Entertainment

Kevin Durand loves playing villains in film reboots

Toronto –

Kevin Durand has a simple explanation for why he always gets cast as the bad guy.

“Just look at my face,” the actor says during an interview at a Toronto hotel. “People see me and they’re like, ‘Ahh!’”

The Thunder Bay, Ont., native has a countenance that tells a story and a resume teeming with villainous characters, including a psychotic neo-Nazi in 2006’s “Smokin’ Aces,” a trigger-happy cop in 2013’s “Fruitvale Station” and a possessed war captain in Netflix’s 2020 series “Locke & Key.”

His latest detestable turn is as a bad ape — the tyrannical simian king Proximus Caesar in Wes Ball’s “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes,” which opens Friday. It’s the latest instalment in the “Planet of the Apes” franchise.

Being typecast as an antagonist suits the 50-year-old well. He’s always gravitated toward sinister roles, dating back to his early days as a Shakespeare-obsessed aspiring actor.

“I only wanted to play the bastards. I didn’t want to play Hamlet or Romeo. I wanted to be Iago. I wanted to be Petruchio,” he says.

Playing villain is ‘therapy’

“There’s something interesting about stepping outside yourself. I spend my whole day being a nice Canadian boy from Thunder Bay. And then all of a sudden, I have licence to just lean in and be evil? Awesome. That’s therapy.”

Set several generations after 2017’s “War for the Planet of the Apes” — in which leader Caesar dies while ensuring freedom for his fellow anthropoids — “Kingdom” takes place in a world where apes are the dominant species. Young chimp Noa, played by Owen Teague, lives peacefully among his tribe until their village is raided by Proximus Caesar’s army. Joined by a mysterious human and sage orangutan, played by Freya Allan and Peter Macon, Noa embarks on a journey to rescue his kidnapped friends and family.

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Durand says on its surface, the film is a “Friday night popcorn movie,” but if you choose to delve deeper, it’s “a reflection of ourselves as humans and what we’re doing to the world and what we’re doing to each other.”

Six weeks in ‘ape school’

Like its predecessors, “Kingdom” uses motion-capture technology to bring the simian characters to life. Durand spent six weeks in “ape school” studying under movement coach Alain Gauthier, a former Cirque du Soleil performer, to learn how to stand, move and speak like an ape.

Once he got the movements down, Durand delved into Proximus Caesar’s motivations. He says his character is rooted in his deep knowledge of human history.

“He knows the nature of man and he knows he has to do whatever he possibly can to keep a paradigm power shift from happening, because if humans get in control again, there’s a good chance his kind will end up in laboratories being experimented on,” he says.

“I never approached him as a big villain.”

Fatherhood’s impact

Durand says he used to have trouble playing villains because he would often bring his characters’ psyches home with him. But that all changed when he became a dad.

“I was like, ‘Well, people obviously, more often than not, see me as being on the heavy side of the narrative, and I have to feed my baby,’” he says.

“So (I decided) I just have to not bring it home. And God, was that ever liberating, because then I could really just lean in. There are characters I’ve played that hurt me a little bit, but nothing that wasn’t repairable.”

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The next dastardly role Durand is leaning into will be in the upcoming reboot of “The Naked Gun,” which will star Liam Neeson as detective Frank Drebin, originally immortalized by Leslie Nielsen. Durand says he’ll play a ’90s-style villain in the film, currently in production.

Director Akiva Schaffer asked the actor to bleach his hair for the role and is giving him plenty of licence to decide the origins of his character.

“I gave him eight different accents and (Schaffer) was like, ‘I like all of those.’ So now I have to record all of them and then have him just sit there and listen and decide which one he wants to go with,” he laughs.

Durand says he’s a huge fan of Nielsen in the original “Naked Gun” films and that it’s a “dream come true” to dive into the same cinematic universe.

“The older and more messed up I look, the more people seem to be wanting to give me a shot. It’s wonderful because I’ve never felt so good in my life as an actor, as an artist, as a human.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 9, 2024.

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