Spoilers for Episodes 8 through 10 of Andor below.
What a treat it was to see Andy Serkis appear on Andor. The multi-hyphenate artist last appeared in Star Wars: The Last Jedi as Supreme Leader Snoke, wherein he met the business end of a lightsaber. While it’s not uncommon for franchises to reuse actors—Gemma Chan appeared in two different Marvel movies, for example—it felt shocking to see such a high-profile actor show up with little fanfare. That’s part of the brilliance of a show like Andor, as it’s constantly keeping you on your toes—and something Serkis himself realized when talking with series creator Tony Gilroy. “When he explained about the character and the journey that this character would take, I was taken with it,” Serkis told Complex in a recent interview. “He’s such a masterful storyteller and a brilliant showrunner.”
The first assumption for some Star Wars fans would be that Serkis would be here as some sort of prequel set-up for Snoke, but Andor quickly establishes that his character, Kino Loy, is just a normal dude who Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) meets when he enters an Imperial prison. Kino is a shift manager tasked with keeping Andor and his fellow inmates on schedule producing materials for the Empire. Kino is hard-nosed, but he’s not a bad guy. He’s simply here to work his shifts and get released. That is until he and Andor find out they’re not going home after they’ve served their time. Instead, they’ll simply get reassigned to another part of the prison. The only way out is to revolt.
As the last episode of this arc of Andor comes to a close, Complex spoke with Serkis about the mental aspects of shooting in a prison-like environment, how he developed Kino’s backstory, shooting a riot, and much more.
Does your approach to developing a character backstory change at all when you’re on a show versus a movie?
No, no. The way you work on a character or where I work on a character, I always want to create a very thorough sort of understanding psychologically, emotionally and piece together a world that this person can come from. Otherwise, the part would just be in a total vacuum, and you’d just be playing catch-up in a strange, sort of uncentered way. I wanted Kino to be someone who was capable of running and galvanizing a workforce. He was like a shop steward who stood up for workers’ rights, who was very vocal about making sure that people were treated well and with respect. Then he was arrested because the Empire could see that he could be potentially a threat because he was good at galvanizing people.
So when he comes in and is incarcerated and put into this system, he completely shuts down because he’s ripped away from his family, who he deeply cares about and deeply loves. This sense of injustice has just crushed him. He turns into this sort of desensitized version of himself. He’s just operating on, “I’m gonna get through this [and] care for number one. I don’t care about anybody else. I just want to do my bit, play the system, and just get out the other side.” He completely loses touch with his humanity, his truth, and who he is underneath it. That was the game plan for me in terms of building a backstory for Kino.
There’s a real sense of urgency at the end of Episode 9 as we learn about what’s been happening at the prior. Do you think that situation forces Kino’s hand? Or do you think Cassian would have gotten through to him further down the road?
That’s a good question. I think he sees Cassian as a massive interruption into his potential freedom until it becomes apparent that things are not what they seem. Then, very quickly, I think he reaches out and begins to trust Cassian. He can sense the desire that this other person has—although they’re at loggerheads early on—he senses the desire that this person has in putting himself on the line for the potential future betterment of others. That’s what rewires him—and that happens through Episode 9.
Can you tell me a little bit about shooting that riot sequence? It’s electric to watch, but I can’t imagine it was an easy feat.
This was days of shooting huge, huge set pieces and many camera angles. It was intense, keeping up. Every scene [was] brilliant. Toby Haynes’ direction—the cinematography and everything, the way that the whole unit worked with each other—was great. Managing that amount of people and getting the detail for every single beat-to-beat moment in the build-up to that revolution is exacting on everyone. But it was thrilling. Everyone went for it every single time. You are repeating this stuff day in and day out, and you have to make it obviously feel like it’s happening for the first time. Everybody had a great energy. It was a febrile, exciting moment that everyone had been building up to.
I found your speech at the end very moving and powerful. What was your experience of shooting that?
I was anxious about it because I wanted to hit it right. I think I was anxious because Kino is anxious about it. There are many parts to it, many strands and turning points within it. The writing of it was so beautiful. This was all about connecting back to the person that he is and actually feeling that. I suppose I felt connected to it because if I was in that position—and even with the knowledge that perhaps you’re not going to make it out the other end—it made me think, “God, I really wish I could be that person.” I think that helped fuel [and] find his strength. It was a challenging few days, actually. I felt very on edge the whole time I was doing it.
LucasFilm has its little group of director-actors now with you, Taika [Waititi], and Bryce Dallas Howard. If they asked you direct one of these Disney+ series, would you do so?
Who wouldn’t? They’re amazing worlds to enter into and such rich veins to tap into. Particularly this, I love the way that this is grounded, feels very relevant [and] contemporary, connecting the world into our world in such a direct way. So yeah, of course.