The actor tells StarWars.com about crafting a backstory for the Narkina 5 floor manager in the latest Star Wars live-action series.
Let’s get this out of the way: Kino Loy is not Snoke.
Both characters are played by Andy Serkis in the Star Wars galaxy, with Loy most recently appearing in Andor, now streaming on Disney+. But like Jar Jar Binks and Achk Med-Beq (both portrayed by Ahmed Best) as well as C-3PO and Dannl Faytonni (both portrayed by Anthony Daniels), that doesn’t mean they are the same character.
“I was slightly trepidatious because when I came into it I was thinking, ‘Oh no, no, the Snoke theories are just going to go crazy!’” Serkis tells StarWars.com about his reaction to early conversations about the role. “‘Is this Snoke? Has he come back?’” But his worries subsided as soon as he met with Andor creator Tony Gilroy to discuss the character. Serkis was already a fan of Gilroy’s work. “I was such a huge fan of Rogue One, which I absolutely adored and when we met and we talked about [the part of Kino Loy], I really just fell in love with the character.”
Between Gilroy’s pitch and Serkis reading the scripts for the three-episode arc, the actor began to construct a detailed biography for Loy, a regular practice for the artist. In Serkis’ mind, it seemed clear that his take on Loy would have put him in the job of shop steward or foreman before his incarceration. “He's used to working on the factory floor and standing up for workers' rights,” Serkis says. “This is a man who cares for others. And he just suddenly finds himself in a world where he has to keep his head down, not speak his truth, and just try and get through his sentence believing that he's going be freed.”
In his own way, Loy shows his compassion for his men by trying to keep them in line to avoid punishment. “Here was a man who is quite forceful. He's direct and actually he's hardened, I think, by the harsh treatment that he's received on Narkina 5,” Serkis says. “He's a task master and is quite unforgiving and shuts people down and is almost a bully, in a way. But the system is all about competition. The way that the floor is run, it's about beating other people. And if you're not, then you get electrocuted. It's punishment or reward and the rewards are meager.”
However, once Cassian Andor arrives and starts questioning everything, Kino is confronted by the mounting evidence that the Empire’s sentences are meaningless. And once word spreads that an inmate was mistakenly released only to be imprisoned on a different floor of the same facility, Kino begins to find the strength to join Cassian’s cause. “What was exciting was to have Kino Loy [and Cassian] gradually become united. It was creating a character who's been toughened and then through Cassian's desire to stand up for others, it reignites in him this journey to actually speaking his truth again,” Serkis says. “And I think that toughness at the beginning was set up on purpose to then break down gradually as he begins to find himself, once he realizes that there is absolutely no point in believing anymore that being released is an option. He reaches a moment of enlightenment really cruelly, and then he finds the generosity in himself again and the spirit and the desire to speak up. It was just a really beautifully crafted arc and I really enjoyed playing him.”
Kino and Cassian
Serkis first met Cassian Andor like most fans: watching Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on-screen just a year after his own professional debut in the galaxy.
“What is so brilliant about this franchise and this universe is that it can allow for that amount of humanity to really come through in Rogue One. The other [Star Wars] worlds are beautifully drawn in a slightly more operatic and heightened world that they operate in, which is equally delicious. But this always felt like real grit and real sweat. The story just felt very complete and grounded.”
Getting the chance to play a character opposite Diego Luna was one of the reasons he was eager to take on the role. “That was another very strong reason why I wanted to do this because I really love Diego's acting and I love Cassian as a character. So to have a chance to really intimately get to work together was incredible. He's such a major talent and a brilliantly gifted actor and storyteller and really generous, a really great natural leader. He also directs, so it was lovely to have that conversation with him as well.”
Once production was in full swing, working barefoot on the stark prison set brought something new to the experience. “The actual shooting of it was really hard because of the environment,” Serkis says. “The set was so unforgiving. The prison outfits just so unforgiving. And the whole notion of walking around on metal plates with bare feet does a very strange thing to your head. It completely sapped you of any strength. There was no personal space at all. Everything was clinical. You could see there was no relief from it and it really played with your head.”
Serkis credits the set designers for fabricating a space that worked to bring that sense of authenticity to the shoot. “The set design work was just phenomenal in the way that it did make you feel like you were [in] some strange kind of experiment.”
Combined with the writing, Gilroy’s vision, and Serkis’ heartbreakingly raw performance, Kino Loy was born. “All of these things really helped to mold the character, from the writing through to the design through to the talks that we'd had. And then understanding of course that I knew where he would end up, knowing the fact that he's never really gonna be able to get out of this even while he has to carry on inspiring others to do so. There is a lot of pathos in the role and I really enjoyed playing that but keeping him grounded at all times so it didn't become sentimental.”
As for that internet fan chatter that Snoke and Kino Loy could be connected? Serkis is aware of the conversation, but hasn’t read up on it for himself. “I haven't because I daren't. It's too scary! I sort of almost want to just say to everybody there really isn't a connection there. So live your lives, please don't spend any time going down that rabbit hole.”
Beyond the theories, he remains humbled by the opportunity to inhabit both Snoke and Loy. “It's just been an incredible privilege to have two bites of the cherry and characters at the opposite ends of the spectrum,” Serkis says.
Hear more from Andy Serkis in a special interview in the latest episode of This Week! In Star Wars below.