca
Caesar being flanked by Rocket and Luca in the latest film

M&C: Were you a fan of the Planet of the Apes films prior to your audition and, if so, why do you think they have such appeal?

MA: I was definitely a fan before winning the privilege of an audition. Dawn and Rise set such an incredible tone for the arc of this new world.

War is astounding. There are so many interesting points of view in this franchise. Caesar’s family and loyal core, the defectors, the humans — it’s a completely debilitating wave of emotions.

The relevance really hit home for me. I found myself struggling to find any one side more right than the other.

In these moments we see a reflected version of ourselves, blown out by desperation and catastrophic circumstances. It begs the question, ‘What would you do?’.

M&C: With Luca being the second in command, it means you get a lot of screen time with Andy Serkis. What was it like to work with him and what advice did he give you about working with motion capture?

MA: Andy Serkis is a force. I have been fortunate to meet and work with many people in this business, many of them bona fide celebrities.

But Andy is nothing short of spectacular, on and off screen. Always a kind word, endlessly patient and giving — Andy made a connection with everyone he met and leaves an indelible impression.

He lead by example, every moment was advice. My favourite memory, among many, was our first day as “Ape Family”.

The entire assembled cast, led by our fearless leader, spent nearly two hours in silence, investigating the studio grounds inside and out, chasing cars and finding ourselves in our community.

At last he turned much to our relief and uttered a single word: “Cool”. Best day ever.

M&C: Was this your first film working with Director Matt Reeves. If so, what was it like to work with him?

MA: A hell of a first meeting, though very brief for unfortunate scheduling reasons. Before that five minute chat, I had never met Matt before.

I had of course seen his films, and I can say unapologetically that as a director Matt Reeves is the total package.

Incredible intelligence and an amazing love of the soul of story. He spared no expense with his time and knowledge of Caesar’s entire world. A truly dedicated artist.

M&C: Chances are, with this being such a big film that we’re likely to see a lot of merchandise such as mugs, comic books and the like. How do you feel about that, given that Luca will likely be one of the prominent ape figures to feature on them?

MA: I’m very excited at the prospect of having some Apes and Luca swag for fans. Collectibles are huge!

It’s always been such a big part of fandom and fan culture. It’s more than an autographed poster or a pic — it’s the value placed by fans.

That’s what matters, because the fan measures both expensive rare treasures and personal moments equally. You’ve got to appreciate fan love. It’s always one of a kind.

War for the Planet of the Apes is in theaters now.

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