Monsterpiece Theater Part Three: A Conversation with Dorian Kingi (Antlered Man, ANTLERS)

From starting out in stunts at 11 years old to doubling for Doug Jones, now Kingi is blazing a trail through wendigos and beyond.

By Heather Wixson · @thehorrorchick · December 15, 2021, 6:30 PM EST

Writer's Note: Hello, everyone! The world of horror cinema this last year has featured an array of unforgettable monsters and creatures that left their indelible mark on the landscape of the genre. Before we bid farewell to this year, I thought it would be fun to take some time to celebrate the performers behind these fantastical creatures who were a big reason why their characters made such a huge impact on these films and on us, the fans. Be sure to check back all month long for more Monsterpiece Theater celebrations! (You can catch up on part one with Thiago Dos Santos (V/H/S/94's Raatma) and part two with Matthew Ninaber (Psycho Goreman, PG: PSYCHO GOREMAN).

For performer Dorian Kingi, the world of stunt work has been a family affair, as his dad, Henry Kingi has been working in Hollywood for more than 50 years now and has more than 200 credits on his resume. Inspired by his dad, Dorian got a very early start in the industry, as he began doing stunts years before he could even drive. He has now contributed to well over 100 film and television projects during his career.

One of Dorian's most recent credits includes playing the terrifyingly monstrous Antlered Man in Scott Cooper's Antlers. During a recent interview, Kingi discussed how he fell in love with stunts at a very early age, his admiration for Doug Jones, the challenges he faced while bringing the supernatural creature to life at the center of Antlers, and more.

I know you're extremely well versed in stunts and taking on physical performances, but I'm curious how your involvement with Antlers came about?

Well first off, thank you for reaching out to people like myself that work behind the mask. It's definitely a collaborative effort, as you're often working with the director and the puppeteers and effects people. But I think that it's great to help highlight what goes into creating a character and how many people it does involve. This particular show just came to me through Legacy and Shane [Mahan]. Guillermo [del Toro got a multi-picture deal after doing The Shape of Water, and he decided to team up with Scott Cooper, the director, to do Antlers.

As you know, Guillermo usually works with Doug Jones, who's my idol. In fact, I started my career doubling him on The Time Machine, the one with Guy Pearce. I had been doing stunts as a kid since I was 11 years old, but nothing creature-related. I had just graduated high school, and I was hired for The Time Machine. The filmmakers thought because I was tall and thin, I would be perfect to double for Doug Jones. I had watched Hocus Pocus so many times and knew that he was the zombie, but somehow it just didn't click who it was. But I doubled him for the first time there and then went under his wing and doubled him for several years after that.

I also have an acting background as I went to Stella Adler's acting academy, and I was doing stunts and acting, but I fell into doing creature work. And then being friends with Doug, he's just a great human being and there's been this evolutionary process since he's not getting any younger, where if a role has a suit that's too heavy or just too big or that kind of stuff, I'm generally the next step in line for that particular character. So Guillermo reached out to Legacy and Shane because they'd done The Shape of Water together. I know he wanted to have Doug take this role, but Guillermo knew that it was probably going to be too heavy for him. He asked Legacy who else they would have take on this character, and they recommended me.

Even though you're not a stranger to these types of roles, did you have to make any adjustments to your performance style for the character of the Antlered Man at all?

Oh, absolutely, for sure. I mean, as soon as I tried on the skeleton that they were trying to create, that character was so tall so my head was actually where the heart was in the suit. And just to give you an idea for scale, I'm 6'5", so it was almost two feet over my head. At first, I was like, "Oh, this isn't bad, it's only like 15 pounds." But then you've got the puppeteers doing the animatronics and everything, and it just kept getting heavier and heavier and heavier, so I had to start training in a different way. I went and I got a 60-pound weight vest and started doing movements training in my backyard, prepping myself for the demands of this character. The weird part about it was that I could only train so much because the character had all this weight in the front of its body. I was constantly trying to arch my back and pull back as this creature would lean forward, which wasn't easy. We ended up coming up with a rigging assist because it ended up being 60 plus pounds in the end.

In between takes, I would be just completely gassed out. It was just very cumbersome, but it was a really cool-looking suit with those big arms. When you get in the suit, you just hope you get a really good gel with it, but it's all about communication, too, because when you're stuck inside, you can barely hear anything. You have everyone on our coms trying to communicate where you should be looking or moving or things you need to do with your performance. There were all these cool nuances that we got to play around with and work with too.

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When I spoke to Shane, he said that they had you come in to test out different things throughout the course of building the suit. Did having that previous experience make your time on set easier then?

Oh, for sure, yeah. We already had a relationship, so we were able to go back and forth about what was working for me in the suit and what wasn't. So, to have those extra fittings is going to make all of our lives easier on set if we figure these problems out in the beginning. Because they build it, and then we have to tweak it, so as much as I could get in to do any quick test fittings or things to make our life easier, it's so helpful to do that.

I know there were some sequences that you guys had to shoot in those mine sets, which were probably already challenging to begin with. But I'm imagining, with that suit, that had to add another layer because everything in those sets felt so contained. Was that a particularly challenging environment for you to have to perform in?

Every set or location has its challenges, but that one was tough. Those scenes were actually what we shot first. They wanted to make that mining cave feel very claustrophobic and small, so even though it was still a big set to a degree, the character ended up being too tall for the set. They basically had to raise a certain part of the top of the set because it wasn't fixed to the side walls, which was awesome.

Depending on where we would shoot, I almost ended up having certain channels of movement where you can go forward, you can go back, but you can't go to the right, or you can't go to the left because that would hit the set on the ceiling. Sometimes Scott would want me to move a certain way or do something specific, but I couldn't because physically, there's nowhere else for me to go. With little things like that, you just never know what you're going to encounter until you're there on set.

With stunt work, it really feels like there's been this movement in Hollywood over the last few years for stunt performers to get more recognition than they have received in the past. Because without stunts, movies wouldn't exist without the work you and your peers do to help make the impossible possible in many ways. I just wanted to say that the things that you guys do in the realm of stunts, there are a lot of us who really appreciate the work that you all are doing in the realm of film.

Thank you. I really appreciate that. The generation that I came up with really paved the way for a lot of us. That was my dad's generation in the stunt world. He did The Dukes of Hazard and The A-Team, and he came up doing a lot of car driving. In fact, he still works on the Fast and Furious movies doing driving stuff. And when I was 11-years-old, and I first started doing stunts, that generation was all about, "We're just here to do a job. It's all about the actor, and then that's it, you go home." Those of us working in the world of stunts know that going in. These jobs are not a thankless job per se, but the whole goal is to make the actor seem like they did everything, and as good as we could do that, it was even better for us in the long run if we could sell that illusion because we'd get to work more.

So this transition of people wanting credit for what they're doing isn't bad, and I support it, but I still feel like there's this line too, where we're still there to add to the project and to help the actor look amazing. The same goes with doing the creature suit work, too, because, at the end of the day, it took three people to make that suit possible in Antlers. There were two puppeteers and me communicating together, which is a really interesting multifaceted process. ​​I just want to continue to be a part of the industry, to continue to work, and take on all different types of performances. I have always wanted to be the next Doug Jones or Andy Serkis because I just look up to these guys so much, so for now, I'm going to continue to blaze my own trail.

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