Exclusive: Interview with Douglas Tait!
Monster Legacy had the chance — and honour — to interview veteran creature actor Douglas Tait about his work on film. Read on!
Monster Legacy: A more personal question first. What Monster films inspired you to become a creature performer, and what are your favorite ‘men in suit’ Monsters?
Douglas Tait: I have to say Frankenstein is my ultimate favorite monster. When I was a kid I bought a Don Post Frankenstein mask, and I wore that thing on several occasions for Halloween. Then when I was 14 I went to Universal Studios with some friends, and I saw Frankenstein performing in a show, and it inspired me. I told myself when I am old enough I am going to get a job at Universal Studios and play Frankenstein, and I did. It was the beginning of me getting paid to entertain behind makeup and masks. The funny thing is, while I was working at Universal I was pursuing my acting career, and my first Guest-Starring role on a television show was as Frankenstein on Sabrina The Teenage Witch. I think I was so comfortable with the character that it came natural when I auditioned for the role. Frankenstein sure holds special memories for me.
Monster Legacy: In your opinion, what qualities must a creature actor generally have?
Douglas Tait: Well there are several qualities that I have that I think help me as a creature actor. Number 1 is my height, I am 6’5″. There are roles for little people, but the scary, intimidating characters are always tall. Number 2 is my build, I have a lean athletic build that is proportionate. Fx artists that are building a suit never like to build it on a bodybuilder, it just doesn’t work. First off bodybuilders are generally stiff, so they can’t move well and the people making the suit can add muscle to make it appear that I am huge without sacrificing the flexibility and agility of the performance. Number 3 I am an actor, not a stuntman. When I am cast in a creature role I am thinking like an actor, developing my character. How does he move, how does he speak, how does he stand, etc. etc. I offer a good blend of both, being able to sell the character and handle the action and stunt elements with my athletic background. Number 4 is Physical Training. I maintain an intense training regimen that consists of calisthenics, yoga, and animal movements, and I train with a weight vest, which works on all aspects of fitness and gives me functional muscle that I can use in the characters I play. When I am cast in a creature role I then alter my training and work on the muscles and things that are going to help give me the best performance possible. Sometimes it is extremely exhausting and the training is what gets me through the day.
Monster Legacy: How do you prepare yourself for a specific creature role?
Douglas Tait: It all depends on the character. Acting behind prosthetic makeup would be different than be in an animatronic head, so I would prepare differently. I would prefer prosthetic Fx makeup any day over Animatronics. I would work on body movements, the character’s speech (if there is dialogue), and I take notes on how the character is described in the script. The script and character design usually gives me a good idea. Then once I start the fittings I get a better idea of what it looks like and the limitations I have, and then I start to train and practice on the things that will help me give the best performance.
Monster Legacy: Zathura featured one of your first works as a creature performer, and you collaborated with Stan Winston Studio. Can you tell us about your experience playing the Zorgon? Were the animatronic extensions for the head and tail problematic to work with?
Douglas Tait: Getting the chance to work with Stan Winston Studios was a dream come true. They were having trouble finding tall actors that could handle the weight of the 120-pound suit. They wanted us to walk in a squatted position, and with the heavy weight it was very difficult. The design was brilliant, the weight was spread out, the head weighed 60 pounds and was mounted onto my chest, and the tail weighed 60 pounds and was attached to my lower back. My head was exposed and was covered with a blue nylon stocking then removed in post.
The head and tail were full of animatronics and the build looked so neat when in motion. After about 5 minutes in a squatted position, my legs would start shaking and I could not wait until Jon Favreau yelled cut. Also, the tail would whip back and forth so it would take you off balance when you weren’t prepared for it. In the scene where we are chasing the kid, they had us rigged on a wire to take some of the weight off while we were running, and in the scene where I get knocked down the stairs by the piano, THANKFULLY a dummy Zorgon was put it my place. All in all it was a great experience, and getting the opportunity to work with Stan Winston before he passed was equally thrilling.
Monster Legacy: Your role as the Long-Face Bar Alien in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek ultimately meant long make-up sessions for what was — in the end — only a very short sequence of the film. How do you feel about that?
Douglas Tait: Well the character was actually a smaller part in the script than what was in the film. When I was doing my closeup and moving the prosthetic around, J.J. would come up to me and tell me how funny it was and to keep playing with my reactions. He is a really kind man, and he loved the character. I did not mind the long makeup sessions knowing I was working with J.J. and being a part of an established franchise like Star Trek. He ended up using more takes of me than what was written in the script so all around it was a great experience. When Joel Harlow and Barney Burman won the Academy Award for Best Makeup, it made it even better to be a part of.
Monster Legacy: You played one of the Sleestaks in Land of the Lost — which, compared to other creature suits you have performed in, seems very simple in structure. Was it effectively easier to play as a character? Can you tell us about your experience on the film?
Douglas Tait: The Sleestak suit was fairly simple, it wasn’t heavy nor was it full of animatronics. The head had a chin strap attached on the inside which made the mouth move when I opened my mouth. Sleestaks move slowly, so that made it easier to perform the character. What made it difficult was the fact that the suit was super tight and we would stay in it over 15 hours a day. We had to rub KY jelly on our bodies in order to get the suit on. The tightness of the suit cut off our circulation and our hands and feet would swell up.
Also, the Sleestak bug eyes would fog up after a couple minutes and we couldn’t see where we were going. Another funny thing was that the stairs inside our Sleestak Temple were 12 inches wide, and our feet with nails were 24 inches long. We had to walk with our feet sideways and the nails would be flipping off during the takes and you would see Sleestak’s fall all over the stairs. It was a real fun experience, and Will Ferrel thanked me several times for being in the suit. My friend Mike Elizalde’s Spectral Motion designed the Sleestaks and he was able to keep the old design while making it look much better. Spectral Motion does amazing work. I also played The Zarn character that was voiced by Leonard Nimoy.
Monster Legacy: What is the most complex or difficult stunt you ever had to perform?
Douglas Tait: I try to stay away from difficult stunts, as I focus more on the acting, but there have been times when I am cast as a character which requires a stunt that makes me uncomfortable. The most difficult was a creature I played that required me to be on a wire 20 feet in the air while on a moving rig going 30 miles per hour. The wire rig moved me forwards, backwards and up and down while I was engaged in an intense fight with another stuntman. It was extremely complex, and it was difficult to perform with all the limitations and the extra weight of the suit.
Monster Legacy: What do you consider to be your best (or most satisfying) work to date, and why?
Douglas Tait: The most satisfying is a new ABC show that airs on June 19th called The Quest. I can’t talk about it at this time, but it was by far the most rewarding experience to date as an actor. The Executive Producer of the show is the Executive Producer of Lord Of The Rings, Mark Ordesky, and once again I teamed up with Spectral Motion and Mike Elizalde. Stay tuned for something truly special.
Monster Legacy: You also got to play Godzilla in the recent Snickers commercial promoting the Legendary Pictures reboot. What can you tell about the making of the commercial and the Godzilla suit?
Douglas Tait: The suit was custom built to fit me and stood 9 feet tall. Most all of the weight is on a backpack rig attached to my shoulders, which weighed over 120 pounds. Legacy Fx designed the character and they are the same guys that ran Stan Winston Studios. In the scene we shot in Downtown Los Angeles where I am angry and I flip the Taxi, they shot me against a green screen to make me look the size of the tall buildings. In the scene where I am waterskiing, they had me on a moving gimbal against a green screen to match the movement of being on water. The suit was built to resemble the 1954 Toho Godzilla, so they used similar techniques to build it, like adding Corn Flakes to the latex to give it texture. Thank goodness my suit only weighed 120 pounds, Haruo Nakajima’s 1954 Godzilla suit weighed over 250 pounds!
Monster Legacy: You recently completed shooting Outpost 37, in collaboration with Steve Wang. What can you tease about the film and creature?
Douglas Tait: Outpost 37 is a real cool Sci-Fi/War film based off the Academy Award documentary film Restrepo, and it will be out later this year. I shot it in South Africa, and the amazing Steve Wang designed my character. Steve is a legend in the Fx world and it was great to finally work with him. I play “The Heavy”, a huge Alien character with a laser gun that goes around blowing things up. There are several Heavies in the film and I got to play all of them. I recently watched the final cut and it is an intense film.
Monster Legacy: Is there a kind of creature you would like to play, but never had the chance to? If so, which one and why?
Douglas Tait: Well, I have played Frankenstein on television, but I would really love to play him in a Feature Film directed by someone like Guillermo Del Toro. I think that would be the ultimate dream job for me because Frankenstein is so important to my career in makeup. I would also like to work with J.J. Abrams again and play a creature in Star Wars. Chewbacca would sure be a fun one to play! I love practical fx and I am glad there are still directors out there that want to see practical creatures on film. There are too many CGI monsters nowadays, and I think people are getting tired of it.
Enormous thanks to Douglas Tait for answering our questions! Be sure to visit: