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Interview: Owen Teague and Kevin Durand Talk ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’ and Their Approach to Channeling Their Inner Ape

May 9, 2024Ben MK

Over the course of its 66-year cinematic legacy, the Planet of the Apes franchise has evolved considerably. From the practical prosthetics used to create the ape characters in the 1968 original to the state-of-the-art performance capture technology and visual effects used to bring the apes to life in the recent films, the series has always been ahead of its time in using the sci-fi genre as a backbone for telling stories relevant to our society at large. It's a tradition that continues to be upheld to this day, even as the franchise marks a milestone with its tenth, action-packed installment, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes. And although many things may have changed in terms of modern advancements in filmmaking technology compared to six decades ago, one thing remains the same — when it comes to wowing moviegoers, it all boils down to the actors behind the apes.

I caught up with Owen Teague and Kevin Durand — who play Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’ hero, Noa, and its villain, Proximus — to chat about the movie and their inspiration for their characters.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is one of those films that's so epic that it's easy to forget that it wouldn't work nearly as well without the great performances. So as Noa and Proximus, what was the most important thing you each relied on to help you channel your inner ape?

Teague: For me, it was Noa's curiosity and his wonder for the world. He's very empathetic, he's a very passionate ape. So having this sense of taking all this new stuff in was really important for the body and the voice. That was kind of where he was coming from.

Durand: It's interesting, it probably started at curiosity for all of us, in the sense that Proximus wanted to learn everything that he could about humans. And then once he learnt it, he started to understand the true nature of humanity. And it made him understand that he needed to act as quickly as possible, so that he could keep the power in the realm of ape-dom, as opposed to having humans take over and have another shift, and then we'd end up back in cages again. So, yeah, it's interesting that they connect like that. A lot of it comes from curiosity.

Personally, I've always felt that Tim Roth as General Thade in Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes was one of the most intimidating movie villains ever. Did you, Kevin, in playing Proximus, set out to top that? What were the reference points for your performance?

Durand: I didn't reference any villains from movies or anything like that, because then you start playing a stereotype. Not saying that his role was a stereotype, it's just I can't approach a character like that. So I had real, live, charismatic, powerful men that I was watching quite a bit. I was watching Elon Musk, I was watching Schwarzenegger when he was doing his political speeches, Tony Robbins, and just grabbed a little bit from all of them. Totally different character, but I grabbed and borrowed where I could.

And I believe you and director Wes Ball worked together on creating a backstory for Proximus. Can you talk a bit about what you came up with, since most of that didn't make it on screen?

Durand: I built this backstory for him just being a smarter bonobo than the other bonobos. He was a little bit of an outcast, cuz he had all of these ideas that he wanted to pursue. And so he's constantly striving to know more than he did yesterday. Because he understands that knowledge is power. That's probably the biggest thing, is him just having that understanding of humankind and understanding how to function from that standpoint.

The movie is full of amazing scenes, but was there one that stood out for each of you, personally?

Teague: There's a scene where [Kevin] finds me doing something. There's a lot of [actors], it's a big scene, and we just shot it. We did it over and over again, but it was kind of one take, where Wes just let us play. And we would come out of it just looking at each other like, "Oh my God." Cuz it's such an intense moment.

Durand: We'd both be shaking, eyes just running. It was just so incredibly visceral and real, and all of the apes — all of the wonderful actors — bought in. So it was probably the most visceral experience I've had acting.

Last but not least, Rakka in the film mentions that it's advantageous being a Gibbon because you have 4 times the chance of saving yourself if you fall. So if you had to be any type of primate, what would it be?

Teague: I'd be a chimp. I'm a chimp. We are who we play. And you know, Peter Macon, who plays Rakka, that speech that he gives about the bonobos, he made that up. He just came up with that on the spot, it's brilliant.

Durand: Definitely a bonobo. I mean if, down the line, they say, "Would you consider playing a different ape?" That would be like so fun, to be able to explore a different ape.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is in theaters May 10th.

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