NO PAIN, NO PERFORMANCE.
By Frank H. Woodward,
When one considers suit acting, it’s hard not to think of the pain involved. And the heat. The claustrophobic conditions. The weight of the suit itself.
Pictured above: Monster Suit performer Tom Woodruff, Jr. in a variety of painful positions.
A GODZILLA-SIZED ACTING CHALLENGE
The original GODZILLA suit weighed 200 pounds. It was made of tire rubber, bamboo and wire. One guy passed out inside. Now go back and watch Godzilla coming out of Tokyo Bay. Tell me you don’t feel awe and respect for Haruo Nakajima.
Pictured above: Haruo Nakajima is all grins in spite of the challenges of performing in the water in a 200-pound GODZILLA suit.
MODERN DAY MONSTERS
Nowadays creature designers use foam latex, silicon and carbon fiber to build the suits. That brings the average weight down to 100 pounds. Piece of cake, right?
Not so much.
Today’s suit actors have to push through a 12-14 hour workday and still have enough energy to come back tomorrow. That requires strength training for the body and mind, but it’s not so simple as going to the gym or practicing Zen meditation. These actors can’t bulk up like Arnold. They have to fit in some form-fitting suits which means keeping lean as well as strong.
FINE-TUNED PERFORMANCE MACHINES
Staying in shape is something all actors share. We’ve all seen pictures of Brad Pitt or Charlize Theron and wondered, “Why can’t I look like that?” Well, it’s their job to look like that. Unlike us they have trainers and dieticians. A finely tuned body is part of their craft as leading men and women.
Pictured above: Suit performer, John Alexander, stays hydrated in a Rick Baker Gorilla Suit on the set of GORILLAS IN THE MIST.
THE BEST IN THE BIZ
The same is true for actors like Doug Jones, Tom Woodruff, Jr., Douglas Tait, Derek Mears, and Misty Rosas. These actors, however, need to be more precise in their training. The creature suit usually tells them what areas to work on. Legs. Arms. Back. Groin. Yes, I said groin. Considering the ‘crouch and bend’ position required to play most creatures, you need all of your core muscles on deck.
Pictured above: (L to R) Misty Rosas in SWS Gorilla Suit for INSTINCT, Douglas Tait in a Spectral Motion "Sleestak" suit & Derek Mears in Spectral Motion's Edward the Troll suit from HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS.
MAKE THE PAIN FAMILIAR
Even with all this training there will come a point where something hurts. Brian Steele coined the phase “Make The Pain Familiar” for this exact reason. It’s become the mantra of his training. By hiking, biking and/or swimming to the point of fatigue (and a little beyond), Brian tunes himself before going on set so he knows what’s coming.
Pictured above: Creature performer Brian Steele (aka CreatureBoy) tests out THE RELIC's "Kothoga" suit at SWS.
Hopping on the treadmill for an hour isn’t enough. Try riding your bike till you’re a good hour away from home and then find the strength to get back. Now, if you want to be like Brian, wear weights while doing this.
PREPARATION IS EVERYTHING
And once they’re all trained for the physical… then these actors have to perform.
Due to constraints of money and time, a production can’t wait for the most comfortable moment to film a scene. If an actor has done their homework, this shouldn’t be a problem. For someone like Brad Pitt, that means knowing his lines and having a strong sense of character. Maybe there will be a bit of physical acting he trained for as well and a few hours in the make up chair (see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button).
Pictured above: Even eating poses a challenge to Doug Jones as PAN'S LABYRINTH's "Fauno", makeup FX by DDT Efectos Especiales
For someone like Doug Jones… Doug will have learned his lines, prepped his character, rehearsed with puppeteers, maintained his strength training, spent hours in the chair AND developed the mental ability to act while dealing with a gear digging into his back.
Now that I think of it… Brad Pitt has it easy.
- Frank H. Woodward