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Peter Macon says ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’ proves power corrupts

Actor explains how learning to portray a wise elderly orangutan gifted him with patience and much more than he anticipated

Peter Macon initially had reservations about taking the role of Raka, an elderly orangutan, and the self-appointed historian of all primates in the new Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes movie. Legendary comedian Dave Chappelle once joked about the early films in the Planet of the Apes franchise having overtly racial undertones and Macon agrees with him. He recalls feeling eerily uncomfortable watching actor Charlton Heston in the 1968 sci-fi thriller, Planet of the Apes. Macon says the memory of the initial film vanished after he read the script for Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.

In the half-century since the first film, much has changed in America’s cultural landscape, but unfortunately, there are some societal issues that remain the same. One of the only similarities between the debut film and Macon’s current blockbuster is the infamous line Charlton Heston’s character George Taylor said, “I can’t help thinking somewhere in the universe there has to be something better than man.”

Peter Macon says 'Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes' proves power corrupts
Image by Nathan Pearcy Photography

The new script, and even more significantly, the character Raka, offered Macon an irresistible challenge and opportunity for career growth.

“This was different than the previous films. There are so many lessons and messages in this film, but they are for the most part not centered around race. There is the underlying message that ultimate power corrupts, but [it’s] so much more than just that,” Macon says.

The futuristic film takes place some 300 years after 2017’s War for the Planet of the Apes and demonstrates a reverse ideation of evolution. The results of the ALZ-113 virus injected into Caesar — the leader of the primates — and other experimental subjects, has given rise to increased intelligence among their ranks. Their communication has evolved both verbally and through sign language, while humans have regressed to becoming primitively nonverbal.

The sophistication of technology and computer-generated imagery in Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes creates remarkably believable looking primates. Macon shares that he and his castmates were put through “ape camp” to teach them how to replicate primate behavior including how they would speak if able to, how they show anger, sadness, anxiousness and more emotions that were previously the exclusive domain of humans.

“We spent hours on horseback learning to comfortably canter and gallop. We learned how to walk on all fours. Physically, they are very different than humans. Their legs are very short and their arms are significantly longer,” Macon explains.

Centuries after Caesar uttered the first human word, the new ape king, Proximus Caesar is obsessed with learning as much about human behavior as possible in order to maintain his dictatorship. A bonobo ape, Proximus and his gang of loyal gorillas have enslaved both humans and other apes in his pursuit of power.

Moviegoers who enjoy being intellectually challenged will appreciate the numerous themes presented in the film. The correlations between today’s societal obsession with power and elitism are hiding in plain sight, along with a few symbolic nods at religion and the idea that man is the culprit in the planet’s imbalance. Macon hopes the film will spark conversation on a myriad of themes introduced in the film.

Peter Macon says 'Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes' proves power corrupts
Image by Nathan Pearcy Photography

“Orangutans are pretty slow-moving,” he laughs. “Raka taught me patience. I had to slow down, literally not just physically. I’ve learned to slow down and really enjoy the little things as a father, husband, son, etc.

“There are a lot of things happening in the world today that are upsetting, but also totally out of my control. This role gave me an opportunity to accept what I can’t control and focus on what I can.”

As one of the biggest sci-fi franchises in cinematic history, the latest installment of Planet of the Apes is uniquely positioned to be the first blockbuster film to kick off the 2024 spring-summer slate of movie offerings. The film offers a highly defined mirrored reflection of the human experience. Is power synonymous with corruption? Are casualties and sacrifices justified in the pursuit of progression? Are humans the biggest threat to the planet or would that position be occupied by any species at the top of the food chain?

Raka, Proximus Caesar, new heroine Mae and a host of futuristic chimpanzees, gorillas and bonobos will challenge your philosophies on life and the concept of good vs. evil. The question of whether or not apes and humans can, in fact, live in harmony isn’t answered in this sequel, but the film’s ending suggests another chapter will unfold shortly, tackling that conundrum and several other man vs. beast scenarios. For his part, Macon says the experience was unforgettable and he is proud of the work that he and his castmates dedicated to the making of the film.

“You always want to hear the feedback from audiences. As long as we spark conversation, that’s good enough for me,” Macon says.

Images by Nathan Pearcy Photography

Cover artwork by Vande

3 Responses

  1. It is quite fitting that nature is presenting itself in this thought-provoking fashion as the issues we face today and complicated and individual based upon our individual perspectives. The result is that audiences can’t get enough of it. Kudos to the creators of this production.

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