If you didn’t recognize Dan Stevens (aka Matthew Crawley in “Downton Abbey”) as the Beast in Disney’s new live-action adaptation of “Beauty and the Beast,” you’re not alone. Aside from some screen time as a human, he’s basically unrecognizable thanks to a combination of motion capture, puppeteering and, most impressive, Stevens walking on stilts and wearing a 40-pound muscle suit.
Stevens discussed the hard work he put into the performance in a recent interview with “People.” He says the bodysuit and stilts were worn first so the size and movements of the character were captured on set and then again so his face was captured and the visual-effects teams could computer-animate the Beast’s hair and fangs.
That’s right—he did many of scenes twice.
“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 said. “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.”
Stevens said that he, along with director Bill Condon and the special effects team, put so much work into the role because they wanted audiences to see the 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 told People. “It’s never really been used this way before. It felt very pioneering.”
Stevens says he spent about two hours a day practicing in the stilts and muscle suit.
“I would have a studio to move around in and explore lots of different aspects of the Beast,” he said. “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.”
While perhaps it wasn’t the easiest acting experience, it certainly seems worth it, with the film shattering box-office records and opening with $170 million in North American ticket sales.
And, hey, now he knows how to walk on stilts.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever use that again,” Stevens said. “But it’s there if anybody wants me to, I can.”