EXCL Interview: “HANNIBAL’s” Stag Monster Speaks
Fans of NBC’s hit series HANNIBAL are familiar with the gripping subject matter, dark atmosphere and fearsome symbolism displayed throughout each episode. The main character, Will Graham’s own troubled psyche is personified by a stag-like Wendigo creeping in the background, haunting him in the recesses of his mind and reminding him of his own, slowly fading sanity.
Behind the mask, heavy latex suit, and antlers stands Toronto’s own Kalen Davidson, a circus performer skilled in a variety of different stunts such as fire throwing, stilt walking and juggling. Davidson joined us after a lengthy rehearsal for the Toronto International Circus Festival to speak with about his experiences as a creature performer, and life in the circus.
FANGORIA: What was it like auditioning for a part as a creature?
KALEN DAVIDSON: Basically, going in for my measurements, having my body cast in latex to make a mold so they could build the prosthetics to put on my body. The whole process took about four or five hours of being encased in various concoctions to get a form so they could build the suit, which was about thirty pounds of silicon latex. It takes an hour or so to put on before we put on the headpiece. In terms of the audition, it was mostly just [talking about] my experience on other productions as a creature or prosthetics performer.
FANG: What other film or TV productions have you been a creature performer on?
DAVIDSON: I worked on FALLING SKIES as one of the aliens, so sort of similar. I was in a full prosthetic suit. That was a great production, very challenging. The suit on that show was really intense, so it prepared me for HANNIBAL.
FANG: What is it like actually performing in a prosthetic suit?
DAVIDSON: Very low visibility, you’re in a completely black environment. In terms of having the mask on, it feels like you’re breathing through a snorkel so you have to control that feeling of being confined and not feel claustrophobic and be able to work within that environment in order to get what we need for whatever scene we’re shooting. A lot of it is pain management and to be able to do stunt work and physical performance while under that kind of pressure. It’s really not for everybody, anybody who is claustrophobic can pretty much rule out creature performance [laughs].
FANG: Have you done acting where you weren’t confined in a suit?
DAVIDSON: Most of my performances have been in contemporary circus shows like Cirque Du Soleil, a lot of contract companies that are based out of Canada. Most of my theatrical experience is with live performances, cabaret and clowning, or doing circus performances like juggling, and stilt walking.
FANG: What made you decide to run away to the circus?
DAVIDSON: I grew up on a farm and I was always doing crazy things like making up sequences of stunts for myself off of different farming equipment, different structures. So I think early on I knew that I needed to keep myself challenged. I got introduced to the circus in my early teens through street performance, watching buskers on the street and saying “Oh, I really want to do that.” It was kind of a natural progression of me trying all of those things and finding the thing that kept me from losing focus. I was an ADD kid that the circus worked for [laughs]. I’ve now been more than ten years as a full time circus performer and now I work in Toronto doing circus production and performance. I do a lot of private events, gala events, and weddings and then I work on film on the side doing creature work.
FANG: What work did you do for Cirque du Soleil?
DAVIDSON: I worked on a show with them as a clown, and stilt walking. It was really cool, they have changed circus and done a lot of really great things for it, but knowing what I know now I wish I had started my own business sooner than later. You can work for a company and that’s great, but at the end of the day sometimes it’s better to go your own way. That was my impression of Cirque after working with them. They are this awesome, big machine, but with all of the shenanigans the performers can get lost.
FANG: Tell me about Pyromeo.
DAVIDSON: Pyromeo and Fueliette was a show I put together with a female partner years ago. It’s a fire stunt comedy show, juggling, breathing and eating fire. I ran that act for seven or eight years as a variety act and it was kind of a persona that I picked up that I did a lot of stunt work with. I don’t know if Pyromeo is behind me, I have been working more as an advocate of circus arts and offering opportunities for workshopping in schools so that kids can learn circus. A lot of that is work that feels really good and honest as opposed to the more egocentric circus shows of my youth [laughs].
FANG: What is life like on the set of HANNIBAL?
DAVIDSON: It’s been very challenging, with the conditions we have to film in on location. We filmed over the winter in Ontario, incredibly cold. So it was a very tough second season shoot for a lot of people. Laurence Fishburne, Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen are amazing to work alongside and see what their level of professionalism can bring to the table, and letting that guide me. I’ve definitely learned a lot in the two years I’ve been on the series, and I’m looking forward to the third.
FANG: Were you a fan of the movies or books beforehand?
DAVIDSON: Yeah, well, I’ve always had a fascination with horror and I think that HANNIBAL has a really wide range that it can play with. It’s horror, suspense, action; it’s got a little bit of everything. It’s great coming from a creature performance background to work on this series as a monster, a figment of the imagination of one of the characters.