In the space of just three movies, Jordan Peele has solidified himself as one of the masters of creating terrifying, unsettling imagery: Chris tumbling into the infinite blackness of the sunken place in Get Out; an untethered family stood in a shadowy driveway dressed all in red, clutching ornate gold scissors in Us; and now, a mysterious UFO swooping across the sky, drenching that which lies below it in blood in Nope. But even more unnerving than the big white disc hanging out above the Haywood’s home – if you haven’t seen Nope yet, you might want to avoid reading further – is an sequence involving fictional sitcom ‘Gordy’s Home’, the titular chimp who stars in the show, and his attack on his co-stars and crew.
The Gordy sequence is striking, violent, and incredibly disturbing. But you’d be forgiven for wondering how it ties into the rest of the film, and what it all means. “It’s about exploitation,” Peele tells Empire. “It’s about feelings of rage. At the industry.” Gordy is an animal whose primal impulses have been restrained for the purposes of entertainment. Seeing him lash out is scary, but understandable; it almost feels inevitable. “We fear Gordy, but we don’t hate Gordy,” Peele says. “I think there’s an interesting thing happening for the audience there.”
When it came to choosing someone to embody the eponymous chimp, there was only one man for the job. Terry Notary, star of the Planet Of The Apes movies, Avengers: Infinity War and motion-capture maestro, was Peele’s “first call” for the role. According to the actor, it’s a part with particular resonance for the writer-director. “Jordan talked to me a little bit about his career in the beginning,” Notary recalls. “He said, ‘People take advantage of animals and people, and Gordy’s sequence is important, because it kind of represents my early career as a performer.” It was important for Notary to capture that duality between the audience fearing Gordy, but not necessarily blaming him, by keeping his performance as naturalistic as possible. “I didn’t want to play evil,” says Notary. “It was just, ‘This is what I do! And I’m sorry about that. I know I’m probably upsetting people, but I can’t help it. You are forcing me to do something that I don’t do normally, and I’ve reached my breaking point.” It seems that old adage is true – never work with animals or children...
Read Empire’s full Nope story in the new Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery issue – featuring a deep dive into Rian Johnson’s murder-mystery sequel, plus his reflections on The Last Jedi five years on, a major new interview with Pam Grier, Ana de Armas and Andrew Dominik on Blonde, and much more. On sale Thursday 1 September, or you can pre-order a copy here.