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Capturing Rocket – An Interview with War for the Planet of the Apes’ and Avengers Infinity War’s Terry Notary

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Terry Notary is having one hell of a career. He has appeared in such movies as The Hobbit, Warcraft, Kong: Skull IslandPlanet of the Apes, and will even appear in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War films.

Notary returns as Caesar’s right hand man, Rocket, and serves as the choreographic trainer for the entire primate cast. Director Matt Reeves calls Notary “The ape Zen master.” The director continues: “He approaches his work with such joy and passion, it is infectious. Not only has he brought Rocket to beautiful life, but he plays countless apes in the film, and has trained all the cast to move and be as apes. He is a true artist.”

Says Notary of Rocket: “He will always be Caesar’s confidante and best friend. But in this film, I feel he is finding his true purpose in life, which is to keep Caesar safe. Rocket has been through what Caesar is going through in this film and he can be there now to see that Caesar makes it through, to protect him while he is lost.”

Rocket also believes in giving Caesar the space to wrestle with his conscience. “Rocket knows Caesar’s blind rage is dangerous, but he also knows Caesar needs to go through this in his own way, so Rocket has to balance keeping his distance while making sure Caesar can go on as their leader. It’s a profound and challenging journey for both of them.”

Serkis was bolstered by his rapport with Notary. “Rocket has an incredible arc in this story, becoming Caesar’s deepest soulmate and Caesar trusts him as one does his closest friend.” Says Notary of their collaboration: “The amazing thing about Andy is his ability to let pure emotions well through him without forcing anything at all. I could feel the soul of Caesar come out in so many ways and it fuels you.”

Before production began, Notary convened what became affectionately known as Ape Camp, where actors submerse themselves in ape behavior — fine-tuning their movements, rhythms and timing. Veteran cast and newcomers alike had to confront the new reality for the apes: that they are increasingly upright creatures losing their wild form and seeing the world anew.

Ape Camp begins, unexpectedly, with 20 minutes of sitting. Notary explains that he thinks morphing human actors into intellectually advanced simians requires a meditative process: ‘It’s funny, new actors always ask, ‘So what do I do? How do I do it?’ But the first thing is, you don’t do anything. Instead, we undo everything. That’s the key. Through the course of these films, I’ve found it’s not about trying to channel an ape at all. It’s about dropping deeply into yourself, softening and widening your perception, while being really open and vulnerable. I’ve learned by playing Rocket that it’s being the most honest me.”

He goes on: “It’s also important to remember that as human, we’re already of the ape genus, so we really don’t have to do a lot to get there. We just have strip away all the human conditioning. It’s a matter of thinking, ‘OK, what if I just simplify myself and really be honest and primal and open?”

Notary has done extensive research, watching countless videos of gorillas, chimps and orangutans in the wild and captivity. But he’s convinced that when it comes to moving like an ape, imitation is not the best approach. “The Great Apes are amazing to watch, and it’s a really useful tool – but only so long as you don’t try to mimic them. Mimicry doesn’t feel real. Instead, you look for fundamentals and then riff on those through your character. It is the subtlety that really brings the gravitas to these characters.”

Andy Serkis found Notary’s training invaluable. “Without Terry, Apes wouldn’t feel so alive,” he muses. “He teaches you movement skills but more than that he teaches you how to just be and not feel you have to over-show anything.” Steve Zahn adds: “If you pretend you’re an ape, it looks horrible. But if you become the ape in your being, in the most simple way really, it’s remarkable how quickly you transform.”

So what’s next for Notary? He’ll be starring in an undisclosed role in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War films. While rumors have swirled since he was cast, he would not confirm nor deny he’ll play Cull Obsidian or Corvus Glaive. However he did cautiously tell us the following :

  • He will be playing both a villain and a hero (a superhero, maybe?)
  • Both roles are motion-capture
  • He’s working with Josh Brolin and three other actors
  • He’s playing Josh Brolin’s right-hand bad guy
  • He’s enjoying playing fully evil

For more about War of the Planets of the Apes and Avengers: Infinity War (which he’s now filming), check out our full interview below.

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