How To Be An Ape, With ‘War For the Planet of the Apes’ Actor Steve Zahn

Kim Taylor-Foster

Andy Serkis is known as the master of motion capture, supplying compelling performances for characters including Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films and the titular character in Peter Jackson’s King Kong. He also, of course, performs as Caesar in the Planet of the Apes franchise. But mo-cap newcomer Steve Zahn is giving him a run for his money as new chimp in the Apes camp, Bad Ape, in War For the Planet of the Apes.

And while Serkis might have been able to provide performance capture tips on-set to newbie Steve Zahn, it’s actor and movement coach Terry Notary who works closely with the actors to get them all moving and acting like primates.

FANDOM asked Steve Zahn to show us how to act ape.

“Terry works from a totally different spot,” Zahn begins. “He works from right here [points to chest]. Internalizing this character, this being, this chimpanzee.”

For Zahn, it’s partly about shedding inhibitions.

“With Terry, the first thing is, like, we posture,” he says. “Everything we do, we hold ourselves, we’re consciously aware of our bodies. A chimpanzee doesn’t. They hold their centre, they breathe out, their stomach hangs out. They don’t care about that.

“But it’s not lazy, there’s a lot of strength there. When we turn our head and look at something it’s totally different. Their whole body turns. There’s a different focus. The focus kind of follows. It’s all connected, how they move.”

Zahn observed apes to better understand them: “I was always fascinated with the ape that just kind of sat there. And I would think: ‘How is that different to me sitting there being bored? It’s totally different. And it’s just this kind of internal peace.”

Learning to Speak

War For the Planet of the Apes
Bad Ape speaks

In the film, Zahn’s Bad Ape character has taught himself to speak. Not quite as proficient as Caesar, he retains a lot of simian characteristics in his communication techniques.

“I remember I started, like, I would talk and when I talked and said ‘Os’ I would always point to my mouth and go ‘O’. And I thought, ‘Oh, that’s [from] when I was taught [to speak]’. “

His final words of advice?

“Don’t overthink it,” he says. “If you just came on set, I would try not to move too much. I would just think strength but think peace. Peaceful strength.”

Watch Zahn monkeying around in the video above (yeah, we know they’re not monkeys).

War For the Planet of the Apes is released in the UK on July 11 and in the US on July 14.

Kim Taylor-Foster
Kim Taylor-Foster is Entertainment Editor for Fandom in the UK. She was raised on an unsteady diet of video nasties and violent action flicks.