“I wasn’t aware that they were going to try to have my character live at the end [and] survive the rebellion,” says Murray. “That was a decision that was made after the film was finished. It’s something that I wasn’t expecting, of course, because of the way it was filmed. I think that was a decision that was [made] so they could make another Apes movie.” (Both cuts are now available on Blu-ray.)
This Conquest Actor Almost Didn’t Make the Final Cut
One actor who wasn’t around for the film’s climactic events was Lou Wagner, who first appeared in the original Planet of the Apes as Zira’s brash, outspoken young nephew Lucius. Wagner was invited back to play an unrelated role in Conquest, but things turned out quite differently than he initially thought.
“I get the call for Conquest and my agent sets up the contract,” Wagner recalls for us over the phone. “I have the best billing that I’ve ever had in any of the films, and I have a three-week guarantee. I was going to be Roddy’s right-hand man and go with him all the way to the very end of the film as his partner, doing whatever he needs. So I get there the first day, and I’m in makeup and the producer comes in and he goes, ‘What are you doing here?’”
As it turns out, a script meeting over the previous weekend led to Wagner’s ape character being almost completely excised from the film. He was instead recast as an ape busboy who is seen briefly in two scenes: first stealing a bunch of knives from the restaurant to help Caesar build a cache of weapons and then setting the restaurant itself on fire in one of the film’s first direct acts of ape disobedience.
Wagner shot both scenes in one day. “The end of the day comes and they said, ‘Would it be all right if we took away your billing? We’ll still give you three weeks [pay], but we don’t want to give you the billing.’ I said, ‘No, sorry, a contract’s a contract.’ So I kept my billing, I got paid for three weeks and I was done at the end of the day.”
Even though Wagner was paid for his original amount of time, he says now that the studio was clearly interested in investing as little money as possible in the Apes franchise despite the strong box office performance of each film in the series (Conquest cost just $1.7 million to make).