Director Matt Reeves is gearing up to begin principal photography on War of the Planet of the Apes this month, which means he's been working on filling out the cast for the next installment in the franchise. Andy Serkis will of course be returning as ape leader Caesar, and last month we learned that Woody Harrelson had come on board to portray a human antagonist.
As Reeves reportedly looks for a second human lead for the film, he's adding on to the already large group of apes. Character actor Steve Zahn, who has appeared in films such as Dallas Buyers Club, has joined the project to play a new chimp character.
The Wrap broke the story, but did not have any details beyond that. Since War of the Planet of the Apes is not going to hit theaters until July 2017, it makes sense for plot details to be kept under wraps, since the script is probably still being fine-tuned.
What's interesting about this news is that Zahn will be portraying an ape, and not one of the new humans. Given that Caesar's clan already sports large numbers (with allies including Maurice and Rocket among others), it didn't seem likely that there would be room for more chimps in the ensemble. However, there is one noteworthy void on that side of the conflict that needed to be filled.
In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the character Koba was last seen plummeting to his (presumed) death after Caesar had determined that Koba was not ape. Many had hoped that the fan-favorite "villain" would come back (since these deaths are far from finite in blockbuster films), but this development makes the chances of a Koba return very small. In all likelihood, the intention is for Zahn's new ape to be a main character in the film, essentially taking over Koba's role (at least, in stature of importance) as the second lead in regards to the apes.
It will be interesting to see what this new character's dynamic with Caesar is and how he fits into the narrative. As we saw with Dawn, not all apes can be qualified as "good guys," since Koba displayed some ill intent with his actions. It's possible that Zahn's ape could display the same extremist attitudes of Koba to clash with Caesar's viewpoints on society. The potential downside there, however, is that the character turns into a Koba retread instead of something that stands out on its own. There are a myriad of ways Reeves can weave a new ape into the story, and by now he's earned the trust of viewers to handle that well.
With production set to commence at some point this month (at the time of writing this), one would expect the announcement of Zahn to be one of several casting decisions to be made public in the next couple of weeks. The priority now is probably finding that other human lead, as even Woody Harrelson (talented as he is) can't take on an army of apes all by himself.
War of the Planet of the Apes will hit theaters on July 14th, 2017.
Source: The Wrap