When studios lay down big bucks for a potential blockbuster (AKA "tentpole film") these days, they tend to make sure all of the core cast and crew involved are optioned for multiple films in case the box office warrants turning the tentpole into an actual tent. That wasn't the case with Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Fox certainly hoped it would be a franchise starter, and the talent behind the camera were signed early for potential sequels, but those in front of the camera weren't locked down. However, now Deadline tells us that the studio has signed their first actor for the untitled sequel, and it turns out it's an actor whose face we never even saw in Rise: Andy Serkis.
Serkis was of course the most important part of the film-- it was his motion capture work (combined with Weta's boundary-shaking visual effects) that gave the film's main character, the ape Caeser, a heart and soul. It's no surprise that Fox would make sure that he would be returning for the sequel. It is surprising (and quite awesome), however, that they were willing to pony up a reported seven-figure salary to get him back, and that they were sure to lock him down before human star James Franco. In fact, it's unclear at this point if Franco or co-star Freida Pinto will even be back for the sequel. That will be determined by whether or not they fit into whatever story screenwriters Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa and director Rupert Wyatt cook up.
Regardless if those two do return, Fox is setting an interesting precedent for motion-capture work by recognizing that the actor behind the digital mask is just as important, if not more, as the A-list stars. And that may not be where the precedent ends, either. Deadline also tells us that Fox will be actively campaigning for Serkis to get an Oscar for his role, they though don't make it clear if they'll be pushing for Best Actor or Supporting Actor. Either way, it will be the first time a motion-capture performance has gotten this level of support from a studio. It'll be very interesting to see how the Academy responds to the push.