Deet Dark Crystal Age of Resistance

The hands inside the pup­pets in The Dark Crys­tal: Age of Resistance’

Beccy Henderson does more than just move puppets – she brings them to life.

If you grew up in the 80s or are old enough to still remem­ber VCR tapes, you may remem­ber The Dark Crys­tal (1982): the Jim Hen­son fan­ta­sy dra­ma with a cast of all pup­pets.

While the style of pup­pets slight­ly resem­bles Henson’s Mup­pets, the crea­tures of Thra – a made-up world ruled by mag­i­cal forces – are dark­er, more real­is­tic. Instead of bright­ly coloured frogs like Ker­mit, we see the Gelfling, a race of spir­i­tu­al­ly con­nect­ed beings, rebel against the Skek­sis, a ter­ri­fy­ing bird-like race that have over­tak­en Thra and the crys­tal. Amidst these two groups on Thra are many oth­ers, all pup­pets who are brought to life through the intri­cate pup­peteer­ing and the elab­o­rate sets that makes Thra feel real.

Almost 40 years since the ini­tial release of The Dark Crys­tal, the movie has fall­en, most­ly, into the mem­o­ries of odd movies we watched as kids or sits col­lect­ing dust in the pile of VCRs in our parent’s base­ments. Until, that is, it was announced that Net­flix would be reviv­ing it – this time as a series.

With a Hol­ly­wood-rich cast of voic­es such as Awk­wa­fi­na, Hele­na Bon­ham Carter, Natal­ie Dormer, and Mark Hamill and a cul­tur­al crav­ing for fan­ta­sy fol­low­ing the suc­cess of Game of Thrones, Net­flix attempt­ed to not only revive the movie, but make it some­thing new. And even though CGI and film tech­nol­o­gy has dras­ti­cal­ly changed since 1982, the cre­ative team and Hen­son fam­i­ly would not aban­don the lega­cy of puppetry. 

The Dark Crys­tal: Age of Resis­tance (2019) suc­ceeds in stay­ing true to its lega­cy while push­ing forth a new sto­ry. And this is owed to the hands behind the pup­pets – the peo­ple bring­ing these char­ac­ters and world to life. Bec­cy Hen­der­son, a pup­peteer and actor of sev­er­al years, is the hand behind Deet and Naia, as well as an assis­tant for many oth­er char­ac­ters. For her, pup­peteer­ing is more than tech­ni­cal per­fec­tion. It is about embody­ing the char­ac­ter you are bring­ing to life.

How did you first get involved with Netflix’s The Dark Crys­tal: Age of Resis­tance?

I was very obsessed with Bri­an Froud’s Gob­lins book and draw­ing gob­lins and stuff. And I liked the Mup­pets. So The Dark Crys­tal was kind of a mar­riage of Jim Hen­son and Bri­an Froud.

I audi­tioned. They held this mas­sive audi­tion list, with what seemed like every pup­peteer in the world. I did not expect any­thing from it at all. I was just delight­ed to have been able to be in that room. And then I got a recall.

It was real­ly ter­ri­fy­ing because at that point I had only about five years of assis­tant pup­peteer expe­ri­ence. I hadn’t done an actu­al char­ac­ter before. I was in this room with all these pup­peteers and I knew their names just because they were big pup­peteers in the UK. It was crazy to be in that room. And then Kevin Clash actu­al­ly sold me Deet’s part. It sound­ed like quite a small part, so I thought, Great! I want that one!” I real­ly just loved her script.

What makes this new series dif­fer­ent than the orig­i­nal movie?

It’s so crazy. It’s like noth­ing I’ve ever seen before. Obvi­ous­ly I’ve seen the orig­i­nal and I’ve seen crea­ture pup­petry, but this is just such a strange mar­riage of all of those things. And it’s so dif­fer­ent from the orig­i­nal because it’s more high dra­ma and it’s faster-paced and there’s more of every­thing. More Gelfling. More everything. 

Every­thing was an exper­i­ment. Every­thing was the first time. I think it’s some­thing to be proud of, no mat­ter how it turns out or how peo­ple feel about it. We did some­thing real­ly ground­break­ing and I think it’s bril­liant.

What is your rela­tion­ship like with the char­ac­ters you play? Espe­cial­ly Deet, who is one of the three main pro­tag­o­nists in the series?

Deet is prob­a­bly the clos­est char­ac­ter to myself. She’s a bit naive, I’m a bit naive. I like to see the best in every­one and every­thing, my cups half-full. She sees the best in every­thing right up until she finds out that it’s quite the oppo­site. I don’t know how to put it, but, Deet is like my soul. I think it is that way for a lot of pup­peteers and their char­ac­ters. In order to get that per­for­mance, you have to put so much of your­self into it. Then there’s a bless­ing in it too, with pup­petry, where I per­form oth­er char­ac­ters like Naia, who’s real­ly not like me. She’s real­ly strong and bold and fierce. With pup­pets, you get to still play those char­ac­ters, because you don’t have to look like that char­ac­ter or even phys­i­cal­ly be like that character. 

Do you have any per­son­al craft tech­niques? Pup­peteer­ing rules to live by?

The num­ber one rule in pup­peteer­ing is per­son­al hygiene. Because you have to be so close. You’re always in someone’s armpit.

It’s real­ly hot, it’s real­ly sweaty, it’s real­ly heavy. It’s all dif­fi­cult. Even the Gelfling are so, so heavy.

I don’t know if you can pic­ture a pup­peteer car­ry­ing a con­crete block – prob­a­bly very, very sim­i­lar. And a lot of the prob­lem with it too is like they’re real­ly heavy, but as well is that the mus­cles that you use to pup­peteer aren’t the mus­cles that you nor­mal­ly use for strength. It’s like the mus­cles that you need to use for this part just don’t exist. You can’t train them up, you can’t go to the gym and strength­en this mus­cle – because it’s not there.

Being a trained actor in addi­tion to a pup­peteer, how do the two inform one another? 

I come up pup­peteer­ing from an actors per­spec­tive and I put my ener­gy into it that way and per­form it through what­ev­er emo­tions [the char­ac­ters are] feel­ing. Where­as you can come at it real­ly tech­ni­cal­ly and be real­ly tech­ni­cal­ly per­fect, but I do it a bit dif­fer­ent­ly. For me I like an organ­ic, emo­tion­al per­for­mance which actu­al­ly lends itself to the Gelfling and The Dark Crys­tal because it is this high dra­ma that you don’t nor­mal­ly have with pup­pets, like the kids shows and stuff.

Why return to the craft pup­peteer­ing in film when we have all this new technology?

I think pup­pets are so impor­tant to still give you that real feel­ing of the crea­tures and that you can actu­al­ly step into their world and touch them. Or, in terms of like a Skek­si, like they could come and get you. They’re ter­ri­fy­ing!

This mar­riage of dig­i­tal, with just a lit­tle enhance­ment to our phys­i­cal pup­petry, I think is great. And with CGI, we can make some real­ly great, crazy, fan­ta­sy crea­tures and worlds.

The Dark Crys­tal: Age of Resis­tance is now stream­ing on Netflix.

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