Andy Serkis recently became the newest Honorary Patron at the Dukes Theatre, Lancaster
He gave this interview to Louise Bryning, their Press & Marketing Officer, which shares his thoughts on his Lancaster days and his subsequent rewarding and successful career.
Q What brought you to Lancaster?
A I came to Lancaster University to study Visual Arts in 1982.
Q Why did you decide to become an actor?
A I’d done a little acting while I was at school and as a third option in my first year at Lancaster, I did Theatre Studies which then led to an Independent Studies degree in Theatre Design and Movement.
Part of that involved me going to The Dukes, working with production designers and painting sets, and eventually we staged some of our student productions there including a play called Class Enemy around 1983.I then did a play called Gotcha by Barrie Keeffe – it was a total epiphany. The level of immersion in the character was an extraordinary thing.The desire to investigate and embody other peoples’ lives became very strong because of the release of emotion and the psychological journeys that you go on when you start to uncover a role.
Q When did you join The Dukes and which production did you first appear in?
A When I was leaving Lancaster I applied to drama schools and I also applied to The Dukes. At that time regional theatres were giving away two Equity cards a year and I was fortunate enough to be offered a place in the company as I was graduating. My first professional night at The Dukes in Privates on Parade was on the same day that I graduated.
Q What did you learn from your time at The Dukes that has helped you during your career?
A When I became a professional actor I was fortunate to be given my first job there by a director called Jonathan Petherbridge. My desire to become an actor became more refined by learning from him as a director and as a person, in that the way he treated theatre was very much as a service to the community, and the way he directed plays and operated the company meant that we were very connected to Lancaster and its people.
He instilled in me a way of thinking about acting, which was about as far away from it being a vain occupation as possible, in that drama has significant possibilities for change in society, however small. That is a very powerful healing force in a community and is also a powerful force in my attitude to what acting can possibly do, and remains so to this day.
Q What do you remember of appearing in The Dukes first outdoor show in Williamson Park in 1987?
A It was a total adventure and Jonathan Petherbridge was incredibly inspiring. He’d done site-specific theatre, outdoor promenade shows before, but for me it was my first time, and I just found it intoxicating. Williamson Park is the most extraordinary wonderland for putting on a piece of theatre. I learnt a lot about acting for film, actually in that experience – relating with a real environment rather than being behind a fourth wall on a stage. It was the most incredible first night, which really affected the audience; it was a truly magical experience.
Q Where did you live during the time you were appearing in Lancaster?
A I first lived in a farmhouse near the University called Bailrigg Farm, and then I lived in various places including renting a room in Hornby Castle and by the river in Lune Street in a flat in which someone had been murdered…there was a ghost!
Q Do you still stay in contact with anyone from your Lancaster days and, if so, who?
A Yes very much so: Jonathan Petherbridge, Bev Willis, Jane Nash, Nicholas Murchie, Tony Bell, among many others.
Q What do you think is special and important about regional producing theatres?
A Regional theatres are cathedrals for a community – they breathe life into a community. They are centres of inspiration across the arts. Particularly with theatre they are extremely valuable, as a community gets to share in the storytelling.
Q What advice would you give today’s aspiring student actors?
A Enjoy being part of a theatre company. Although it’s important to have a business head on you as an actor, when you’re starting out in your careers, follow your heart as to the best stories to tell and the characters to play. Don’t be driven by a business head too early on, there’s plenty of time for that…
Q When did you leave The Dukes and where did you go next?
A I think I left The Dukes in 1987. I started working for other regional theatres and did a production of Bouncers at Hull Truck Theatre Company which went up to the Edinburgh Festival and did a tour of Ireland. Then I went to the Bolton Octagon, the Sheffield Crucible followed by the Royal Exchange in Manchester where I worked on Macbeth among others.
Q When did you last visit Lancaster?
A It must have been about seven years ago. My wife, Lorraine, was filming on the Isle of Man and on the drive to visit her, my children and I stopped off in Lancaster. I took them to see the University, went to see the Nuffield Theatre there and then we went on to The Dukes. It was extraordinary – we walked onto the stages: it was a very emotional experience, especially being there with my kids.
Q What has been the highlight of your career so far?
A The highlight of my career is really whatever I’m excited about or working on at any given moment. I suppose if I were to make a list there isn’t just one, there’s a few key moments in my career. One of which is definitely my time at The Dukes – being part of a company of actors for that length of time was truly inspiring. The second one on stage was in Mojo at the Royal Court Theatre in 1995. I also enjoyed playing Ian Dury in Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, playing Gollum and all the films I’ve worked on with Peter Jackson, and then founding The Imaginarium with my co-founder Jonathan Cavendish, and seeing it come together and come to life.
Q What are you currently working on?
A I am currently in post-production on two movies that I’ve directed. One of which is Breathe, a triumph of the human spirit and a love story (due out October 2017) and Warner Brothers’ The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. In addition, the third instalment in the Planet of the Apes franchise, War for the Planet of the Apes, where I play Caesar, is released in July.
Q What are your plans for the future?
A The Imaginarium has a number of projects in development and production.We’re driven by creating stories in various mediums, concentrating on the future of next-generation storytelling – be that VR/AR, live events, immersive films, games and television and many more arenas. Drama and stories that will change the world.