Rise of the Planet of the Apes tore up the box office last weekend, earning $54 million — a surprising showing for the seventh film in a series that’s over 40 years old. EW caught up with Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, the married screenwriters who crafted the primate preboot, to talk about the exciting difficulty of writing a character who never speaks and their vague-but-intriguing ideas for a Rise sequel — or rather, sequels —
It’s interesting that the character audiences are most responding to in the film is Caesar, the rebel chimpanzee played by Andy Serkis. Was it difficult to write a character who doesn’t have any dialogue?
That was our challenge.
It put extra pressure on us, in a good way, to tell a story visually without dialogue. I think — thinking back on my film school days! — that’s what you look for. Yes, Paddy Chayefsky has great dialogue, and you aspire to do that as well. But film is a visual medium, and what can you show and not tell? Caesar was the genesis of the story. Rick came up with the idea for this when he was looking through his idea file. He’d cut out some articles about chimpanzees raised in homes, and he thought, “My god, this would make a great reboot for Planet of the Apes.” We kind of fell in love with Caesar. We didn’t think of him specifically as a chimpanzee. We thought of him as a full character. Because he didn’t have dialogue, it put extra pressure on us in a good way to tell a story visually without the dialogue.
We did a lot of research, and a lot of reading online, about some very specific primates who have become somewhat well-known. There’s that great documentary out right now, Project Nim; we read about him. There’s another one, Kanzi, who was…
He was a gorilla, right?
No, I believe he was a….
Amanda and Rick in unison:
The film bears a slight similarity to Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the fourth film in Apes series. Did you use that film as a signpost for Rise?
Not in the beginning! We laid out the story and pitched the idea to Fox, and had gotten hired, and okayed to write and produce this thing. It was at that point we went back and started studying the old movies. We already had the movie laid out. I think some of the connections to Conquest are on purpose, but others are coincidental. “Unlikely character becoming a leader and leading his people to freedom” — it’s also a Moses story.
If this is the Moses story — a leader taking his people to freedom — then do you see the potential sequel as a kind of Joshua story, with the Apes fighting wars and conquering the world?
I’m touching wood, because I’m superstitious! We definitely have ideas for where the sequel — plural, where the sequels — would take us. And those were kind of built into –
— the construction of the narrative already. There hasn’t been an official discussion yet about a sequel, because I think everyone still doesn’t want to jinx where we are. But we definitely have ideas.
When we started this, we knew that this movie would stand on its own, and we designed it that way. But if it didn’t stand on its own, we pictured a trilogy that would start with this movie.
One of my favorite parts of the Apes franchise is the pulpy grandiosity of the later titles: Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, and now Rise of the Planet of the Apes. What’s your dream-title for a Rise sequel?
We’re gonna have to figure that one out. That’s a great question. We do have a good sense of what will be in the sequel. Maybe in 20 years, the last one will be called Success of the Planet of the Apes.
It’s that B-movie flair, that excitement. We haven’t found the cheesy-but-fun noun that would fit the action that we’re seeing.