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“Planet of the Apes” Cast Interview

NEW YORK, July 22, 2001 — There are two “apes” that greet you at the entrance to Manhattan’s Roseland Hotel. Coated in armor and carrying spears, they eye you as you pass by. When you turn and give them a backward glance, they unexpectedly begin to stalk you until you dart away, heart palpitating.

Then you enter the hotel basement, transformed into a jungle complete with tiki lamps, bamboo chairs and faux fires. In one corner, Mark Wahlberg, in a charcoal suit, counters his bad-boy rep by leaping to his feet politely whenever a female reporter rises from her chair. Tim Roth is across the room, taking a cigarette break. Helena Bonham Carter is rubbing her forehead wearily, trying to resist diving onto the satin-sheeted bed a mere three feet from her interview station.

Despite their exhaustion, the cast of Planet of the Apes and director Tim Burton know that all that remains for them is this eight-hour stretch of interviews, a high-glitz premiere the following night and a round of talk shows. And then the promotional machine for the much-hyped summer film will finally come to an end.

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Planet of the Apes, a retelling (not a remake) of the 1968 Charlton Heston classic, has been high on the buzz factor list ever since names like Oliver Stone and Arnold Schwarzenegger were attached seven years ago. But now with eccentric helmer Burton on board and Wahlberg taking over Heston’s role (in spacesuit, not loincloth), the film has evolved into something fans of the original probably aren’t expecting. Does it work? We talked to the players themselves: director Burton; Wahlberg, as Leo Davidson, the astronaut who crashes on the planet; Bonham Carter, who plays a sympathetic human-rights chimpanzee; Roth, who menaces as the ape general Thade; cover girl-turned-actress Warren, who plays a captive human named Daena; Kris Kristofferson, as Daena’s father; Charlton Heston, who has a cameo as Roth’s dying father; and character actor Paul Giamatti as the orangutan slave trader named Limbo.

Being Charlton Heston … even if you don’t like his politics

Mark Wahlberg: George Clooney had dared me to say something at the 2000 MTV Movie Awards about Charlton Heston. I got sucked into doing it [Wahlberg said Heston should win Best Villain for being the president of the National Rifle Association]. Somebody asked him about it and he responded, “He has the right to free speech and people have the right to bear arms.” And then he said I got some big shoes to fill. But I did have the chance to meet him on the set, I went to visit him. He’s phenomenal.
Charlton Heston: I haven’t met him; I understand he’s a very good actor and I look forward to seeing his performance. It’s a very good part, I’ll tell you that.

Tackling a classic … “damn dirty apes” and all

Wahlberg: If Tim’s gonna do [a retelling,] he’s definitely got something up his sleeve. He’s not just gonna go remake the same movie. I think Tim would rather chop off a limb than do that. He’s got such a unique vision.
Tim Roth: This has been done five times; this is just like number six to me. And now we have all the different technology. What better hands to put it in than Tim’s? It actually makes sense to me.
Heston: Certainly the original remains an extraordinary film. It was the kind of film that they hadn’t done before. It was the first of the space operas, really, and they’re still making them, of course.
Tim Burton: I was scared [of apes]. Not all apes. Chimps, circus clowns and Santa Claus. So the most terrifying movie to me is an ape starring as Santa Claus in a circuslike setting.


Tackling Tim Burton’s wacky ways

Roth: I think he’s nuts. If you go back and look over his films, they’re all crazy. And I wanted to be a part of the madness. This was certainly a madhouse.
Wahlberg: I went from being giddy to having complete panic attacks when I realized that I’d have to be acting opposite a person in a gorilla outfit. It was literally from one extreme to another. But I just found Tim behind the monitor with a big grin on his face. That was the reassurance I was looking for.
Estella Warren: I learned so much. The most important thing I learned is to trust my first instincts, to be real. He makes you so comfortable that that happens pretty naturally for all the actors.
Wahlberg: [When Tim calls,] you just wanna know where to go and when to show up, that’s it. When I got the call he wanted to meet me, I was very excited … I just went in and said, “Do you want me?” and that was it.

Simian 101

Helena Bonham Carter: Paul Giamatti was teacher’s pet at ape school. It was disgusting. He was always getting the best marks. I famously failed. You think it’d be hard to, but I did. It’s a talent to fail ape school.
Paul Giamatti: She sucked. I think it’s probably because I’m a lot more like a monkey than she is. She’s not very much like a monkey.
Bonham Carter: I never usually take any character home, but I did with this one because it was fun. And I did become a little more aware of my sense of smell.
Burton: Tim [Roth]’s got an evil chimp side to his personality. He uses it .. and Helena’s got this quality. She’d love to do a silent movie and in a way, that’s what it is because you’re having to act and use skills — because you’re covered up — that you wouldn’t ordinarily use. I was lucky to use actors who had big emotional range, great voices. Michael Clarke Duncan — you hear that guy’s voice, you know it’s him. That was important to this. Even being 10 years old and watching Planet of the Apes, you knew that was its energy.

Under the skin

Giamatti: I remember waking up at two in the morning and still thinking I had [the makeup] on. I was in bed and “Oh, I gotta take my teeth out.” Whenever I did see people without it on, it was very strange.
Roth: I could hear myself in my head. The way the makeup is structured, you’re very aware of your own voice and it actually got in the way of me performing. So I kind of came up with [a new voice] and Tim went, “That’s good, do that.” And he let me push it through. It was out of necessity and I liked it because it actually hid me more.
Giamatti: [We ate lunch] slowly and in little tiny pieces with chopsticks and a mirror. You had to take the teeth out and you had to eat very small pieces … You didn’t want to get food all over your face. I think nobody [messed up] because then you had to go through the process [again.]
Burton: The most shocking thing on the set is when they would occasionally come out on the set as themselves. Literally, you would have a heart attack in a way. “Who in the hell is that person? Oh it’s a person, not an ape.”

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Humans strike back … kind of

Kris Kristofferson: I had to run at Michael Clarke Duncan with the spear, and we had a big collision at one point. I didn’t put him in the hospital; hitting the ground put him in the hospital. I was lucky ’cause my head hit the ground too. It split open, it was bleeding, only I already had a fake wound up there so they couldn’t see it. I had to go to the hospital too; it turned out my best friend’s ex-wife was the doctor. Very surreal experience.
Wahlberg: [I taunted the apes, but] it was the dumbest thing I could’ve ever done because these guys were basically kicking my ass for seven months, so it was stupid. So the next thing you know, I’m serving everybody drinks. Shining their shoes.


The legacy

Burton: There is an unnerving quality when you’re working on something and you see [early promotional posters] because it’s an out-of-body experience. You kinda wanna finish something emotionally before you start seeing all of that, so it is an odd phenomenon.
Wahlberg: I had never been as giddy as I was the other day when I saw the movie and I heard Charlton Heston’s voice, and seeing him with Tim Roth … It’s never happened to me with a movie that I’ve been in. I’ve enjoyed some of the movies that I’ve been in. but seeing it for the first time, not even paying attention to anything that I did, because normally I’ll pick my performance apart, think about how horrible I was. But I was in awe; it was better than anything I could have expected or hoped.

The end?

Wahlberg: There’s all these talks that we shot five different endings and stuff. They never gave the pages out until we were gonna shoot it, and only the people involved in the scene got it. And I just thought wow, what a really cool way. Because it leaves this door open; if Tim signs on to doing a sequel, then I’m gonna do it because there’s a really interesting idea for it. The first ending was brilliant, so what do you do to top that but leave the door open, really confuse people.
Bonham Carter: I would’ve been up for more romance [Bonham Carter has some interspecies feelings for Wahlberg’s astronaut]. I know Mark would’ve been up for more. It’s a family film, they didn’t want to go there, so it’s a shame. I did get to kiss him, but it’s unfortunate because through rubber you don’t feel much. Perhaps next year.
Wahlberg: I’ve never been in a movie so many people have talked about, argued about. [But] if you see it again and you look at it properly, you’ll figure it out. I promise you.

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