The Greatest Bodysuit and CGI Actors in Film History
Acting is a lot tougher than it looks, so imagine how tough acting is when you’re wearing fifty pounds of hot foam rubber and trying to spot your cues through a peephole the size of a penny. Dedicated bodysuit and greenscreen performers are more important than ever with so many new sci-fi and superhero films coming up, but few of them earn widespread recognition. Let’s see if we can change that with this list of the greatest suited-up actors.
The next time you watch “Seven Samurai,” keep an eye out for a burly bandit who gets carved up by Kyuzo. That’ll be Haruo Nakajima, who later that same year would find himself in a hot rubber suit stomping around scale-model Tokyo as Godzilla. Nakajima had a few later appearances in the flesh (including two more Kurosawa films) but soon became Toho’s most prized kaiju actor, appearing as Godzilla, Ultraman, and King Kong. Nakajima wore the heavy, clumsy, and occasionally flammable Godzilla suits for 18 years and 12 films, retiring after his longtime friend and director Eiji Tsuburaya died. (Photo credit: Pinterest)
Hollywood traditionalists typically don’t recognize motion-capture and bodysuit work as “real acting,” but the success of Andy Serkis may change their tune. His most famous performance is undoubtedly Gollum from the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, which was compelling enough that many argued that he deserved an Oscar nomination for supporting actor, but Serkis has also played King Kong, Godzilla, and Tintin’s Captain Haddock. Serkis has also played many roles outside of a mocap suit, as an actor, director, and motion capture consultant for film, TV, and video games. (Photo credit: Warner Bros. Pictures/Photofest)
Tall and slender but capable of folding himself into any outfit, actor and former contortionist Doug Jones is best known for his association with Guillermo del Toro. For “Pan’s Labyrinth,” Jones donned heavy prosthetics to play both Pan and the Pale Man, although he said later the most difficult part of the shoot was having to learn Spanish. Jones was also an indispensable part of the “Hellboy” films, playing fishy partner Abe Sapien as well as the gigantic Angel of Death–a character rig so heavy and full of mechanisms that it badly cut Jones’ back, although he didn’t mention the injury until finishing his scenes. (Photo credit: Picturehouse/Photofest)
To get the part of Chewbacca, 7′ 3″ Peter Mayhew modestly claims that all he had to do was stand up. That may have been true at first, but Mayhew took his job as seriously as anyone can take a job where you play a walking carpet with a laser crossbow. The English actor spent time at the zoo studying the movements of large animals to develop movements and mannerisms for Chewie that turned out to be crucial to the character: when Mayhew fell ill during “Empire Strikes Back,” other tall actors took turns in the Wookiee suit, but none of them made it look “real” enough and Mayhew ended up re-shooting almost all of the scenes he’d first missed out on. Mayhew doesn’t do much suit acting today, but he did put in an appearance in “Episode III” and regularly gets in costume to visit sick children at hospitals near his Texas home.
Trying to bring HR Giger’s grotesque creation to life was “Alien’s” biggest problem, as it seemed impossible to find a stuntman tall and thin enough that the complicated suit didn’t make him look like a penis-headed alien linebacker. The crew was even tentatively auditioning supermodels until casting director Peter Archer met 6′ 10″ Nigerian design student Bolaji Badejo in a Soho bar and asked him to come visit the set. Badejo, who had never acted before or since, readily agreed and spent the next few months working closely with Giger and Ridley Scott, learning tai chi and mime and spending hours developing the alien’s sinister, graceful movements. Cast and crew remember the patient, good-natured Badejo being a valuable calming influence on the often hectic set, at least when his “head” was off. In full costume, the amateur actor was supposedly so deep in his role that when actress Veronica Cartwright was asked how she feigned fear on set, she responded “I didn’t do anything; I just had to look at him.” (Photo credit: Webodysseum)
For “Aliens,” James Cameron was obviously going to need more than one alien, and the original costume was going to be too heavy and ungainly for the sorts of frenetic action scenes he was planning anyway. Enter Stan Winston Studios with a batch of simplified alien suits and designer/performer Tom Woodruff Jr., who designed and built his costumes knowing that he’d personally have to be doing a lot of strenuous work in them. Woodruff ended up doing even more work in the alien suit than he had predicted, returning to design and perform the critter in every single installment of the “Alien” franchise except “Prometheus.” (Photo credit: Youtube)
Jean-Claude van Damme was originally cast to play 1987’s “Predator,” but balked upon learning that instead of a light makeup job, the title role entailed fighting and acting in a hot, heavy rubber suit that would make it difficult if not impossible to do cocaine. Casting about for a replacement, the crew came across 7′ 2″ Kevin Peter Hall. Hall had played basketball in Venezuela professionally before becoming an actor, granting him the stamina and strength necessary to go hand-to-hand against Arnold Schwarzenegger in 200 pounds of foam rubber in a sweltering Mexican jungle. Despite a sophisticated cooling system plumbed into the suit, Hall could only manage about two hours of suit work before passing out, but cast and crew alike remembered him as remarkably easy-going, especially compared to the grouchy Van Damme. Hall went on to play the Predator again in the sequel, as well as the considerably less intimidating Harry from “Harry and the Hendersons,” before succumbing to complications from HIV. After his passing, the Predator crew reunited to film a brief documentary commemorating the actor they fondly recalled as “the guy in the suit.” (Photo credit: 20th Century-Fox/Photofest)
Brian “Creature Boy” Steele’s career in prosthetics arguably began as Frankenstein’s monster at Universal Studios Theme Park, but didn’t really take off until he came in to replace Kevin Peter Hall on the “Harry and the Hendersons” TV series. This led to a string of suit roles where his energetic performances caught the eye of casting directors, even though he rarely received film credit. His “breakout moment” was his role as the demon Sammael in “Hellboy,” a highly physical and agile performance that Steele trained for by bicycling 40 km to the set every day. Today, his CV includes spots on “Underworld,” “Avatar,” “Terminator,” and (again revisiting a role that Kevin Peter Hall made famous) “Predators.” (Photo credit: Sony/Photofest)
Since his costumed debut in 1984, casting directors have known that when you want a monkey, you call John Alexander. Trained in ballet and acrobatics from an early age, Alexander answered a casting call for “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan” and ended up becoming one of the most oddly type-casted performers in Hollywood, playing gorillas in “Gorillas in the Mist,” “Mighty Joe Young,” “Planet of the Apes,” and dozens of TV spots where directors knew no ordinary guy in a gorilla costume would do. Alexander’s non-ape roles have been notable as well, including spots on the first two “Men in Black” films and a double role in “Hellboy II” as the ecto-suit of Johann Krauss and the Bethmoora Goblin. (Photo credit: Wyrdsuff)
After nine years playing basketball internationally, Ian Whyte decided to switch sports to the most dangerous game of all: appearing in the critically reviled “Aliens vs. Predator” series. Whyte played multiple Predators, switching costume details throughout the day, and his lithe and athletic performance earned him enough suit-actor cred that he was tapped to play the Engineer in “Prometheus”…which also sucked, but not nearly as much as AvP, and again not due to Whyte’s solemn, spooky performance. Today, Whyte seems to have finally landed a part in a decent project as a Giant in “Game of Thrones,” although if you dig out your season 2 DVD you might also know him as one of three guys who’ve played Gregor Clegane. (Photo credit: Alienepredatoritalia)