Tai Freligh interviews Jason Liles from Rampage…
At 6′ 9″, Jason Liles is in a perfect place to take the motion capture world by storm. After working with Rick Baker on Men in Black III as several aliens, he was later recruited to play the supernatural entity Ryuk in Deathnote. But perhaps his biggest role yet, pun intended, is as George, a genetically-altered silverback gorilla who grows to enormous size in director Brad Peyton’s action-packed Rampage, starring Dwayne Johnson, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Joe Manganiello, Naomie Harris and Malin Akerman.
He took time to chat with Flickering Myth’s own Tai Freligh about his research into the role of a lifetime, working with Terry Notary and what he has learned from mocap heavyweight Andy Serkis.
What was your audition for Rampage like?
VFX supervisor and friend Colin Strause told me about the role. The “audition” was going in and working with Terry
Notary after I had already been researching on my own for 6 months. I never met casting. We did a kind of test training session for an hour or so and he gave two thumbs up to production. He showed some footage of me that day to director Brad Peyton and I was offered the part. Terry and I began training the following week.
How did you research for the role?
Every doc on gorillas I could find on YouTube or elsewhere, studying Koko and Dr. Penny Patterson’s history and their docs, going to the LA Zoo, every interview I could find with Andy Serkis and Terry Notary, behind-the-scenes on the recent Planet of the Apes films and Peter Jackson’s King Kong, and anything else I could think of. I wanted to do too much. I was obsessed and really fell in love with gorillas in the process.
Tell us about working with Terry Notary?
I couldn’t have played George without Terry Notary. Period. He’s incredible. We worked together every day for 3 weeks
logging miles upon miles on the ape arm extensions in the Santa Monica Mountains, a lot of sitting down and meditating getting to a “blank slate foundation,” bit by bit shedding what makes me human and Jason, organically discovering and finding the George within me, working on scenes with Terry and Brad Peyton, and so much more. It changed my perspective on life, animals, and the process of becoming a character. Would work with Terry again on anything.
You portray this gorilla from birth to maturity. What kind of changes did you make to indicate aging?
It’s really about getting into the psyche of George at those ages and the various stages of growth throughout the film. I knew that the VFX team and Weta would take care of it visually and that the story was there. It was important to me to always truly feel like and BE George no matter what.
Any funny set stories with The Rock?
If there’s a gag reel on the DVD, I probably won’t be in it haha. When Dwayne would come on set, I was George. I wouldn’t
respond to people as Jason. I would stay in character for hours on end spending time on set as George in the morning and staying in it between takes. So I really had far more interaction as George with Davis than as Jason with Dwayne. Dwayne is
the best though. So warm, giving, supportive, such a great actor to play with, and just such a great guy. He’s Han Solo to my Chewbacca.
Describe working with Brad Peyton?
I love Brad. He’s incredible at directing actors. He told me from day one, “If you’re giving me what I want, I won’t talk to you on set. If you aren’t, I’ll direct you.” He talked to me as George in the real situation of the scene. Not as Jason acting on a movie set. That really makes a difference. Love that dude.
What inspired you to get into motion capture?
I was obsessed with Gollum in Lord of the Rings. Followed Andy Serkis’ work religiously after that, whether in mocap or not, and studied any behind-the- scenes with him. Then I discovered Terry Notary and his work. They’ve inspired me as much as anyone in my life. Didn’t plan on getting into motion capture. Was focused on being the best actor I could be and this role came along. It’s actually the first role I’ve ever done using motion capture.
Have you met Andy Serkis or learned anything from studying his work?
I’ve learned a ton from Andy Serkis and his work is so inspiring to me. I did meet him back in December. He’s such a warm, loving person and we had to get an “apes together strong” picture. The biggest thing I learned from him in researching this role was that there are no tips or tricks for motion capture. It’s acting like any other role. The key to a great motion capture performance is to give a great performance like any other fully creating a character physically, vocally, and psychologically.
Compare working on Men in Black III to Rampage in terms of what has changed and what hasn’t?
My process in becoming a character. Too much has changed in those 7 years to begin to talk about. In a sentence, I’ve found a way to go from pretending to be or acting like a character to truly believing that I am and BEING a character. I feel like everything has changed and I’m still learning.
There’s a big one coming up that we’ve already wrapped, but I’m not allowed to talk about it just yet. It’s gonna be so awesome though.
How do you survive the zombie apocalypse?
Oh jeez. I probably don’t haha.
Your favourite director to work with?
I can’t possibly choose between Adam Wingard, Brad Peyton, and the director of that secret project. Love them all.
If not doing motion capture for a career, what would you be doing right now?
No idea. I HAVE to be an actor and an artist. No other option.
First movie you ever saw motion capture used in?
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
Name an actor/actress you’d like to work with in the future?
Official Still courtesy Warner Brothers Studios
Other photos courtesy Michael Bezjian
Jason Liles can be found on Instagram at @TheJasonLiles. We thank him for taking the time to chat with us and can’t wait to see what this secret project turns out to be!
“Primatologist Davis Okoye (Johnson), a man who keeps people at a distance, shares an unshakable bond with George, the extraordinarily intelligent, silverback gorilla who has been in his care since birth. But a rogue genetic experiment gone awry transforms this gentle ape into a raging monster. To make matters worse, it’s soon discovered there are other similarly altered alpha predators. As these newly created monsters tear across North America, destroying everything in their path, Okoye teams with a discredited genetic engineer to secure an antidote, fighting his way through an ever-changing battlefield, not only to halt a global catastrophe but to save the fearsome creature that was once his friend.”
Rampage sees director Brad Peyton reteaming with his San Andreas star Dwayne Johnson and features a cast that also includes Naomie Harris, Joe Manganiello, Malin Akerman, Marley Shelton, Jake Lacy, Breanne Hill, P.J. Byrne, Jack Quaid, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Matt Gerald.
Tai Freligh is a Los Angeles-based writer and can be found on Twitter.