Last week I got a few moments to chat with Michael Adamthwaite (@M_Adamthwaite) who aside from some impressive voice work in Ninjago, Death Note and Mobile Suit Gundam has also been making a name for himself for his recent mocap roles. Performing in such films as Warcraft and more recently War for the Planet of the Apes the young actor has been winning audiences over with turn as Luca, Caesar’s loyal guerilla lieutenant in the film. It was interesting to chat with Michael about not only the process and training of getting into a mocap role like Luca, but also his thoughts on the film that has been receiving a ton of accolades for its message of both defiance and hope.
Along with Mocap work you also do a lot of voice work in anime, cartoons and J-drama what do you look for in a role?
I would like to think at least there has got to be some life off the page. Something has got to pop; something has to catch your eye. As an actor reading a script, you’ve got to think about how you relate to this character or how they differ from you. I think overall any actor is just looking for a really full arc.
Of those what has been some of your favorite roles so far?
Oh, definitely Warcraft, that was a tremendous experience. I got to meet Terry Notary for the first time who of course plays Rocket in the film and is also the movement director. Working with Duncan Jones was tremendous. The sets were huge, it really gave me that sense of the scope that I had finally stepped into, its an arena every actor hopes they can get into eventually. You imagine, wow wouldn’t it be great to be on a huge blockbuster in a really exciting character and working in motion capture is absolutely no exception.
It’s now come to the place that any actor given the right talent level, with the right skill set can disappear into a dozen characters and portray whomever you want under any circumstances. Its all-there whatever you want.
Its funny you mention Warcraft, I really dug it, but for some reason it didn’t attract the same audience here as it did overseas. Why do you think that?
In that regard without speculating too much, there’s obviously lots of factors at play. I do know there was a strong voice from the gaming community of course. World of Warcraft is a property with a lot of lore behind it and of course at the end of the day you can’t make it to every party and you can’t make everyone smile as hard as you try. I really commend Duncan and everyone at Blizzard for that achievement, markets are going to ebb and flow all the time, but to look at a piece like Warcraft, you’re always going to be pleased looking back and its getting a lot of replay. I get a lot of people reaching out to me on twitter.
It’s a big universe, like Apes it’s just go so much going on and so many viewpoints and some many emotions being expressed at the same time.
So speaking of Apes, which was amazing was there any trepidation at all doing a film where the majority of it is subtitled or in sign language?
I wouldn’t call it trepidation. I would call it anticipation. I was really excited about this opportunity. You mentioned my voice background and of course you know chances are you’re going to come into a film and they tell you you’re playing an ape and there’s sign language. You know right away you wont be speaking any dialog, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of supported sounds and of course Luca is no exception. There was a lot of intense vocal training to get the complimentary sounds of an ape signing. I would call them coughs or hops. (breaks into Luca’s signature grunts during interview)
It really was a fun process to develop that for myself and to work that alongside any and Terry everyone else in the core.
You play Luca Caesar’s guerilla lieutenant what goes into crafting a performance for a role like that since there is no dialog and you have to convey these emotions?
I have two words. Ape Camp. And it circles back to Terry Notary, we worked for over a month on movement with arm extensions and quadrapeding around various different landscapes, we were out in the woods. We were silent for hours, totally immersed in character trying to discover our role in our ape community amongst the whole cast. There was over a dozen of us out in the woods just sort of running around and finding ourselves and it was really about just shedding things and doing away with what we normally do as humans. The movement after that, you just drop in.
Thankfully we had a huge first day with Andy (Serkis) and we toured the studio and ran all over as apes, it was an amazing experience. Once you see Andy the caliber of work goes up so high, you just can’t help it you’re in.
Speaking of Andy he’s a pioneer of mocap and has legitimized it as a form of acting thanks to his work. What if anything did you take from working with him?
Andy (Serkis) has indeed been a pioneer since his work as Gollum, when they didn’t know how to do what they wanted to do. They were like Andy what should we do? And it was his willingness to try things and his willingness to wear silly pajamas and put dots on his face and there is a lot of integrity with that kind of performance. Let’s see what we can do, sort of first to arrive last to leave that is the Andy Serkis attitude to a T. He leads from the front by example, I’ve never worked with a caliber of actor like Andy and watching him has been a highlight of my career.
Luca definitely has some tender moments with the young actress Amiah Miller I heard she had some strange habits on set in-between takes?
Amiah was such a joy and a delight to work with. Yeah, there were some really tender moments between our characters, the flower scene in particular. There was just that sense of humility, kindness and acceptances of a difficult circumstance. But offset Amiah was a bit of a character also, she would feed us bugs, I think she was going for shock value. I was like, nope I am going to eat those up! I think she was more disappointed it didn’t get out of shape. But no, we had a great time, she was very much a little trickster.
She definitely held her own with you guys on screen?
There was definitely a level playing field from the moment I saw her connect. You could tell right away she was a tremendous talent and is going to be the next big thing.
Now that the film is out and you’ve seen it what are your thoughts and was there anything you were surprised to see carried through or brought out by the animators who transformed your performance?
I was absolutely blown away by every aspect of the film. I had moments where I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. My eyes were lying to my brain and I didn’t know who to root for. These apes are real and I was like Michael you’re lying to yourself you were there. You’ve seen the stills, you’re in pajamas. The quality has reached a high, it’s a beautiful thing to behold.
And certainly very timely considering the current political climate it’s surprisingly relevant and very present.
Oh man there are so many parallels, I never imagined those were intended, but it’s quite a thing to see. There are so many scenes where that statement is correct, where we talk about the state of the world. We can talk about the politics, the forces behind the factions; we can talk from so many different angles. We didn’t know how relevant this film would be at that this time.I think what really taps into the audience is the why behind everything. The why behind the apes, there is a why behind the humans; there is a why behind the separate factions. Everything is so well represented by its own energy that you have to appreciate the balance of life. This war and war is hell.
Finally, what do you have lined up next?
Without saying too much, I’ve been very fortunate to be part of a film called Hard Powder starring Liam Neeson, that we should see this year. I’ve also been quite active on television, Im featured in the upcoming season of Van Helsing and the upcoming first season of Altered Carbon. We’re also going to see some new seasond of some fan favorites soon, I’ll leave it at that.