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Kevin Durand attends the U.K. launch of Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, on April 25.Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

Canadian actor Kevin Durand knows his way around a bad guy.

Across the past two decades, the towering Thunder Bay native has played villains opposite some of Hollywood’s heaviest hitters, including Hugh Jackman (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), Ryan Reynolds (Smokin’ Aces), Christian Bale (3:10 to Yuma) and, as recently as last month, one adorably psychotic little ballerina vampire played by Alisha Weir (Abigail). Now Durand gets to sink his teeth into his meatiest antagonist yet, playing (through motion-capture technology) the self-styled monkey king Proximus Caesar in Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, a perfect vehicle for the performer’s go-to mode of charming malice.

Ahead of the film’s release this weekend, Durand sat down with The Globe and Mail in Toronto to talk about his unique brand of antagonists.

This film allows you to play another villain but, like many of your roles, he’s a layered one. You can see how Proximus thinks he’s doing the right thing for his ape comrades. How far can a villain be peeled back before you consider taking the role on?

A lot of people ask me, “How did it feel to play a supervillain?” But gosh, he’s not. This whole process was incredible because we were able to have time to rehearse and deconstruct, while also learning the physical aspects of the job – those physiological differences between a bonobo and a French-Canadian guy from Thunder Bay. I had a lot of time to think about why Proximus was doing things that were against his nature. There were wonderful textures to play with.

Was it a matter of prioritizing character over the physical aspects of playing an ape?

It started with the physical stuff, leaning the rules and laws of what movement meant for apes and how it informed itself through my human body. It was understanding that the density of their bones also informs the density of their muscularity – they’re incredibly strong and grounded. At the same time, I was just about to play Hulk Hogan in a film, and I was up to 295 pounds for the role. The movie fell through the cracks, and here I am thinking, ‘what the hell am I going to do with this body?’ Then this role came along.

Did you keep that weight on the whole time?

I tried, but it’s hard to feed a 295-pound guy, especially when you’re exhausting yourself playing an ape every day.

Was there any reticence about working in the world of motion-capture technology – how it might impose itself on your acting style?

It started off that way – being a 6-foot-6 man, I was always afraid of being pushed into a corner in my career, with people saying, “This is who you get to play.” But when I saw the material here, I became obsessed. I’m like a pit bull, I can’t let go. You just dive in, and it was the most physically and emotionally I’ve ever been pushed and stretched.

You of course don’t only play villains. I loved your recent work playing the tragic hero in the CBC’s adaptation of Jeff Lemire’s graphic novel Essex County, directed by Andrew Cividino.

I actually saw Andrew’s first film, Sleeping Giant, and I tried to find him. I followed him on social, said I was a big fan and asked if I could sit down with him when I was in town. We had dinner and beers, and as I was trying to introduce something to him, he introduced Essex County to me. It was wonderful work, diving into this giant, tortured character.

You seem committed to making movies both here and in Hollywood. Do you intentionally balance the two worlds?

I don’t separate them, though every time I hear something is shooting in Canada I perk up. I get emotional talking about being a Canadian, really. It always feels like I’m coming home, and I’ve been gone for a really long time. But I try to follow the best story, and as I get older, I’m having more opportunities to go after the greatest stories. And soon I’ll be making my own, with a movie I wrote called The Hockey Player. It’s an homage to the game and being a northerner, and I’m excited to get to bring it to fruition.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes opens in theatres May 10.

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