RAMPAGE Jason Liles
Before production began on Rampage in April of 2017, Jason Liles dedicated himself to a full 6 months of preparation: studying gorillas' physicality, their psyche, their modes of both vocal and non-vocal communication, and training on ape "arm extensions" in the Santa Monica Mountains at the hand of King Kong himself, Terry Notary (top motion captured coach) perfecting the art of a character enhanced by motion capture. It was immediate when Jason became the frontrunner for the incredibly demanding role of 'George,' best friend to Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's primatologist 'Davis Okoye' in Rampage, that the studio stop looking.
Jason was the one and only choice for the role coming to the attention of the producers via Rick Baker whom he worked with in Men in Black III creating a niche and led to numerous roles. In fact, MIB III launched Jason Liles into a dozen movies working side by side with the most brilliant in feature film paving the way to this year's ultimate role opposite Dwayne Johnson as 'George' in Rampage (Warner Bros.). In the film, Johnson portrays a primatologist who keeps people at a distance, but shares a bond with Jason's character, 'George,' a silverback gorilla who has been in his care since birth. They had found the best "unknown" actor who immersed himself fully while on set. Not only does Jason's complete embodiment of the character who is by The Rock's side from birth throughout the whole film until a mature Silverback riveted by everyone who has experienced Liles' assuming all physical characteristics of 'George," but, without a doubt, audiences will grasp this newest breakout star as a household name. Think Doug Jones in Shape of Water and Andy Serkis (War for the Planet of the Apes) level.
Directed by Brad Peyton (“San Andreas”), Rampage helms from a screenplay by Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal, and Adam Sztykiel with a story by Ryan Engle, based on the video game “Rampage." The film, also stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Joe Manganiello, Naomie Harris and Malin Akerman alongside P.J. Byrne, Marley Shelton, Breanne Hill, Jack Quaid, and Matt Gerald and is set for worldwide release April 13th with an expected record-setting box office.
Q. What inspired you to become an actor?
A. My brother and I were making short films since we were kids. And some are out there on the internet so go find some embarrassing footage of me at 11 years old haha. I always wanted to be an actor. It was always a dream. I just didn’t know I could actually be one until I finally tried. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was a huge inspiration, specifically Andy Serkis and his work as Gollum/Smeagol. No telling how many time I watched the behind-the-scenes extras on the 4 disc DVD boxed set of each film. Doug Jones has always been a big inspiration. I tailored myself after him years ago to try and break in playing non-human characters under practical makeup. That was a huge reason I moved to LA to be local to the SFX makeup shops. I discovered with my height and build how great of a fit I was for those roles. What really pushed me was being inspired by Heath Ledger after his death in 2008. I wasn’t the biggest fan before his passing, but The Dark Knight took a hold of me when it came out. I saw it 6 times in the first week. Not normal for me at all. I was just so moved. I was working at Blockbuster at the time and brought home a couple of his films each night until I made my way through all of them from A Knight’s Tale to Brokeback Mountain. I was so inspired. I said, “I HAVE to go for this. I just KNOW I can do it.” My parents supported my studying theatre and pursuing a degree and helped me move to New York after college. I wish I could have worked with Heath, but I don’t know if I would have become an actor without the impact his passing had on me.
Q. Is this your first major role?
A. This is definitely the biggest and the most responsibility I’ve had. I had just played Ryuk in the Netflix feature film adaptation of Death Note, which was my first feature film role and allowed me to quit my job waiting tables at Outback Steakhouse days before flying out of the country for it. I heard about Rampage from VFX supervisor Colin Strause while we were filming Death Note in Vancouver. Once we got back to LA, he told me that he was going to tell production that I was his number 1 choice. I started studying gorillas like a madman and finally got the call 4 months later. I had a meeting or two and was offered the part. I couldn’t believe I had been so lucky to get such a huge opportunity working with the best on the planet, in front of and behind the camera.
Q. Describe your time on set.
A. Exhausting haha and the time of my life. Honestly, I’ve never been more sore in my life. I had prepped for 6 months and been trained one on one by Terry Notary, King Kong himself from Kong: Skull Island. I did a ton of research myself, but Terry helped me put it all together. I couldn’t have played this role without Terry. I love that dude to death and would follow him into battle. Most days on set I was George, not Jason. I’d be in the Weta tent and we’d get the call that they wanted me on set. I’d take 10-15 minutes, go through my prep that Terry taught me, and really get into George. Production was so accommodating giving me time to do this. Then, I’d walk from the tent to set on all fours as George. If it was an emotionally and/or psychologically intense day, I wouldn’t respond as Jason as times. There were days that I worked with actors for 15 hours straight and didn’t introduce myself until the end of the day because I just wanted to be in character. I didn’t want anyone to see actor Jason on arm extensions where these weird gray pajamas with dots all over his body and face. I wanted them to see George. That’s not something I can just drop and switch back on. Well not early on. It did become a light switch by the end of filming. I would stay in it for a couple hours straight take after take after take. I loved it. I felt like I could fly at times. It was indescribable. There were times when I truly was George. It was like lucid dreaming while awake. I don’t know how to describe it. I felt like I tapped into something magical. Weta was the best team I could possibly ask for. Like I said, I was a huge Lord of the Rings fan as well as a fan of everything Weta had ever done. Working with them was just a joy and I love them so so much. They were there for me 110% every step of every day. The entire crew and creative team were a lot of the best on the planet at what they do. I felt the love and support from them constantly. That combined with the incredible cast who’s work I had looked up to for years got the best out of me every single day. I could go on, but no words can describe how much I was nerding out every day and I just can’t describe what this experience meant to me. I can’t wait for people to get a chance to see some of the behind-the-scenes once the blu-ray comes out.
Q. What can you tell us about the film?
A. From what I can gather from the trailers (wink wink), it’s a story about a man, Davis Okoye, who rescues an albino gorilla, George, when he’s two years old. Davis raises George, teaches him sign language, and they form an incredible bond. They’re like Han and Chewie. Then, George gets infected with something. He starts to rapidly grow, mutate, and evolve. As does a wolf and a crocodile. They begin rampaging across the country and somebody is going to have to save the day, I guess. I can’t wait to see what happens. ;) also, the legendary Weta Digital designed the creatures: George, the wolf, and the croc. They are the best with their work on King Kong, Lord of the Rings, Avatar, Jungle Book, Planet of the Apes, and so much more. True movie magicians.
A. How long did you work with gorillas?
Q .didn’t ever “work” with gorillas. A lot of red tape around doing anything like that. But I did research and study them for 6 months prior to filming and the entire time we filmed for 3 months. That’s a lot of time to learn. Terry Notary is who had the biggest impact. He trained me for 3 weeks in the Santa Monica Mountains prior to filming and I couldn’t have played George without Terry. No way. Koko was a huge source of inspiration, too. Her relationship with Dr. Penny Patterson is the closest on the planet to Davis and George’s. On my own I was constantly watching documentaries, going to the zoos and watching the gorillas for hours, studying behind-the-scenes from the recent Planet of the Apes trilogy and Peter Jackson’s King Kong, interviews with anyone who’s ever played an ape, a lot of time meditating (which is a gorilla’s natural state), and spending hundreds of hours on the arm extensions logging miles and miles on all kinds of terrain in the mountains. I got so much out of it all and absolutely fell in love with gorillas. They aren’t “just animals”. They’re basically humans without speech. Studying them has changed life for me. I can’t wait to get the chance to go to Uganda or Rwanda and go on gorilla treks. I plato on it at least once by the end of the year.
Q. What was the most challenging part of your role?
A. Finding George inside of myself. Getting to a place where you can look out of your eyes and see as a gorilla, hear as one, feel as one, both inside and out. That’s so so tough. Terry was very demanding in our training and he really pushed me hard. He got the best out of me and guided me to an indescribable place inside of myself. Not playing or pretending to be a gorilla, but truly BEING a gorilla is so incredibly difficult. Finding the voice was tough, as well. Finding an organic and honest voice from George inside myself. But now that I’ve found it? Being a gorilla is far easier and more enjoyable than a human. I drop into it all the time now, which Terry said I would want to do haha. He was right.
Q. Where do you see yourself in the next five years.
A.That’s a great question. If you asked me that five years ago, then I would NOT have said that I’d be here in LA and having the films under my belt that I do now. So who knows? I have no idea. I’m a very present person and focus on the now. I’m going to keep my foot on the gas relative to my personal goals that I have right now. I have plans, but we’ll see what happens. It’s important to have a plan. Even if it doesn’t come to be. Some point you’re working toward.
Q. Tell us about your experience working with Dwayne Johnson.
A. Surreal. That’s a really good word for it. He’s just a great guy. He’s the hardest working person in the room, he’s so warm and giving, so loving, so respectful, hilarious, has a fantastic attitude, has no ego and is open to suggestions and collaboration at all times, and I had an absolute blast working with him. Working with him got the best out of me. There’s an extra amount of juice that I had each day when stepping on set with him being there. We really pushed each other to make this film the best we could one day at a time. Something I told him daily was, “We only make this film once. Let’s kill it.” I really have a great deal of love for DJ and would do anything for him. Staying in character for long stretches on set how I did, I feel like I interacted more with Davis than with DJ. George has such a deep love for Davis and I really found that within myself. I’d work with him again in a heartbeat. Dream come true.
Q. explain your personal style, what inspires it?
A. I don’t really have one, I don’t think. Or at least I don’t think about it. I’m just me. We’re constantly growing, learning, and evolving our personalities so it’s hard to pinpoint where I am now and put it into words. Especially since I find out so much about myself with each character I play and always come out of a project having grown so much. Experiences and our perspectives can shape us a great deal without even noticing. I’m a very present person, meditation is huge for me, and I always do my best with absolutely no regrets. I have as much fun as possible in life, but I work my butt off. I treat every moment as if it’s the only one, because it is! I’m a huge nerd, a video game buff and always have been, and I probably spend more time in the kitchen than anywhere else. I love cooking. Half of my instagram posts are food haha. I’ve experienced a lot in life so far, lived on opposite ends of the country, had over 30 different roommates across New York, LA, and college, watched my childhood dreams come true, I’m always open to new experiences and growing as a person, and I want to constantly learn as much as I can and just make art. I’m a very passionate person. I either do something fully or not at all.
A. Brag about yourself!
Q. Well now I don’t know what to say haha I’m not a big bragger. I’m very proud of the work I’ve done, but I know I will continue to learn and grow as long as I’m alive. We can always do better, we can always share more love, but what’s most important to me is enjoying this moment right here right now. It’s all we can ever do. There’s nothing else in the world but this moment. I do want to say this though. I used to deal with intense anxiety and panic attacks when I was young. Lots of long hours on the bathroom floor without actually getting sick. Just the fear of it. Up to the second year of college. I even came back home after the first couple weeks of college, because I just couldn’t handle it. I was afraid I’d never be able to go anywhere or do anything. I couldn’t go to school some days just from fear of nothing really. Fear of the unknown. I couldn’t go on trips without having panic attacks and wanting to be somewhere more comfortable like home. When I was 18, I got over it somehow. It seems like an overnight thing in my memory. I just realized it was all in my head. Meditation was huge. Breathing. Just breathing. Fear comes from the unknown “future” and mediation grounds us in the now. Even with all of that, I was able to get over it, to move to New York without knowing a single person there, pursue an insanely difficult career in acting, and actually found success (after almost a decade). Anyone out there who has a dream. Go after it. Right now. You CAN do it. I promise you. You’re going to fail time and time again, but you have to just keep swinging. I promise you that you WILL get a hit and eventually even home runs. It’s okay to fail. Don’t be afraid to. Failure is the best teacher. Just do it. You’ll get a lot of help along the way, but you have to try. A great quote from King Lear: Nothing will come of nothing. So