We interviewed “creature performer” Shane Rangi during a break in shooting on Day 2 of our set visit for The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. Most of the time we spent with him, he was wearing the Bulgy Bear suit and we got hang out with him a bit while he was waiting for his turn to go in front of the camera, talking about everything from Spider-Man 3 (he hated it) to less weighty debates, but here’s our official interview with the actor who rarely gets any credit for his work in the first “Narnia” movie, but who like Doug Jones (Pan’s Labyrinth) can’t be ignored for long.
ComingSoon.net: To start out, can you list all the characters you’re playing in this film?
Shane Rangi: I was cast as Asterius. I also play the physical characters for the wild bear that the kids find in the story and the physical character of the Werewolf, Bulgy Bear. What else? I know there are a couple others I physicalize Aslan, and also I play another minotaur as well.
CS: We saw you a little bit in the Bulgy Bear costume. Are there a lot of times when you have to get into one costume and then switch over to another?
Rangi: No, not too often because once they set up scenes, they try to keep that one character there that whole time, unless of course they shoot one day and it’s cloudy and another day and it’s sunny, and there are two different characters. And in the morning if it’s sunny and in the afternoon it goes cloudy and they change shots. But normally once I get into a character, I’m that character all day.
CS: Do you know if you’ll end up in any scenes with yourself?
Rangi: You know, that’s kind of funny, I haven’t really thought about it. I don’t think so. But who’s to know? In probably a year, maybe I’ll go, “That’s me and that’s me, too.”
CS: Do you get to play the Werewolf as yourself or are you in a full costume?
Rangi: I’m in full costume as the Werewolf, yeah. I’m sort of like a suit performer, I suppose.
CS: That’s a specialized talent.
Rangi: Apparently it is!
CS: What are traits that make someone a good suit performer?
Rangi: I don’t know if there are really any. I just know that as an actor, I like a challenge and suit performing is definitely a challenge. The other cool thing I love about it is that I like pushing my body to the limits, and suit performing definitely does that. And apparently it’s been said that I do some of my best acting when my face isn’t seen. (laughter)
CS: So the Werewolf is going to be replaced by CGI or is that going to be you?
Rangi: A bit of both. They were quite impressed with how the physical stuff worked, and there is going to be some physical stuff that will be better.
CS: Yeah, the mechanical heads look great. We saw the mechanical head for Asterius earlier and it looks very realistic.
Rangi: Yeah, that’s what’s funny. I haven’t seen any of that stuff yet. All I get to do is hear (the mechanics) going “zzz zzz zzz.”
CS: I know you played Ottman in the first movie, but did you play Aslan in the first movie as well?
Rangi: No, Aslan in the first one was a big sculpt, or they just had the head and shot it and did the rest in visual effects.
CS: What’s been involved with playing Aslan this time? Do you actually get down on all fours?
Rangi: No, I pretty much have the front feet, the mane, and the head. The main reason we’re playing physical this time is that Lucy interacts with him, and from a digital point of view, it’s hard for them to recreate hair around when she hugs him and stuff like that. So basically I’m just there for visual effects. When she hugs (Aslan), they just do a splice, roto it out, and then put that onto the digital lion, plus for eyelines as well.
CS: Do you do any of the voices in the movie?
Rangi: No. Well Asterius I don’t know yet. I haven’t done any ADR for it, but you know, we’ll see. I mean, out of the six characters, I’ll only be credited as one.
CS: What is the most difficult suit to wear?
Rangi: What’s funny is someone actually asked me that this morning. To me, pretty much all suit work is difficult. The most difficult on this one though would have to be the Werewolf, simply because the suit was built for a guy that was about 5’10” and a little bit slimmer. So I had to squeeze into it, and they were hoping I could squeeze into it so I could play the character, which I did, but you know, he’s all hunched over. All the weight of the mechanical head and that is out in the front so there’s a lot of weight and a lot of pressure, so yeah, probably the Werewolf.
CS: Are the suits more or less uncomfortable on this film than the last one and have they made any improvements?
Rangi: Well you know, the big improvement on this one is that, in the first one as General Otmin, I was 100% blind pretty much, unless I stuck on the stunt head, which then I only had visibility of about 15%. So they’ve made a little bit of an improvement in that aspect of being able to see. The only trouble is that this time around, the minotaurs are done a little bit different in that all we can see out of the neck which is just underneath the chin. And unfortunately, in order to make the eye line straight and correct, you’ve actually got to hold your head down. So, your view is only about a foot and a half in front of you, which still makes it a little bit hard. If you guys get to see the behind-the-scenes footage, I’m sure that you’ll see why.
CS: Have there been any days where you’ve had to spend all day in the heat?
Rangi: With the bear costume I’ve been lucky. The bear costume is actually one of the most comfortable. Even though it’s a big costume, there’s a lot of space between me and the suit. And on days like this where there’s a little bit of breeze blowing, it gets in there and gets all the hot air out. I haven’t been in it yet on a hot, hot day. I’m sure it’ll be like being in a microwave oven. The minotaur Asterius, I was in it not the Friday just gone, but the Friday before. We had a nice day out here, about 36 degrees [97 degrees Fahrenheit], not a cloud in the sky, not a breath of wind, and I can honestly say that day I was a walking waterfall. That’s the trouble when you don’t have hair. It just builds up and just runs.
CS: Does sweating affect the mechanics of the face masks at all?
Rangi: No, I’ve got a skullcap in the mechanics. But one day I’m going to get Duncan from I.T. He’s got this little thermometer that he can just point in the suit. I’m going to get him to come down on one of the hotter days and see how hot it is.
CS: Does Bulgy Bear have a mechanical head also?
Rangi: No, because Bulgy Bear is basically 100% digital. I’m just in there for visual reference, so we don’t need a mechanical head, but the head itself is actually pretty cool. It’s better than the one I’ve got now. (laughter)
CS: Do you do a fair amount of background and stuntwork as well?
Rangi: I do. I’ve been acting for 20 years now, mainly theater, but I got into stunts through “Lord of the Rings” and I got pulled up into the stunt team by the American coordinator, George Marshall Ruge, so I’ve been doing stunts for the last 7 1⁄2 years. I do a bit of both, and normally if I get taken on as an actor, the main reason why I get it I think is that I can do a lot of physical stuff.
CS: Do you miss doing the stage stuff?
Rangi: You know, I actually love theater. Theater is one of the forms that, as an actor, there’s no second take. If there’s a line that has to be funny or a line that you want to grab the audience with, and if you can deliver it and you’ve got them, there’s no better reward than having that instant gratification, but in saying that, theater doesn’t really pay that well. And on film sets they have some fantastic catering, so free food all around. (laughter)