By Angel Carreras
If you’ve seen clips of the film Rampage, you may have been struck with awe by a certain character.
A large, towering, mountain of muscle, oozing with charisma and charm who can oscillate between friendly to fierce at the drop of a hat, dominating every scene he’s in.
No, not Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, we’re talking about the gigantic, CGI ape in the monster movie, George. Err, well, the man behind the CGI ape.
George is played by actor Jason Liles, a motion capture actor you’ve definitely seen before. Not his face particularly, but the way he embodies characters.
In his brief but memorable career thus far, Liles has played creatures ranging from aliens in Men in Black 3 to Ryuk in Netflix’s Death Note and will soon be bringing King Ghidorah to life in Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
Liles talked to ComicsBeat about bringing a character like George to life and his career thus far.
You grew up from humble beginning in Tennessee. Was being in movies always the goal?
The dream that I always wanted to do and never thought would happen.
Let’s start with inspiration: if you have a dream and someone’s telling you that you can’t do it, forget that, trust yourself and go after what you want. It might take years, but you can do anything — Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, my coworker Dwayne Johnson, they all started from nowhere, so you can accomplish anything.
What role gave you your first big break?
I did shorts and stuff, but my first time on a big set playing something substantial was to play aliens in MIB with Rick freakin’ Baker. He’s won 7 Oscars for best makeup and he’s a living legend. The cast was great, but oh my gosh, Rick Baker.
That showed me I’m not too tall (laughs). Don’t listen to naysayers, I was told I was too tall for roles years. Baker and casters for these creature roles said you can even be taller! And that’s where I found these roles where I can fit.
I’ve read that even as a mocap actor, you go method for your roles. Is this something you’ve done since your days in Tennessee? Or, and absolutely no disrespect, is this a kind of “I’m in green tights, I need to buy in if I want others to buy in” kind of thing?
Hah! It is kinda like that and it really came from Terry Notary’s training. He’s in Planet of the Apes, Kong, coaches half a dozen people in the Marvel movies. He really helped me put it all together and helped me strip humanity and get to this blank slate. So playing an ape isn’t about doing, its undoing. What makes me Jason, an American, a human?
It’s kind of a difficult thing to drop in and drop out quickly. It used to take a while now its a light switch. I didn’t want people to see a guy in PJs with dots on sticks, I want The Rock and everyone to see George, to see and hear this gorilla. I took it upon myself with Terry’s guidance and advice not to drop in and out of character but to stay in set.
But first day I was with Dwayne and Naomi (Harris), I didn’t introduce myself until the end of a 15 hour day.
Its more fun for me that way, and it’s the epitome of acting; we’re playing characters in this world and I don’t wanna phone it in. I want to full on have fun and play like a kid so I have the most fun fully inhabiting a character like that. There’s characters where I’m gonna full-on Daniel Day Lewis that stuff. Its like lucid dreaming while awake. You truly get to a place psychologically where you’re someone else. Especially when they say ‘action’ and everything disappears and you’re just there. It feels like you’re able to fly, it’s indescribable.
I’ve read quite a bit about Notary wanting you to shed being human. What went into to training to become George?
I was going to the zoo, watching documentaries and Planet of the Apes to audition, and then I got brought in and got hired.
We went to the Santa Monica mountains logged MILES on arm extensions and sitting in nature and meditating. A centered, meditative place helped build the character and built the psyche. I got sore and sweaty, walked through bushes (because George is a 500 pound gorilla) and you see George as you do in the beginning of that film, an actual ape.
So Terry prepared me for for everything, throwing everything he could at me in the Santa Monica mountains, and that’s where he taught me how to lose the human side of me and enjoy my senses as a gorilla and George.
Death Note, MIB, Rampage, now Godzilla — how do you feel about these roles where they’re just existing properties? They’re obviously huge, but do you ever want to work on anything smaller? Without the mocap pajamas?
Yeah! Looking at some things that might go into production this Fall. I want to be very picky about non-human roles now that I’ve done some awesome ones and to answer your question about smaller movies or human roles, that’s it. I want people to get to know me, Jason.
No one knows me!. So sometimes that can be a bit of a hindrance when wanting to be seen for another picture. It’s like, “Hey, he played that character!” and people, they just look at you like “What? Who cares.” (laughs) I’ve been playing non-human for a decade. Shorts, big movies, I’d really love playing human parts and finding a groove..
Favorite memories making Rampage?
First day when Dwayne Johnson posted pictures of us and that’s how all my friends found out what I was doing, my phone exploded.
But working with Terry was revolutionary, just that one on one workout then the filming process. I learned how to be George and learned a lot about myself.
And the last day of shooting. I couldn’t help but cry for making my younger self’s dream come true. And Dwayne giving me a big hug. The amount of love we had was immense, the whole process was a dream come true and little surreal. And working with WETA, just a nerd for them and what they’ve done. When I found out not only will I do ‘Rampage’ but it’s with WETA, who did Gollum and so many other great CGI characters, it’s like, they work with Andy Serkis and now maybe I can be that guy… pinch me.
Can you detail key differences in bringing a somewhat grounded character like George to life compared to King Ghidorah?
I can’t talk much about Godzilla yet, but I can say playing George definitely helped in playing non-human characters.
But I can say I do a ton of research. 100 hours of work for one moment of inspiration is worth it, so I usually do way too much research for something people won’t even see my face in (laughs). And that’s just awesome, I can’t wait to to bring that character to life for, I think, the first time in American cinema. I’m psyched for that. But every character is different and I have a process for them all. Changes from Ryuk to King Ghidorah, no two roles are ever the same. Helps you learn and grow and get better at your art.
What are your biggest goals? Assuming a Serkis-like career of mainly mocap and more into acting in the latter of your career?
Right now exactly something like that. My manager works in the same office as his, they get it. That’s kind of our goal, if there’s something that’s going into prod that i can fit in , absolutely. Main goal is finding really great human characters for me, but I love the bringing strange characters to life, too.
Why should people see ‘Rampage’ if they didn’t catch it in theaters?
It’s so much fun. It’s a rollercoaster from the beginning, tons of popcorn summer fun, great characters, George and The Rock are like Han and Chewie and you just fall in love with them and they save the world. It’s a huge monster movie with laughs and heart and it’s just a blast. It just doesn’t get old! I pick up new things every time I watch, like things they threw in post production. I could go on and on, but it’s so fun. Great cast, and THE ROCK. Come on, what else do you need?!
Have you been to SDCC before?
At the Death Note panel a couple years back, so this’ll be my first time with signings and stuff like that. This whole thing is a trip, I love it.
Rampage is out now on digital, DVD, and Blu Ray.