Neil Sandilands on why it was a coup to be cast in ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’

Kevin Durand and Neil Sandilands attend the “Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes” premiere after-party in Hollywood, California, on May 2. Picture: Alberto E Rodriguez/Getty Images for 20th Century Studios

Kevin Durand and Neil Sandilands attend the “Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes” premiere after-party in Hollywood, California, on May 2. Picture: Alberto E Rodriguez/Getty Images for 20th Century Studios

Published May 17, 2024


Actor, film-maker and musician Neil Sandilands became a household name as Bart Kruger in SABC2’s flagship soapie, “7de Laan”, circa 2000s.

Since moving to LA in 2007, he has also planted his feet firmly in Hollywood with roles in “House”, “The Americans”, “The 100”, “The Flash” and “Sweet Tooth”. He also has a few under his belt.

But his most notable movie is the Disney release, “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes”, from the popular science fiction franchise. It comes on the back of “Planet of the Apes”, directed by Tim Burton, in 2001, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” in 2011, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and “War of the Planet of the Apes” in 2017.

Sandilands is cast in the pivotal, albeit short-lived, role of Koro, who is Noa's (Owen Teague) chimpanzee father and the leader of the falconry ape clan.

In a recent chat with the inimitable 49-year-old actor, he shed light on his latest undertaking, which has been making headlines in SA.

He shared: “I was in LA at the time and there were several hoops that I needed to jump through. It was the first round.

“And usually what happens is it is sent to the casting director’s assistant and then the casting director and then, you could imagine, it was quite broad. Lots of people participating. And then it gets narrowed down.

“I remember having had to audition a second time for them and then a third time. They were sure that they wanted to have me involved in some way or form but I think the jury was still out on which character it was going to be.

“And then, eventually, Koro came and it’s lovely to be a part of an ensemble like that, especially where you have got to set up a certain premise and as for the rest of it, it is entirely his legacy that remains an active part of the narrative.”

He said he loved having the best of both worlds in that regard.

“You don’t have to carry the enormity weight of being the protagonist; you could do a little vital part like this, which also meant that I only had to do two weeks of ape school as opposed to six weeks; and I was on set on two occasions, once in Australia and once in New Zealand.”

Sandilands added: “Let’s not forget, and I think this is kind of important, it is that all of this happened during the height of Covid and in the sort of tail-end of the writer’s strike, that is why we had a long hiatus.”

Geographical and logistical challenges aside, he added: “Look, the proof is in the pudding, it’s a lovely sensory-overdrive offering.”

When it came to slipping into the skin of Koro, he tackled it from a different angle.

“For me, the interest was approaching a character from its physicality. In the early days, I was a huge fan of the work that Andrew Buckland and Lionel Newton had done, which was physical theatre.

“I remember seeing ‘The Well Being’, where they portrayed an entire village. And the only prop on stage was a watermelon. And it just blew my mind.

“So, I was always fascinated with the idea of approaching a character from its physicality and let's see how that informs the performance and the voice and so on. It’s a little bit of a different way of working.”

“Usually, over the last several years, I played quite a few bad guys. The process is entirely different because you want to understand where are they coming from… so a lot of it is in the brain and understanding what the subtext is and all of those things.

“But with ‘Planet of the Apes’, it was like, let’s find the body and the physicality of this and see how that informs performance.

“Technically, it was the process of motion capture. We were dressed in suits with markers in them, so they could understand your body and face. There were 50 markers that they would follow and scan and that allowed them to zoom in on even the tiniest microexpression of even a muscle twitching, you could see that in the final performance.”

To add a bit of context to how his character fits into the story. Koko has been grooming his son, Noa, to take over their falconry-practising ape clan.

But a series of events pushes Noa into adulthood faster than was anticipated.

Sandilands explained: “Where we pick up the film is at a ceremony, which is a sort of ritual that all these teenagers have to go through.

“Now one can wax philosophical about what is being conveyed there but I think it is, with humans, like a rite of passage, like in the Eastern Cape with our Isixhosa boys and the Jews have a bar mitzvah.

“Whatever happens there, we could hypothesise about it, but I would imagine it is an acknowledgement that you guys are now of an age where you have to mature into adulthood and I then think the story of how we came to be here, perhaps the existential understanding of that, that would be conveyed during a ceremony like and it is exactly there were we pick up.”

The blockbuster also stars, on the ape side, Kevin Durand as Proximus Caesar, who preaches an altered version of Caesar's teachings; Peter Macon as Raka, an ally of Noa’s; Lydia Peckham as Soona, Noa’s love interest; Travis Jeffery as Anaya, Noa's best friend; Sara Wiseman as Dar, Noa’s mother; Eka Darville as Sylva, chief commander of Proximus’ army; and, Ras-Samuel as Lightning, a soldier of Proximus' army.

On the human side, Freya Allan, William H. Macy and Dichen Lachman are cast in crucial roles.

Interestingly, Sandilands is busy with a local shoot for an Afrikaans travel show as well as an upcoming music tour before he has to head back to the US for his next project in a few months.

∎ “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” is showing at cinemas nationwide.