Thursday, 27 July 2017

by Patrick and Paul Gibbs


karin konoval
Karin Konoval
(Copyright Gordon Dumka , 2017)
As we conclude our interview with Karin Konoval, the actress who has portrayed Maurice, the wise and venerable orangutan in the Planet of the Apes prequels, we're going to delve a bit deeper into the character himself, as well as the journey that was his creation. Karin drew inspiration for Maurice from Towan, a male orangutan who lived at the Woodland Park Zoo, and who passed away at age 48, making him the oldest orangutan in North America. Ms. Konoval (who holds a BFA in English) was asked to write a piece for the Jane Goodall Institute, which was published in June of this year to coincide with the release of War For The Planet of the Apes, which has emerged as one of the most critically acclaimed films of the summer.

Patrick - You've played this role now for three films, spanning the better part of a decade, and the character has really evolved, if you'll excuse the pun, since the first film. Was it difficult to let go of Maurice? Was there a moment of set when it was just like "Wow. This is it. it's over, I'll never do this again"?

I confess, I haven't really gone there in my thinking yet! But it was indeed very tough to do that final scene with Andy Serkis as Caesar. In a way doing the scene was a larger gift, because the emotion it required me to call on and express also reflects how much it's meant to me to play Maurice, to be part of this incredible ensemble telling these stories, and certainly how deeply I've valued working with Andy. I still can't get anywhere near that scene - thinking about it or seeing it! - without it kind of shattering me all over again. In a good way.


Andy Serkis as Caesar and Karin Konoval as Maurice in War For The Planet Of The Apes
(Photo Courtesy 20th Century Fox) 
Paul - The character relationships in these films are so strong. Is there any difference you can pinpoint between the interaction and connection between actors as apes via performance capture and when playing more conventional human characters?
I do think that the demands on us as actors, in portraying ape characters, the necessary training and exploration together to create ensemble, has indeed fostered a kind of connection between us that is somewhat unique. That also extends to the entire crew, Weta Digital's performance capture technology experts working with us every step of the way, the AD's, everyone involved in these films. Being part of the POTA family is very unique!

Patrick - Just from the point of view of a couple of really big fans who been very invested in this trilogy and these amazing characters, and the amazing work you and Andy Serkis have done together, it was very emotional to see it come to an end, especially that last scene between Maurice and Caesar, I'm honestly tearing up just thinking about it now. Maurice hasn't spoken more than one word at a time prior to that, and it's clear that it takes a lot of effort on his part, but what he does say has so much power. First off: was that scene as emotional to shoot as it is to watch? Second, we have to say that the first time we saw the film we were so caught up in the emotion and characters that we didn't really consider that it was actually you providing the voice. we heard a male voice for a male character. But watching the trilogy marathon and seeing you as the court clerk in "Rise", and watching the end of WAR again . . . that's absolutely your voice, isn't it?
Indeed it is my voice. And yes, as I spoke of this in response to an earlier question, that scene was as emotional to film as it is to watch. And you are right, the halting nature of the way I spoke as Maurice in that scene is exactly for the reason you suggest: it takes a great deal of effort for Maurice to do this. He also does this - speaks - only when he absolutely must. And this was one of those times. In always wishing to hold Maurice's integrity as an orangutan, I've felt a great responsibility to being as specific as I can with everything he thinks, does, and expresses throughout these stories. No gratuitous actions or displays. I've also always felt that Maurice doesn't talk much because he chooses not to - not because he can't. So for Maurice to speak in this scene, most significant. 


Maurice and Caesar in Rise Of The Planet of the Apes
(Photo Courtesy 20th Century Fox)
 
Patrick - How do you think Maurice has changed over the course of the films? When we first see him in "Rise", he seems more resigned to his life and a bit apathetic of the others, telling Caesar that apes are stupid. They have the kind of relationship where it's often hard to tell who is the mentor to whom, and we actually saw a strong connection between Maurice and Caesar in the first film and Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins in "The Shawshank Redemption", these two lost souls in prison who form a bond and learn from each other. Caesar is intelligent, but Maurice is wise. As the films progress, Maurice becomes a conscience and a teacher for the apes. He has a special connection with not only younger apes, but humans as well, like Alexander in "Dawn" and Nova in "War." He's almost a father to everyone, and yet as far as we know he never had children. What's his inner journey that gets him there? What drives him and defines him?
I agree with you re where Maurice began psychologically in "Rise" - he was in a place of resignation about his life. Also very cautious not to be seen or noticed by the humans any more than he could help it -- for the sake of survival. Also, characteristically orangutan, he observed and noted all going on around him. He didn't get caught up in stuff. He watched. When he connected with Caesar, because they both had a facility with sign language, my feeling is that this was the first significant positive connection of his life. And the connection with Caesar is what enabled Maurice to begin to open up a bit, to trust and come into himself as it were. This is the key evolution I think he's had as a character -- not so much in increased intelligence, because (just my actor's perspective, and from what I've observed in Towan and the other orangutans I've studied over the last six years) I think he already had that. But he has gained a willingness to engage with Caesar, and the ape community, and then discovered to his own surprise the connection with Alexander in "Dawn" and then Nova in "War." I think he's responsive to a true call of the spirit, if that makes sense. That's what he's listening for, what he responds to, what draws him forward.

Patrick - As actors, we all play characters that we really relate to, and ones that are harder to. Do see any of yourself in Maurice?

Wow, I honestly don't know. I would more say, I feel like I've learned a lot from playing Maurice!
Karin Konoval and Towan, August 2013
(Photo Copyright Pedro Diaz
Patrick - What can you tell us about Towan, the orangutan who you've credited as your inspiration for the character? What was your relationship with him? How did you meet? 
I've spoken a bit about Towan in response to an earlier question, and also there is much more I have spoken about him in other interviews and articles at length - please see the orangutan page on my website karinkonoval.com, as well as articles on the news page there. In brief, tho: I went to study Towan at Woodland Park Zoo in August 2010, and after observing him for an hour or two he made the choice to come and meet me at the window, and for twenty minutes studied up and down my face. That twenty minutes is what gave me Maurice. After "Rise" came out I was invited for an introduction to Towan and the rest of his orangutan family, and that was the beginning of a journey that continues today.
Towan, September 2013
(Photo Copyright Karin Konoval)
My relationship with Towan was an extraordinary friendship that grew over the next six years. Like me, he was a painter. One day I will write and share more of that extraordinary journey, I documented every visit until Towan's passing in March 2016, a week after I wrapped filming on War for the Planet of the Apes. At the time of his passing he was 48, the oldest male orangutan in North America. I was able to be with him for his last afternoon outside in the sun, painting for him at the window where we first met. The loss of him was terrible, for me and all who knew and cared for him. And yet, his extraordinary presence lives on, one of the finest teachers I've ever had, human or otherwise. His name "Towan" translates as "Master." For me he always was, and always will be that. 


Karin Konoval as Maurice and Terry Notary as Rocket
in War For The Planet Of the Apes
(Photo Courtesy 20th Century Fox)
Patrick - Let's talk just a little about Terry Notary, who played Rocket,and also served as the movement coach on these films. We've had a chance to chat with some Graham McTavish, Jed Brophy and some of the other actors who portrayed the dwarves in "The Hobbit" trilogy, and they were all just kind of in awe of Terry and really credited him with a lot in terms of the physical aspect of their performances.  What was your experience working with with him, both as a movement coach and a fellow actor?

Karin Konoval  and Terry Notary
at the New York Premiere of
War For The Planet Of the Apes

(Photo Courtesy 20th Century Fox)



Terry is one of the finest and most generous artists and human beings I've ever worked with. His
generosity of time and attention is unflagging and ceaseless. Terry very patiently trained me in quadrupedal movement, and has been a great support for me through all three films. As actors, I feel we've been joined at shoulder and hip through these films, as Maurice and Rocket! I love working with him. Side note: even our horses on "War," Navarone and Markus, were best friends. My horse Navarone often wanted to get so close to Markus while we were riding and filming I'd have to gently reign him in to keep just a touch of distance between us so that Terry's and my leg wirings wouldn't get tangled!


Maurice Evans as Dr. Zaius
 in the original Planet of the Apes
(Photo Courtesy 20th Century Fox)
Paul - We've heard that Maurice gets his name from Maurice Evans, Dr. Zaius in the original 1968 film? Did you draw on anything from his performance, or from those films at all?
There is one thing that I carried with me in particular, a choice I made as an actor, not something that I ever even asked about. I determined for myself early on that Maurice in the mythology must ultimately become the Lawgiver. Therefore, given the somewhat fundamentalist and protective stance of the Dr. Zaius character, influenced by the Lawgiver, there must be something in my portrayal of Maurice that maintained a certain ape-centric quality. I decided that would be Maurice maintaining his "orangutanness" to a certain extreme. Not walking bipedally as readily or willingly as other apes, not carrying a weapon, things like that. Those were actor choices I could make and the scripts supported them completely. 

Paul - Matt Reeves and others have made some comments about the possibility of more films and where it could go from here. Given the opportunity, would you be interested in playing Maurice again? What do you thing his role would be in building up the ape society? 
Here's an easy fast answer: I have no idea!!

                                                                       *       *        *

We certainly hope to see Karin Konoval, if not as Maurice again (it is hard to picture a better farewell to the character) at least in more performance capture roles, and will follow the rest of her career with enthusiasm. You can read Karin's article for the Jane Goodall Institute at the following link (http://news.janegoodall.org/2017/06/08/finding-maurice-karin-konoval-in-war-for-the-planet-of-the-apes/), and she can be seen in a prominent role in season two of Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency on BBC America this fall.

Read part one of our interview with Karin Konoval here.

Amiah Miller as Nova and Karin Konoval as Maurice
in War For The Planet of The Apes
(Photo Courtesy 20th Century Fox)


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