The Planet of the Apes prequel series, which kicked off in 2011 with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, has so far cast plenty of interesting actors on the human side of the conflict. James Franco took the lead in Rise of the Planet of the Apes as a scientist trying to make a cure for Alzheimer’s, who inadvertently creates a deadly virus for humans and an intelligence enhancer for simians like Andy Serkis’ Caesar. Jason Clarke picked up the mantle for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, set 10 years later and dealing with the after effects of the virus and featured Gary Oldman in a surprising turn as the main human antagonist. And for the upcoming War for the Planet of the Apes, director Matt Reeves and company enlisted veteran actor Woody Harrelson to be the main antagonist.

Human-ape relations have deteriorated a lot since the prequel series began, with the apes blamed for the virus that killed off most of the human population of Earth, so any human villain likely has their reasons for hating the apes. We can now share a few details about Harrelson’s character and his motivations, courtesy of producer Dylan Clark.

During our visit to War for the Planet of the Apes‘ set, Clark explained that Harrelson was envisioned for the role while screenwriter Mark Bomback (along with Reeves) was developing the script. Harrelson appealed so much to the crew because he has a “serious weight” to his whole persona, and because of his ability to play the tough guy when needed. Clark also made it clear that to call Harrelson simply the antagonist would be doing the actor a disservice:

“When we were writing the script, we thought Woody would be cool. He’s just a great actor. I hate using these words, but he’s got a serious weight to him, but he can play very tough. He’s the antagonist of the movie. Bad guy is probably selling him a little bit short. He’s the antagonist because he’s against Caesar and what Caesar’s trying to accomplish. He’s after survival. He wants to win, and he believes that the apes stand in the way.”

Andy Serkis as Caesar in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes War for the Planet of the Apes Producer on Woody Harrelsons Human Villain


When talking about how Harrelson’s character justifies his actions, Clark explained:

“It is annihilation of the apes because to him, because man’s hubris has created these apes. And, you know, the world has now smacked man around because this virus that was released and problems have happened, and he’s now trying to navigate how to deal with it. And he’s a hardliner. So apes are a very big problem for the survival of mankind.”

Finally, Clark reiterated that Harrelson was always a name they liked for the role, revealing:

“Woody was a name we always really liked. You write the script, you talk about it, you look at it, and you’re like: “Oh, who…?” You hope to have a quality actor. You don’t want to have to go stunt casting. You want somebody that can really do it.”