Spoilers ahead for Andor episode ten, “One Way Out.”
If there’s a single actor who encapsulates the vastness of Star Wars’ far, far away galaxy, it’s Andy Serkis. The actor, perhaps best known for providing the motion capture and voice of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films, made his Star Wars debut in 2015’s The Force Awakens, where he played Kylo Ren’s towering alien master, Snoke. Last month, he made another surprise Star Wars appearance in Andor, this time appearing in the flesh as Kino Loy, an inmate in the Imperial prison where Cassian Andor finds himself in episode eight.
The two characters could not be more different. Snoke is a larger-than-life villain (literally, in the case of his Episode VII hologram visage), while Kino is an average man who found himself in the Empire’s dystopian clutches and acquiesced to their oppressive authority, acting as a floor manager for the prison workcamp. But, by the end of the three-episode Narkina 5 arc, he proved just how powerful and complex humanity can be.
Andor is, for a Star Wars show, quite light on aliens and non-humanoids. (Narkina 5 seems to be a human-only prison.) Having played both a CGI baddie and a normal guy, Serkis has experience with both Star Wars extremes. “I always say to people that it’s kind of like, ‘Do you prefer to see yourself onscreen or do you prefer manifesting as another character?’ And the fact of the matter is, I love both,” he tells Vulture.
However, he understands what’s so exciting about Andor’s relative mundanity.
“We love the Star Wars universe because it encapsulates both,” Serkis says. “And I know some people prefer the more operatic, bigger scale, weird wonderfulness of aliens. But I think there are a lot of people who really are enjoying the grounded reality of this.”
Serkis’ three-episode stint on Andor still has the imagination you’d expect from Star Wars, like an underwater prison with electrified floors, but there’s something so visceral and immediate about the action, especially Kino’s transition from enforcer to rebel — or rather, as Serkis reveals, his return to form.
Perhaps even more than the live-action versus mo-cap aspects of your two Star Wars characters is that Snoke didn’t have, let’s say, the most well-developed character arc. Then Kino Loy comes in and he has a nuanced and complete arc in three episodes. Was that rewarding for you?
For sure, a hundred percent. And so much of that comes down to great writing. The series is so beautifully grounded and feels real. It’s much more in the murky gray area of the Star Wars universe as opposed to the dark and the light. It’s complex, and it does have that kind of psychological underpinning. It’s been a really interesting part to play. Tony Gilroy’s an amazing screenwriter and showrunner and filmmaker, and I was a huge fan of Rogue One. It was great to get involved in a story that was seen much more as a sort of grounded human perspective part of this universe.
You mentioned in another interview that Kino’s backstory was that of a shop steward who fought for his workers’ rights. Did you develop that yourself, or did Tony Gilroy or someone else reveal it to you? It certainly adds a sense of irony to the way Kino treats his workers when we first meet him.
No, that was for me, really. It was my own internal process and my own internal thoughts because I wanted him to come from a place that felt very real. The whole way that the Empire works, like many totalitarian systems, is by divide and rule. He was a person who cared about others — a person who would put others before himself or at least rally or galvanize people to defend their rights. Now that he’s in prison, he’s sort of shut down in that respect. He’s really only looking after himself until Cassian arrives. Then he sort of sees a version of himself walk into the room, and it reignites who he was.
For me, it was about creating the biggest arc that I could emotionally. I was thinking about him as someone who perhaps has a family. He is doing his penal service, his incarceration. He just wants to keep his head down and get out until he’s reminded of the power of the group to change the future, in a sense.
Let’s talk about that speech in the tenth episode. Over the course of the Narkina 5 arc, we see Kino go from complicit in what the Empire’s doing to afraid to angry. What was that progression like? How do you get Kino from point A to B and then, especially, to C?
First, he’s in denial that there is a way that you can question that level of authority. They are in a prison ship — you just have to shut down and get on with it. And so it’s almost like anger at himself at the powerlessness that he feels. Then Cassian comes in and starts to kind of ruffle everyone’s feathers and get people to think that there is, perhaps, a way that this system can be challenged. Even then, Kino’s kind of in denial about that until he witnesses the death of one of the oldest serving members, Ulaf, as he’s about to be released. When he had that dawning realization that there is no outside, there’s no way that they’re gonna be released, that they’re just gonna be transported to other prison ships — that sense of injustice fires him up and Cassian keeps pushing his buttons until such a moment that we arrive at a point where he remembers who he is. He remembers that he can galvanize people to have a better outcome for themselves.
It called to mind the Planet of the Apes trilogy, though in that Caesar was more of a revolutionary from the jump while Kino was a reluctant rebel — almost an antagonist at first blush. Did you call upon any of your Apes experience for Andor, or did you even make those connections?
Funny enough, I did make the connections, but as you say, it’s a different journey. I suppose Caesar does discover his ability to bring all apes together to overthrow the system, to a certain extent. But I wasn’t drawing on that at all.
I’m sure I can’t get you to say anything about Kino’s possible future, but I want to talk about that last scene and the heartbreaking “I can’t swim” reveal. Were there other ways you considered delivering that line? What builds up to that moment?
There comes a moment, and it inexorably gets closer, when Kino has to face the fact that he can’t go anywhere. This is where that sort of self-sacrifice moment comes in, that this is still his job to lead the men. He realizes that he’s not going anywhere. That tension was kind of built in all the way through the speech, with me knowing the outcome as an actor.
When it came to the edge, as it were, it was quite a high set and people were literally diving off and jumping off. We tried it in a bunch of different ways. There was real resignation, there was a sort of anger at himself for not being able to swim and not having the bravery to jump. There was one where he was almost laughing at himself because it was so pathetic. But the resignation, the quiet resignation, and then the backing away, that was what director Toby Haynes chose to use.
And ultimately, I mean, he’s not dead. He’s not dead in the water, as it were. There’s no knowledge of what happens to him. All we know is that perhaps there aren’t that many prison guards on Narkina 5 after all. And so, who knows, there might be some way of living on and getting out. But, as you can tell, I have no idea what’s gonna happen. [Laughs.]
How did the sterile nature of the prison — which was a very different sort of prison depiction than we’re used to in pop culture — impact your headspace?
Hugely. The set construction was amazing. It was very visceral in the sense that all of us felt desensitized. The costume design was such that you couldn’t really feel what you were wearing. You had bare feet on the metal floor. There was nothing organic on that set, nothing. We really looked forward to lunch breaks because it was very sapping. It took everybody’s identity away. It was a very, very smart design, but it really did affect you.
Was the floor heated, at least, or were everyone’s feet very cold during the shoot?
No, it wasn’t heated. It was cold and quite sweaty. And walking along the long, test-tube-like walkways — when we were in those, we were sort of locked. They put us in queues, and it felt very inhospitable with cold metal under your feet all day long,
Was there actually anything in the food tubes that the prisoners were eating from?
There was, actually, in some of them. Not all of them. It was pretty disgusting.
What is the difference between “flavor” and “taste?” That they are apparently two distinct rewards is for some reason deeply unsettling to me.
I think flavor means color, actually, and taste means it actually tastes of something. Flavor you can only really just about smell ’cause it’s so watered down. But taste, it actually tastes of something, which you might think is appetizing.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.