Long before the modern trilogy and Tim Burton’s 2001 remake, Roddy McDowall, along with Kim Hunter, was the big star of the Planet of the Apes films. What made his role in the movies particularly special, however, is that he didn’t always play the same character. Because of the identity-hiding make-up that was required for his role as an evolved chimpanzee, he was able to play the roles of both Cornelius and Caesar across four movies. It’s part of the Planet of the Apes legacy, and according to Andy Serkis, could ultimately be the key for him to return and star in the next chapter of this franchise. Serkis told me,
Well, let’s say that there have been some discussions about that. That’s the great thing about this technology, is that it allows you… as I have done going from playing Caesar as a young infant to a mature adult, though the entirety of his life. So that basically means I could potentially play another character.
The more recent Planet of the Apes films, directed by Rupert Wyatt and Matt Reeves, have masterfully used motion capture technology in lieu of make-up when bringing its simians to life, but one continued benefit is that it still totally masks the actor in the role. I had the chance to sit down with Andy Serkis at San Diego Comic-Con this past summer, and when I brought up the Roddy McDowall approach, he confirmed that it is an idea that the franchise has been considering when looking at possibilities for future sequels.
SPOILER WARNING: The rest of this article contains major spoilers for War For The Planet Of The Apes. If you have not yet seen the film, and don’t wish to know major details about the ending, please bookmark this page and return after your screening!
Of course, there is a reason why this is now an important subject to discuss. Audiences started on a long journey with Caesar that started with Rise of the Planet of the Apes back in 2011, but the most recent sequel saw his time come to an end. After successfully managing to save his fellow primates from the Colonel (Woody Harrelson), and bring them to the desert where they would make a new home, Caesar died as a proud leader in the final minutes of War For The Planet Of The Apes. It was a terribly sad cinematic moment, but it was also made clear that the character’s legacy will live on thanks to his young son, Cornelius. Naturally, it is the role of Cornelius that fans would expect Andy Serkis to play — a perfect nod to the contributions of Roddy McDowall.