A picture of Karin Konoval, who plays the role of Maurice in "War of the Planet of the Apes." May 2017. Karin Konoval

The final masters of Earth will be determined in the coming battles in “War for the Planet of the Apes.” Caesar (Andy Serkis) is on the verge of leading his group toward total domination over the humans. In the middle of the bloodshed, the wise old Maurice will act as "a voice of conscience" for Caesar, says actress Karin Konoval in an exclusive interview with International Business Times Australia.

International Business Times: "War for the Planet of the Apes" begins two years after "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." What have the apes been doing at this time, and where will the audience find Maurice at the start of the film?

Karin Konoval: In the two years since "Dawn," the apes have been fighting hard for their survival. War with the humans has intensified and there have been terrible losses all round. As "War for the Planet of the Apes" begins, it truly is mankind's last stand against the apes, in a battle for survival of the species -- the apes led by Caesar (Andy Serkis) and the humans led by the Colonel (Woody Harrelson). Maurice's relationship with Caesar as his confidante and advisor has grown and deepened, and the journey of their friendship through this third film continues [to be] rich and significant.

IBTimes: Apart from Caesar, the one character the audience gets to connect with on a human level is Maurice. The character is not only this "wise old man" of the group; he also brings levity to the films. How did you research/prepare to bring out this humanity in an ape?

Konoval: My research for portraying Maurice, in all the colours of his character, was entirely orangutan-focused. In particular, a real orangutan named Towan. I first observed Towan at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle in 2010, when I was preparing for "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." At one point during my visit after I'd been observing him at a distance for an hour or so, Towan made a sudden and specific choice to come and see me at the window, and we were nose-to-nose on either side of it for twenty minutes or so.

Interestingly, it was this twenty minutes that I've always felt gave me the heart and soul of Maurice -- when Towan was studying me, not vice versa! Everything I saw in his eyes became part of Maurice -- his intelligence, deep curiosity, thoughtful consideration, compassion. That's where "inner Maurice" began for me. Since "Rise" opened in 2011, I've continued to visit regularly with Towan and the other members of his family who live at Woodland Park Zoo. The journey to know each of them as individuals, and of course Towan in particular, has inspired my portrayal of Maurice through all three films. Over the past six years I've observed each of them to demonstrate a wide range of qualities: from curiosity and diligent effort to figure something out, to varied expressions of enthusiasm, anger, compassion, frustration, love, joy, and even at times deviousness and guilt. Orangutans are an astonishingly sentient species!

IBTimes: You based the character Maurice on three real apes that you met. What was your interaction like with these apes? Did you get to visit any of them this time around?

Konoval: The first orangutan I observed in 2010 was Bruno, who lives at Los Angeles Zoo. I only observed him for an afternoon and while I was there he became quite feisty, long calling and kiss squeaking at me to go away (I think I was there for far longer than most visitors would be).

I've returned to visit him twice since then and he was much more patient with my presence. The connection I made with Towan and the rest of his family as I described above has continued to be a significant part of my personal life, well beyond the purpose of research for the films. Also, through Laura McComesky and Andy Antilla, two of the orangutan caregivers at Woodland Park Zoo, I was introduced to the Orangutan SSP and have been fortunate to get to know many people and organizations working hard on behalf of orangutan conservation in the wild. It's a delight to follow and support their work as I can, and in particular to learn from and follow the progress of the individual orangutans I'm one of the "foster people" to, at the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) in Sumatra, at Bornean Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF) in Borneo, and at the Center For Great Apes in Florida.

The third orangutan who initially influenced my portrayal of Maurice, in part and only physically, is not an orangutan I met. He was an orangutan named Clyde who appeared as a performer in films. It was extraordinarily difficult for me to watch these films, to watch an orangutan being used in performance this way, but I felt I had to in light of Maurice's backstory -- as you may recall, Maurice in his earlier life was a performing orangutan in a circus. So, the way Clyde walked bipedally, sort of rolling his shoulders as he moved along, this was something I brought into Maurice's physicality in the rare moments when trying to walk bipedally.

IBTimes: What was it like to film these scenes? That motion capture suit and helmet looks like a real challenge to work in. Can you please tell our readers the physical challenges you faced while filming? Was there any difference from the 2014 film?

Konoval: Through all three films, the singular challenge for me as an actor has been to portray Maurice in his full psychological and physical integrity as a mature male orangutan character. The performance capture technology that Weta Digital so expertly employs to capture my performance is meticulous. So, this is both freeing and inherently demanding: aside from wearing the grey suit, the body wires and battery packs, the face dots and helmet with face camera, I have only to focus entirely on performance of Maurice the same as I would with any other role, except this one happens to be a mature male orangutan!

I would say that one of the physical challenges (of many) for me has been to create Maurice's weight. I'm 125 pounds, he's three hundred! So, through the first film our brilliant ape teacher Terry Notary (who also plays Rocket) added weights to each of my arm stilts to help me register Maurice's weight. Quadrupeding is an incredible cardiovascular workout, and the added weight made it more so. Part way through the filming of "Dawn" I found I was able to dispense with the weights, and land Maurice authentically without extra help, and that remained the same through "War." Regarding the technology, Weta Digital is ceaselessly improving how they capture our performances, so that would be a good question for them. From my actor perspective, I have certainly noticed an improvement in the durability of the body wiring.

During the filming of "Rise" the wiring was constantly having to be replaced on us due to the physicality of our performances putting it through a lot of stress. By the time we got to the filming of "War" the encasement for the wiring and battery packs was durable enough to allow us to film in all kinds of wet and weather, to leap on and off horses, etc. I've also noticed a helpful improvement to the face camera: it used to be a larger square block piece, that somewhat interfered with field of vision. Now, it is a tiny circle of a thing that isn't intrusive at all.

IBTimes: The main story in the new movies is about the evolution of Cesar. What can you tease about the developing relationship between Maurice and Cesar in "War for the Planet of the Apes"?

Konoval: As I said earlier, Maurice's relationship with Caesar as his advisor and confidante has deepened in the time since "Dawn," and continues to through the story of "War for the Planet of the Apes." Maurice also at times becomes a voice of conscience for Caesar, expressing things or taking an action that Caesar may not immediately appreciate, but always in the interest and care of Caesar's well-being. This provides for both challenge and a growing richness to their relationship. It's a beautiful friendship between them that has grown through the three films, and likewise I would say that for me, the opportunity to explore this with Andy Serkis has been of the greatest honours of my career as an actor. Andy Serkis, both as actor and as human being, is one of the finest people I've ever had the privilege of working with.