Cocaine Bear: How actor Allan Henry created the wandering creature

Actor Allan Henry’s long history of embodying creatures with Andy Serkis and Wētā FX prepared him for the role of a lifetime (done).

Bear on cocaine? Terrible. Just a little less? A New Zealand buffalo clad head-to-toe in black lycra, he ran on all fours thanks to custom-made, meter-long aluminum limb extensions to portray a bear on cocaine. But that’s what actor Allan Henry had to do in “Cocaine Bear” to give his co-stars — who play the people caught in the crossfire when a bear snorts up a bunch of abandoned cocaine — a tangible reaction.

Henry expanded his stunt and acting work by portraying creature roles for a decade. “I started working with (the ‘Hobbit’ movies) movement coach Terry Notary, who is incredible, and ‘The Hobbit’ second unit was also directed by Andy Serkis. So at the same time we were doing orcs and goblins and things that move like quadrupeds for ‘The Hobbit’, Terry, Andy and a group of us went across the road to Wētā and worked on ‘Planet Planet’. Monkey movies,” Henry told IndieWire. “That was years ago, and there was this kind of steady flow of these kinds of projects that used arm stretching and weird body augmentation to get the right shape and size and dimensions.”

Affectionately nicknamed “Cokie the Bear”, it was not created using motion capture as people traditionally think. Unlike Serkis’ portrayal of Gollum in “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit,” Henry didn’t have the tracking markers on his face for the animators to turn into digital muscle movements, but he provided a crucial reference base for creating Cokie’s eye area. , physicality and emotional state.

“I did a lot of pre-visualization before we went to shoot with (Carmelo Leggiero), who was the lead animator, and we worked together a lot. We all have a common vocabulary, and Carmelo is very aware of the limits, that you can only push a human body so far, for example, and then the technology has to take over,” said Henry. “I motion-captured the bear after we got back and before we left.” But honestly, the artists at Wētā just took the reference that I had and developed it and expanded what I was doing. They could see where to put the bear. But my second role was for the performers to have natural and organic timing and reactions and the impact and momentum of having something with them.”

"Cocaine Bear"

“Cocaine Bear”

©Universal/Courtesy Everett Collection

Becoming the Cocaine Bear was a mixture of the real and the unreal. While Henry watched many nature documentaries to get a feel for the black bear’s rhythm, breathing and pace, he also discussed with director Elizabeth Banks how to bring something extra to Cokie. “They had a lot of collaborative conversations with Elizabeth where she had an idea of ​​what needed to happen and what Cokie needed to do. And then we would have conversations where he would say, “But you know what? Cokie takes cocaine, which makes her faster, stronger, and a little crazier. So Elizabeth was trying to find a way to emphasize the power and danger of this bear, to see that it was definitely the cocaine that was affecting him, because you also see the moments where Cokie has these little, brief moments. clarity outside of the rush and those are the really sweet moments,” Henry said.

But there were plenty of technically challenging moments as Henry performed stunts with actors and doubles, threw himself at people, on top of people, and even danced with Alden Ehrenreich, who played Eddie, in one sequence. “For this scene, Eddie’s character has to put his arm around the bear when she’s dancing with him, and I’m not as wide as a black bear. That’s why they gave me this ridiculous padded suit full of foam and plastic pieces to make me the size of this bear. I looked like a child’s toy. It was funny when I tried to sit down and the chest rose above my head. But Alden was great. He was having a great time with everything and I was just laying on him and we’d like to chat in between takes and ask ‘how are you doing down there mate?’

The experience of running on all fours and moving on all fours was also a challenge. “It’s a hell of a base workout, that’s for sure,” Henry said. “The whole splice was about a meter long, but where my hand was about half a meter down, it was about 500 or 600 millimeters up. But it means I can essentially stand on all fours without compromising my own structure too much, so I can still breathe and still have flexibility and range of motion. It’s really a full-body workout because there’s a lot of weight on my arms and it goes through my arms and shoulders into my upper back, especially in the running scenes where I have to run on all fours because I have to. be able to sit the push-ups in front of me and then carry my weight forward. And I’m like 95 kg (210 lbs). So that’s a lot to pull off.

“Then I work hard on my legs to stay inside and keep moving. Then referring to Cokie’s nose, head and eye area, I had another rig on my head that was aluminum and the muzzle was silicon,” added Henry. “It was very easy. But if you put something so far from your neck and amplify it, it’s a great workout for your head as well.”

Still, the intense weirdness of the set-up contributed to the film’s comedic tone for Henry and the cast, including Ray Liotta and his “Americans” co-stars Margo Martindale, Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell. “Everyone treated Elizabeth with the respect she deserved. And similarly, when they worked with me, everyone treated me like a different actor. They said, ‘Well, you’re the bear, so you’re giving us an emotional performance,'” Henry said. “Everybody really bought into it and was very committed to the truth of the ridiculous reality that we were in. And that was a lot of fun to play with.”

Released by Universal Pictures, “Cocaine Bear” is now in theaters.

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