With the release of the action/adventure film RAMPAGE, starring Dwayne Johnson, Shannon had the chance to speak with the real star of the film, the giant albino gorilla George, played by the incredibly personable and charming Jason Liles. During their chat, they discussed everything from what it’s like to be an actor doing motion capture performances, to the in-depth research he did in order to transform into George the Gorilla.

Nightmarish Conjurings: Hi Jason, thank you so much for speaking with me today and congratulations on all the success with RAMPAGE! To start things off, for those who may not be familiar with you and what you do, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Jason Liles: Yeah, sure! I’m a 6’9” actor in Hollywood, my name is Jason Liles, and you probably know some of the characters that I play but you would never recognize me from my photo or my name. I played Ryuk in Death Note and most recently I played the very handsome and charismatic albino gorilla George, alongside Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in RAMPAGE. Next year you’ll see me doing some things in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, but I can’t go into too much detail about that quite yet.

Nightmarish Conjurings: What interested you in wanting to do performance capture work?

JL: I wanted to be an actor and be in movies since I was a kid and I just never thought I could. Then through a whole set of circumstance, I ended up moving to NY to study theatre, acting, and on-camera. It was then that I heard I was too tall, which for most things I am. While doing Men In Black III I played several aliens throughout the entire production and found out that I may be too tall for certain things but for non-human characters, practical makeup, and performance capture I’m perfect. I then started playing aliens and monsters and werewolves while getting experience in makeup effects and studying mime and mask-work. I became good friends with Doug Jones, who among so many characters he is most recently the creature in The Shape of Water, after we did a short film together years ago. He told me I needed to come out to LA cause this was where all the shops were that would make me into monsters but they needed me to be local. I ended up moving out here and a few months later I got the part of Ryuk in Death Note.

I never thought I would work in performance capture, ever! I thought my height would help me with practical stuff because they want really tall, slender guys for these monsters but in regards to doing performance capture my height doesn’t really help me. You could be Andy Serkis at 5’7” and be a little gollum or a massive King Kong. With RAMPAGE, they needed someone taller, ideally, than Dwayne Johnson to play George, mainly so that in that first scene when George starts beating his chest and acting like he’s all angry, Dwayne would have to look up. Of course, George continues to grow after he gets infected but for that first scene they really needed someone tall for that and then they could make me bigger on platforms for the rest of the film.

There’s a misconception that performance capture/motion capture is this separate kind of acting, or that you need to have certain skills to do it rather than normal acting. While researching, I found that in every single interview with Andy Serkis he talked about how there’s no difference [in terms of acting]. The only thing that’s different is that there is a different type of camera, an infrared camera, that picks up the dots and captures your performance; hence, performance capture! I get called a motion capture actor but I see myself as an actor who happened to have a couple of roles in performance capture. With all that said, I’m definitely living my childhood dream of getting to play characters like this in Hollywood; I never thought I would get to do it. Here’s a moment of inspiration for everybody – you can do anything, I promise you, you can do anything, you just have to want it and work consistently everyday, maybe for a decade, and you’ll be ready for that opportunity that comes along.

Nightmarish Conjurings: I had read that while preparing for RAMPAGE you had done an immense amount of research on gorillas and their behavior. Can you tell us a little bit more about the research you did and what that was like?

JL: It was life-changing research. One of my best-friends is Colin Strause, he did the visual effects on Death Note, and during filming he told me that he was going to be working on a movie called RAMPAGE starring Dwayne Johnson. After we finished filming Death Note I would go over to Colin’s every couple of weeks for dinner and at the beginning of November 2016 he asked me if I remembered him talking about RAMPAGE. He told me that they needed someone taller to play George and that he was going to tell them that I was the number one guy. He suggested that I start watching videos of Koko the Gorilla and silverback gorillas because the producers were going to want to meet with me in a week or two. Every single week he kept assuring me that even though I hadn’t heard anything from the producers yet, that it was going to be happening very soon, so every day I kept thinking I could get a phone call for this and I need to be ready. Well, 6 months later I finally got the call. I had been preparing every day as if it was the only day I had for 6 months.

I watched everything on gorillas – gorilla documentaries, behind-the-scenes of Planet of the Apes, Andy Serkis interviews, Terry Notary interviews, I went to the zoo – I did as much research as I possibly could. When the producers brought me in I got to meet Terry Notary, who‘s Kong in Kong: Skull Island and is rocking the Planet of the Apes trilogy among so many other characters in so many movies. We trained for three weeks in the Santa Monica mountains, doing hours upon hours of meditation. His methodology is that humans are 96% identical to chimps in DNA so it’s not about what we do when we’re an ape, it’s about un-doing the social conditioning and the American culture of being a man or a woman – everything you have learned up to this point – undoing all of that. If we can get down to a core, a blank slate foundation, than you’re 96% there. Then we just have to build the walls and decorate the rooms and build that character from that blank slate without bringing in anything human. It’s not about being a human wearing a gorilla mask, it’s about getting down to our ape self and then building the character from there.

It was really so transformative and so life-changing for me as an artist as well as how I view life and animals after that. Gorillas are just mute humans. If you watch enough documentaries you get to a point where you think, that’s just a dude in a gorilla suit who can’t talk. It’s amazing how I really discovered that. That was about 7-9 months of research and training that was done before I ever got on set, then we filmed for 3 months. By then I was ready to go and I needed to be because the hardest part is not the running around on all fours, or the smashing; the hardest parts are the quiet moments where you are doing nothing and you have to be a gorilla. You have to engage your senses and look out for your eyes and hear and smell and feel with your back as a gorilla. It’s really all about meditation, at least that’s the core of it, and shutting off your mind. Humans think in terms of past and future, we never shut up and do nothing and just be here in the moment. Gorillas, they turn off their minds, they don’t think like that, they listen in this present moment. They are so intuned which is why meditation was the key. It was an amazing process leading up to filming and when we filmed the movie that was its own incredible process. But really, the life-changing thing was before we even said action.

Nightmarish Conjurings: Switching gears a bit, it has been announced that you’ll be in Michael Dougherty’s upcoming GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS. I know you can’t talk much about it but in terms of preparing for the role, was it similar in intensity as it was for RAMPAGE?

JL: Every non-human character, especially if it’s a made-up species is a new challenge, but there’s definitely things that bleed over from one character to the next when you’re playing a non-human character. If Legendary Pictures is listening, don’t worry, I’m not going to say any details (laughs) but I knew Mike Dougherty because we had previously talked about Krampus years ago. However, once they moved the shooting location to New Zealand they decided to cast an actor there, but we kept in touch and he sent me a message after the RAMPAGE trailer was released saying how good it looked. A couple of months later, on a Saturday night around 11:45pm, I received a text from him saying “Hey, do you want to be in Godzilla?” I was like what, what does that mean, of course! Then I couldn’t get him on the phone for like a week, I was like dude stop teasing me and answer the phone! (laughs). We finally connected and he offered me “something” over the phone and I said absolutely, I’m game, let’s do it. I can’t go into details about what I do and how I do it yet, but we will definitely have a time where we can talk all about that.

It was such an honor to bring King Ghidorah to life, to bring such an iconic character, Godzilla’s biggest archenemy, to life. I believe it’s the first time he’s ever been in an American-made film, he’s been in 10-11 Japanese films but this is the first time Ghidorah has been in an American-made film. To get to help in that process, in any way shape or form, was something that I was so honored to do since it’s an iconic character that goes back over 50 years. I can’t wait to see what this is going to look like, I can’t imagine it not being massive.

In terms of research, I went back to the spot in the Santa Monica mountains and played around trying to find out how I was going to help out with this project but there’s not really a book on this stuff. It’s not like I can buy a book from Amazon on how to help bring a 3-headed dragon to life, so there was definitely a lot of research. There’s that saying, something like 10 hours of 100 hours for one moment of inspiration is worth it and it’s true. Researching a role is a time that I usually get to learn about a subject that I’ve never really jumped into before. I came out learning a ton which then lead me down another road where I would find something new and need to look into that. I’m a nerd for all that stuff.

RAMPAGE is now available to own on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital from Warner Bros. Pictures.

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