In 2015 when we visited the set of Captain America: Civil War it was becoming clear that Marvel Studios was beginning to plan long-term for its villains and secondary characters. The Disney-owned production house had already set precedents with the Marvel Cinematic Universe with its long-term franchise plans, crossovers, and team-ups featuring its headliner heroes but now villains and supporting characters were getting the same.
Civil War introduced CIA operative Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) for instance, who producer Nate Moore told us would be coming back in the future. And that year in theaters, Avengers: Age of Ultron introduced Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) alongside references to the nation of Wakanda. Klaue was a Black Panther villain in Marvel Comics so it seemed obvious and would come back alongside T'Challa (who, like Ross, was introduced in the third Captain America as well).
Klaue's a weapons dealer of sorts, and one of the very few non-Wakandas that know of the hidden nation and its unique valuable resource known as Vibranium. It's this connection that found himself a target of Ultron who wanted the resource for his own evolution and to destroy humanity before the Avengers thwarted the evil plans. In Black Panther, Klaue has a similarly important role and we had the chance to chat with Andy Serkis when visiting the Atlanta set of Black Panther last February.
How long have you known that you were going to be part of Black Panther?
Andy Serkis: Klaw appears in Age of Ultron, and the way that all happened was, they were working with The Imaginarium, which is my performance-capture studio. We were all working and consulting back on Ultron, working with James Spader and Mark Ruffalo and initiating them into the process of motion-capture because they were both using performance-capture. We were providing services for that.
Then, Joss Whedon said, “Hey, this is crazy, why don’t you come and be in the show?” And I thought, “Oh, alright, that’d be fun.”
So that happened and then, of course, when this came along, I knew that he was part of the Black Panther story. It’s just really great being back.
Is there a different level of connection that you’re able to get with this character? Is there a difference from motion capture?
Andy Serkis: No, I think everyone knows now really that, at the end of the day, it’s just acting and it doesn’t really matter what you’re wearing, it’s just another costume. You’re looking into another actor’s eyes and you’re communicating with them and you’re playing the role that you’re playing, whether it’s an ape or a human or whatever.
What has Klaw been up to since Age of Ultron?
Andy Serkis: Well he’s just basically been causing mayhem in the world, on minor and major levels. He’s a smart guy in the sense that he’s a businessman as well as an arms dealer. He manages to cover his tracks. He has a mercenary army that works with him in different locations all around the world and he’s able to go down rabbit holes and appear in other places. He’s got the smarts, but he’s also a little whacked out.
How did you come to that particular voice?
Andy Serkis: We decided that Klaw, we would make him South African, a very strong Afrikaans, quite bullish, in a very … edging towards not being a politically correct person. [laughs] He’d fit in the White House quite perfectly. [laughs] I didn’t say that! … or, in fact, in Britain at the moment.
No, it was quite a smart decision, I think. It gives him a real edge. Also, because of the relationship to Wakanda as well, a misunderstood African nation, it fits very well politically that he was of South African descent at a time when, of course, he grew up through Apartheid.
Are Klaw and Killmonger working together against T’Challa?
Andy Serkis: Klaw doesn’t really trust or work with anybody; he is his own man. He does deals with people, he interacts, but he doesn’t form allegiances or alliances with anyone. Ultimately, he’s a lone wolf. He has these pop-up groups wherever he happens to be in the world. So he and Killmonger aren’t working together, as such.
Are we going to see a closer iteration of Klaw to the comics?
Andy Serkis: We’ve established the character and our version of Klaw in Ultron. He obviously had his arm chopped off and he has a weapon, which we will discover.
What kind of balance are you able to find with Klaw to make him a full character?
Andy Serkis: I think, hopefully, he’s quite grounded. I think he’s not the one color, he’s different shades. He’s got a humorous side to him, he’s got a sense of humor, but he’s equally very deadly and he’s quite mercurial and transitions emotionally very quickly. He turns on a sixpence. He can be, outwardly, friendly to some people or funny or amusing, and then turn. He definitely feels grounded; there’s a darkness to him that grounds him.
What stands out about Black Panther and how Ryan Coogler works?
Andy Serkis: In the short time that I’ve worked with Ryan, which is literally two days [laughs], he creates the most incredible atmosphere on set. He’s very subtle actors’ director; he knows what he wants but he allows you to play and explore with the other cast members, and then gives great, very specific notes. I was told, actually, because of course Martin Freeman I’ve worked with before in … what was it … The Hobbit. [laughs]. We’ve kind of faced each other there. We were emailing each other before I came down and Martin said, “Ryan loves the freedom of what actors give and then bouncing back and circling around.” So there really is a great deal of play in this, which is really exciting.
In the scene you’re working on, what is Klaw’s first reaction to seeing T’Challa walk in the door?
Andy Serkis: He’s aware that … it’s not a great surprise.
How does your on-camera work compare to recent work you’ve done behind the camera?
Andy Serkis: I’m actually right in the middle of posting two films at the moment, as well. This is actually great. I’m really enjoying not having those responsibilities. I’m right in the thick of it with Jungle Book that I’m in post on, and another small independent film that I directed called Breathe with Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy, who turned in the most amazing performances.
When I was on Jungle Book … I’m not the sort of actor/director who likes to direct himself as an actor, if you like. I don’t like to split my skills. I love coming in and just digging straight into the character and getting into it. Lots of actors do direct themselves in movies, it’s just not my thing. I like to concentrate on one or the other and just bury myself into that world.
In the movie version of Klaw, will we see a longstanding connection with Wakanda?
Andy Serkis: He’s got a very specific relationship to Wakanda. He’s got a bit of a love/hate relationship with it, really. He certainly has discovered things about it that nobody else has, and we discover that in this movie. He’s one of the few people who’s been into Wakanda and he reveals quite a lot about it.
Does he have a personal relationship with T’Challa?
Andy Serkis: He doesn’t really have a personal relationship with anyone, but they’ve definitely crossed paths. They spar. [laughs]
What was a new quality about the character that allowed you to play another side of him?
Andy Serkis: In this one, there’s quite a lot more humor, actually, which is great. It’s that thing where you don’t know whether he’s enjoying this, or playing at enjoying this, whether he’s really laughing or just hiding behind it. It’s very interesting the way Ryan and the writers have put it together.
Does Klaw recognize himself as a villain, or the hero of his own story?
Andy Serkis: He thinks what he’s doing is existing in this world in the way that he’s created his own moral relativity. He’s quite nihilistic, he’s squared it with himself, he knows life is cheap and you’re either at the bottom of the pile or the top of the pile, and that’s it. It’s very, very simple. It’s quite clear to him where his moral compass is. What he doesn’t like is hypocrisy; he absolutely despises hypocrisy. So uncovering that is definitely part of the way I’m playing him.
Can you talk about what Klaw is doing in South Korea?
Andy Serkis: At this point in time, Klaw’s been caught. He’s being held and interrogated. They’re trying to, basically, work out what he’s trying to do.
Are you able to use the comics as source material for your performance?
Andy Serkis: With all of these, it’s about how you expand on a character and bring your take on it. Obviously some of the plot lines are going to be different, so it’s importing the essence of those stories, those characters, into this particular version and retelling of those tales.
What kind of research did you put into Klaw?
Andy Serkis: In terms of the weapon he might, or might not have … he is actually quite a brilliant assembler of weaponry and technology and putting those together. I kind of looked a lot into that, to be very superficial about it.
Who would you play in the MCU if you could play anyone?
Andy Serkis: I’ve always wanted to play Iron Man actually. I think Iron Man’s a great character. I’d like to play Iron Man next time, when they make them again.
What kinds of qualities are you able to draw from characters like Caesar and Snoke that you’re able to put into Klaw?
Andy Serkis: I don’t know if Klaw thinks of himself as a leader. He’s just a solo operator, ultimately. He’s a mercenary, literally. He came out of the army and started amassing small-scale deals and working with agencies and building up his own network. In this case, it’s slightly different to a lot of the roles that I played in that he’s the master of his own destiny and is very accepting of that. I don’t think he ever feels like he’s leading a gang or a mercenary army. He picks people up when and where he needs them.
Marvel Studios’ Black Panther follows T’Challa who, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically-advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king. But when a powerful old enemy reappears, T’Challa’s mettle as king—and Black Panther—is tested when he is drawn into a formidable conflict that puts the fate of Wakanda and the entire world at risk. Faced with treachery and danger, the young king must rally his allies and release the full power of Black Panther to defeat his foes and secure the safety of his people and their way of life.
Black Panther is directed by Ryan Coogler and produced by Kevin Feige with Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Nate Moore, Jeffrey Chernov and Stan Lee serving as executive producers. Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole wrote the screenplay and Black Panther's cast includes Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, with Angela Bassett, with Forest Whitaker, and Andy Serkis.