Mike Fleming

UPDATE: Fox informs me that the studio will wage an Oscar campaign for Andy Serkis for Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

EXCLUSIVE: When Rise of the Planet of the Apes‘s $453 million worldwide gross was listed as a bright spot in the quarterly earnings of beleaguered NewsCorp, you know a sequel is a big 20th Century Fox priority. So who did the studio lock in first? No, it wasn’t James Franco or Freida Pinto. The studio just closed what I’m told is a healthy seven-figure deal for Andy Serkis to reprise his role as lead ape Caesar. Serkis had only signed on for one movie, so his reps had leverage in ensuring that he come back to continue leading the ape takeover in multiple future installments of the series.

Director Rupert Wyatt’s original deal came with a sequel option, so he’s locked. So are screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, who are producing with Chernin Entertainment’s Peter Chernin and Dylan Clark. The studio is still in the idea stage and the sequel hasn’t been dated for release. As for Franco and Pinto, those decisions will likely be made when the direction of the film crystallizes. The studio certainly has the leverage there; the clever construct of the first film ended with a wallop that makes everyone expendable.

In his quiet way, the chameleonic Serkis has proven to be a valuable commodity in three CG-driven franchises, and he’s being paid quite well for all of them. Serkis had no options for The Hobbit from The Lord of the Rings, and received a windfall payday to reprise his Gollum character in the two films. Serkis has wrapped his acting work on those films, but continues as Peter Jackson’s second unit director. Serkis does have an option deal for the sequel to the Steven Spielberg-directed The Adventures of Tin Tin, and will reprise as Captain Haddock in the sequel that Peter Jackson is scheduled to direct next year.

The big question is whether Fox should break ground and campaign for an Oscar for Serkis’s work in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. That notion was explored in the press when the film was released last summer. Serkis certainly lent a sense of humanity to Caesar and grounded the film. Academy voters haven’t yet paid much attention to actors behind CG performance capture creations, though. Serkis could have been nominated for his groundbreaking work in The Lord of the Rings, and was ignored. He’s repped by Lou Coulson in the UK and Principal Entertainment.