Andy Serkis did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Gollum/Smeagol in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
Ah this performance one very often cited as an Academy oversight, although it was unlikely going to happen when the academy no doubt had a hard time understanding the idea of a motion capture performance, or at least refusal to recognize along with purely live action work. This was not just the academy's fault either though as the BFCA rewarded Serkis, but only after separating into a digital performance category where he was nominated along with Dobby and Yoda. BAFTA probably should have been ashamed though since they did not nominate Serkis here despite the fact that they nominated Eddie Murphy for his vocal performance in Shrek just a year earlier.
Well anyway what is there to a motion capture performance anyway? Obviously the voice work all belongs to Serkis that is a given, but then comes the controversy. Some, who probably haven't done a great deal of research in the matter, think it is all the computers and the animators at work. Of course then there is another party that pretty much says it is all Serkis which in itself is just a bit of an overstatement, but its true that the motion capture also allowed Serkis to portray what Gollum does in his face and in his physical movements. The reason I say its a bit of an overstatement though is if it was just Serkis in make up his eyes would not be nearly as large or quite as expressive, and digital artists did contribute to the character as well.
In some ways though this is a form of a very advance make up, and just as make up can aid an actor performance in some way this makes Gollum more of an otherworldly creature than he would have been if Serkis had just been covered in make up instead. Getting that rather heavy baggage out of the way how about I get to the actual performance now. Serkis plays Gollum the creature who has become warped from being the previous bearer of the evil ring of power which is now in the possession of Frodo (Elijah Wood) who wishes to destroy by going through the difficult path to Mordor along with his friend Sam (Sean Astin). Gollum appears the first time as he tries to steal the ring from them, but is quickly caught instead.
Much of what is important about Serkis's performance is his creation of Gollum as a character, and the split personality disorder that he clearly suffers from with the oppressive evil Gollum and the meek sympathetic Smeagol. Serkis is particularly impressive early on when the personalities come in and out almost at random. Serkis is effective in portraying the differences of the sides with the viciousness of his expressive and violent voice as Gollum balanced against the timid expression and the soft voice of Smeagol. What's most impressive is early on how Serkis comes in and out of the personalities randomly yet with a natural flow that makes Gollum's disorder particularly effective in both suggesting what the ring has done to him, but as well setting the tone for his character.
Gollum ends up with a strange role as he is always a villain of sorts as he wants to steal the ring yet he ends up acting as the guide and almost the guardian to Frodo at the same. It would have been very easy to have gotten Gollum wrong making him too much of a joke, or just a one note creature. Serkis though honestly develops a character with Gollum and makes him the strange, but interesting presence he should be. He finds the right mix of the character from being the blunt guide of information, the sometimes even comic companion, but as well the volatile personality in which you can't quite know what to expect from him and stands as a threat even when it seems like he is trying to help.
The transition Gollum has through the film actually is fairly blunt one in that the Smeagol personality takes over for quite some time in the film therefore Serkis stays with that character for some time until abuse causes the Gollum personality to come back. The major change is in the Smeagol personality and Serkis is very effective in his portrayal of Smeagol's take over as he finds the strength to overcome his weaknesses, but as well his later manner when he goes back to be subservient to the Gollum personality. His transition is relatively simple but Serkis handles it very well by being convincing through its entirety bringing Gollum naturally to the point of being a full on villain by the end of the film.
This obviously is not a traditional performance in a whole lot of ways, but Serkis should be given a great deal of credit for his memorable portrayal. He makes Gollum a unique creature through his distinct yet always natural feeling facial and physical manner as well as his voice that is just perfect in separating Gollum from all the other creatures found in the film. More than that though Serkis actually brings the right complexity in the part, and manages to mediate the different roles which Gollum fills in film with a terrific consistency. With a part that could have been completely obnoxious, or could have come off at quite a distant character due to the computer generated nature of the character Serkis achieves something rather special as he makes Gollum one of the most compelling characters in the film.