Posted April 18, 2012 by Paula Hammond - Features Editor in Features
 
 

Actor Tom Woodruff Jr.


As fans ready themselves for release of Ridley Scott’s long-awaited Prometheus this May, there’s one spectre at the feast that just refuses to go away – the alien.

As
fans ready themselves for release of Ridley Scott’s long-awaited Prometheus
this May, there’s one spectre at the feast that just refuses to go away – the
alien.

Whether Scott’s new movie will feature the alien
or not, is a closely guarded secret, but there’s no doubt that the enduring
power of the franchise owes much, not just to Giger’s creature, but the man who took that design and – literally
– ran with it. Sometimes on all fours! That man is Tom Woodruff Jr. who has
played the alien in every film in the franchise so far, except the original.
However, Tom is more than just a man in a suit; hired to stand around looking
big and mean. In fact, he began his career as an artist, working on creature
effects for Terminator and Aliens with the world famous Stan
Winston Studio. Since then, he’s gone on to design creatures, prosthetics,
animatronics and effects for the likes of Alien
Nation
, Tremors, Death Becomes Her (for which he shared
an Academy Award), Jumanji, Starship Troopers, The Incredible Hulk, Spiderman, Wolverine, The Thing and The Zookeeper. Add to that list, the
films which Tom actually appeared in such, as The X Files Movie, Hollow
Man
, Leviathan and Pumpkinhead, then he’s probably been
involved in almost every Summer blockbuster for the last 30 years. Paula
Hammond chatted to the man who makes a living conjuring up magic and monsters.

What’s
it like being the guy in the suit?

Technically or esoterically? Hot, uncomfortable.
Like wearing a wet suit a couple of sizes too small. The whole thing is made of
a foam rubber material cast over Lycra so it doesn’t let off a lot of body
heat. Then the whole thing is coated in slime, which cools you down real quick.
In Prague, when we we’re filming AVP
we were working in an unheated warehouse. So we had the opposite problem – you
got very cold, very quickly if you weren’t moving!

Sounds
terrible! Why do you do it?

Even with all the problems, it’s something I’ve
always wanted to do and, after a few years, you start to see it as a
performance and treat it with more respect. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to
be the monster in a movie …

You
started out as a creature effects guy. How did you end up in front of the camera?

It was really a natural process. When you design
something you get a feel for it; how to move and so on. In the past we had used
stunt men and dancers inside the suits, but we saw that the performance was
really suffering. The stunt men were strong enough but didn’t move well, while
the dancers usually struggled with the costume and equipment. The obvious thing
was for me to step into the suit … to carry the creative process right
through and see it work on set. But really I’m just a complete egomaniac!

Have
you ever wanted to be a straight actor?

As a kid I was always introverted and shy, then
I got into theatre I found I could become the role. It’s like taking the thing
you fear the most and by facing it you become free of it. But I never wanted to
pursue it professionally. I don’t have the right psyche. It’s all too
competitive. But if I’m in a suit because I designed it then I get to side step
the whole audition process, which is great because I hate them.

What
was your first role?

My first ‘suit’ part was Monster Squad where I played the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

That’s
a great movie!

Yes! And for me it was great one to start off
with that because it was once of the earliest films I saw. Then I played
gorillas, Pumpkinhead … lots of different animals in a movie called in
Jumanji …

Who
do the costumes belong to?

We keep it all – but I guess its shared
property. We can’t own the image, but we do own the pieces. The coolest and
weirdest thing I have is a full-scale replica of the Batmobile from the movie.
We worked on it for ages to get all the buttons and switches just right. It’s
drivable and fire comes out of the back. That’s a real attention getter!

In
Aliens you see very little of the alien close up, but in Alien 3 we see a lot more.
How did that effect the look of the alien costume?

The costumes had to stand up to more scrutiny.
So we changed the design quite a bit and made the suit a one-piece. But it’s
always changing in subtle ways. Nothing big, as Giger did such as great design
job, but in AVP for instance, it was a lot darker.

What
are your passions?

I collect old film, especially anything to do
with Ray Harryhausen who is a real inspiration to people like me. He was the
original. Thank God for EBay or as my wife would say God! EBay! I’ve got rid of
a lot but I have original movie posters and I try to track down the people who
made the costumes or do the make up. With Planet
of the Apes
I met the guy who did the ape makeup and he gave me a cast of
the head from Beneath the Planet of the
Apes
. That’s one of my most treasured possessions.

So
where do you go from here?

I grew up in a small town and we never went to
the movie theatres, but there was the magic of seeing movies by guys like Ray
Harryhausen on TV. When I learnt how he did it – did those magical things, it
entranced me and I determined to pursue it as a career. Now I’m living a life
planned out by a nine year old boy and it’s been great. I’m just amazed how the
whole thing has grown over the last 15-20 years … and I hope I can keep doing
it.

Thank you Tom Woodruff Jr, so do we.


Paula Hammond - Features Editor

 
Paula Hammond is a full-time, freelance journalist. She regularly writes for more magazines than is healthy and has over 25 books to her credit. When not frantically scribbling, she can be found indulging her passions for film, theatre, cult TV, sci-fi and real ale. If you should spot her in the pub, after five rounds rapid, she’ll be the one in the corner mumbling Ghostbusters quotes and waiting for the transporter to lock on to her signal… Email: writerpaula@icloud.com