If you pay close attention to Dan Stevens‘ Beast in Beauty and the Beast, you might be able to see some of the hard work the actor put into the performance — like waltzing on stilts and wearing a 40-lb. “muscle suit.”
“Ultimately we went for a fusion of technologies,” the former Downton Abbey star tells PEOPLE of what it took to make him appear and act like the huge, hirsute character. “[It was] traditional motion capture and puppeteering of a big muscle suit on stilts. I was inside this 40–lb. thing covered in gray lycra and marker dots.”
Stevens wore the bodysuit and performed the role on stilts, first so that the size and movements of the character were captured on set during filming, and then again for the visual-effects teams so that his face was captured and later computer-animated with the Beast’s hair and fangs.
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“Every couple of weeks I would go into a special booth and my face would be sprayed with about 10,000 UV dots and I would sit in what I used to call the Tron cage,” he says. “Anything I’d been doing in the previous two weeks in the scenes, whether it was eating, sleeping, roaring, waltzing, I did it again with my face, with Emma [Watson] sitting on the other side of the cage and we would capture the Beast’s face.”
The British actor adds that he and director Bill Condon, along with the effects team, went that extra mile with facial capture in order for audiences to be able to see Beast’s human qualities.
“It was very important for Bill and for me in telling the story, and in portraying what’s essentially a romantic lead character, to have the sensitivity in that close-up to preserve the eyes which are the last human element of the Beast,” he says. “It’s never really been used this way before. It felt very pioneering.”
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And how, exactly, did Stevens master walking and waltzing in stilts?
“You’ve just got to get in ’em, start moving around!” Stevens says with a laugh. “Fortunately we had about three months of pre-production for rehearsals, learning the songs, the dances. Initially with the waltz I learned the steps on the ground and graduated to the stilts, which was slightly terrifying for me but probably more for Emma. I think she was very worried that I was going to tread on her toes in steel stilts, which could’ve ruined the movie, but I didn’t, so I’m very proud of that.”
Stevens says he spent roughly two hours a day practicing the Beast’s movements in his stilts and the muscle suit.
“I would have a studio to move around in and explore lots of different aspects of the Beast,” he says. “With the size and mass and shape of the Beast, so yeah, it was a whole combination of things — vocal exploration, dance, singing, movement, the whole package of challenges, really.”
The stilt-walking was Stevens’ favorite of his Beast-acquired skills.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever use that again. But it’s there if anybody wants me to, I can.”