A fixture of the PLANET OF THE APES franchise since the reboot in 2011, the talented and stunning performer Karin Konoval has been a fixture of television and feature films for more than three decades. Perhaps her greatest and most rewarding role in her career as well as her life comes in the latest dark and powerful installment entitled WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES out in theaters on July 14 th . As the friend, council and heart for the lead ape Caesar, Konoval’s character of “Maurice” is brilliance blending tenderness, dedication, a bit humor and the continuing total evolution through caring, understanding and the use of the motion performance capturing technology of Weta. Taking time out as she continues to create interesting and deep characters, Konoval spoke with Jay Kay about Weta, authentic locations, playing along with “Bad Ape” and immersing her personal life in the beauty of the orangutans for TOM HOLLAND’S TERROR TIME.
Terror Time: Thank you Karin for taking the time to speak with me on your pivotal and emotional role that you bring to life in “Maurice”. First, how has the journey been through the trilogy of the PLANET OF THE APES films? Were you a fan growing up?
Karin Konoval: I wasn’t a follower of the PLANET OF THE APES movies before being cast as Maurice. I vaguely recall seeing the 1968 film on tv when I was a kid, then saw it again after “Rise” opened, in a large theater with cinerama screen — that was great fun! I was particularly entranced by the sound design for the film, the spare discordant brilliance of it. Playing Maurice through this trilogy of films has been one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences in my career to date. To have the opportunity as an actor to explore a character of not only a different species but different gender, and to carry and develop his personal story through three films — an amazing opportunity! And sharing the journey through all three films with Andy Serkis and Terry Notary has been a joy.
TT: I understand from speaking with Matt Reeves, that your immersion, study and caring is limitless as a person and with the different species of orangutans. Can you talk about how you trained for this role of “Maurice” and how much your life and the character were changed with the time spent around orangutans?
KK: Matt Reeves himself is the finest example of “caring”! As a director, he’s utterly committed to integrity of story, landing the truth of each moment, as well as unfailingly gentle and deeply respectful of the actors he works with. So, it’s first Matt’s gracious and thoughtful direction, and the beautiful script he and Mark Bomback crafted, that allows the caring and effort I’ve brought to my portrayal of Maurice to register. My physical training, research and ongoing study of orangutans over the past seven years has been extensive — that’s the short answer! And, everything that is part of Maurice’s character, and I hope his orangutan integrity, has derived directly from the behaviors I’ve observed in the orangutans I’ve studied most closely. In particular, Towan — a mature male orangutan who I first met in 2010 and was fortunate to know until his passing at the age of 48 in 2016. Towan has always been my heart and soul of Maurice, and what I learned from him (and from the other orangutans I’ve been fortunate to meet) goes far beyond inspiration for the role.
TT: How has the role of Maurice evolved from RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES to DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES to now WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES? How has Maurice changed over the years with your own personal life and maturity?
KK: I would say that Maurice has specifically evolved as a character in his growing willingness to engage with those around him, to trust and to express himself, particularly to Caesar. You recall he came from a background as a performing circus orangutan, with the trained skill of sign language. So, he came from a place of deep distrust of humans, different from where Caesar’s journey began — and through connecting with Caesar began to open up, to engage. It was a pivotal moment for Maurice in the story of “Dawn” when he and the boy Alexander bonded over the book. Now, in “War” Maurice discovers an even deeper bonding with a human, at the same time as his relationship with Caesar has continued to deepen enormously. I don’t know if I’ve brought any of my own personal growth into Maurice — I guess maybe I have — but it actually feels more like he as a character is teaching me.
TT: What has the bond with actor Andy Serkis/”Caesar” over the three films meant to you personally and on-screen as “Maurice”? How was the comedic relationship with Steve Zahn’s character of “Bad Ape”?
KK: Since the moment I met him, working with Andy Serkis has been an honor and a joy, working with him one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received as an actor. My respect and appreciation for him was huge to begin with and has only grown. I can’t find more words to express that. Steve and I had a great deal of fun together! He is so fabulous as Bad Ape and it’s a total blast to work with him.
TT: What has “Weta” meant to your training as a performer and bringing these characters to life?
KK: The performance capture technology that “Weta” so brilliantly employs to translate our performances into our ape counterparts is amazing. But for me as an actor the job remains quite simply to find Maurice’s physical, psychological, spiritual and vocal integrity as an orangutan character. I wear the grey suit, the body wires, the helmet with face camera – but my focus, my actor’s job, is singular: to portray Maurice the orangutan. That’s both what’s so freeing about working with this technology and also what makes for the biggest challenge.
TT: In WAR FOR THE PLANET APES, your character cares for a young charge that adds another level of humanity to the film in “Nova” played by actress Amiah Miller. How does that dynamic affect the film and your character?
KK: We did indeed film in some amazing locations in all three films, and in weather conditions of all extremes that required huge endurance, stamina and patience. Personally, I found the summer heat in New Orleans during the second half of the filming of “Dawn” to be the most stressful — but at the same time I absolutely fell in love with New Orleans, and relished every moment I had to explore the city. It was really tough to leave and I long to return one day.
TT: Matt Reeves talks about authentic and practical locations, what was it like to see so much of the world during this trilogy?
Karin Konoval: Well, without offering spoilers for those who haven’t seen the film yet, I’d say quite a lot! I’d like to leave it at that to give people who haven’t seen the film yet a chance to see for themselves… 🙂
Karin Konoval as Maurice in War For The Planet OF The Apes is an amazing acting performance