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Mark Steger on Portraying the Monster in ‘Stranger Things’

Mark Steger has worked as a choreographer and movement director on projects from “American Horror Story: Coven” to “I Am Legend,” and has even spent sixteen hours having makeup applied to his own body to portray a creature in Tool’s “Schism” music video. Portraying the monster in “Stranger Things,” however, combined both those skills as Steger had to convey the movements of a multi-dimensional being while operating a seven feet tall, six feet wide costume.

What was the process of creating the costume and getting into it?

Spectral Motion, Mike Elizalde’s company, engineered and built the suit. They start with a laser scan of my body, create a positive form from that, and sculpt the creature onto that. While they’re doing that, they’re engineering other parts of it. I was on stilts, so I would go in and try on the stilts, see how well those worked. We had a month-and-a-half or two-month development period, which is nice, it doesn’t always happen. A lot of the time, you try the thing on once and then lose all your toenails, but I would go into the shop in Glendale, and we’d try on different parts. My arms are covered in green, they’re separate. I’m holding joysticks basically and moving the arms around, it’s really like a big puppet in a sense.

How long did it take to get into the Demogorgon costume?

It took about 30 minutes if I was just wearing the stunt head, 40-45 minutes if I was wearing the full animatronic head because there were batteries and motors — 23, 26 motors, just powering the head to get the petals to open. Once I’m in the whole thing, it’s pretty remarkable. It’s the most complex suit I’ve ever worn. It’s part puppet, part mechanical, part me.

How much did you get to practice with it?

It didn’t take that long to get accustomed to, a lot of it’s balance and a lot of it’s endurance. Figuring out what my limitations were, and what I could do, what looks cool. Of course, the directors looked at the test, and they had really specific ideas of what they wanted, like how they wanted the creature to behave.  My direction was, “You’re the shark from ‘Jaws.’” It was that clear and that simple, which is great as a performer, it’s like, “Okay, I can dial this in.”

How do you get into the headspace of monsters?

When I play any kind of unusual, uncanny character, I ask myself questions like “What’s the gravity like where I come from? What do I breathe? I’m not psychologically human obviously — what’s it like to be me?” So I do that for myself.

How do you have a sense of placement on set when you’re surrounded by this costume?

You become aware of your altered biometrics, and how long your Demogorgon step is, and I could see to some degree. I couldn’t hear very well because when the animatronic head was on, it was really loud in there. Oftentimes, I’d miss cues or miss a direction because I literally couldn’t hear. You rehearse it, you pace it off. There were times where I had to hit specific marks, but it wasn’t that difficult.

There’s a theory that the Demogorgon is a manifestation of all the pain and fear Eleven experienced during her imprisonment. Do you have any thoughts on that?

That’s one of my favorite theories, it’s like the “Forbidden Planet,” Creature from the Id. Honestly, I don’t know, that’s all locked in the binary brains of the Duffers and even if I did know, I couldn’t tell you. Netflix would send thugs to my door.

Did you think you’d be getting into this line of work as a kid?

I didn’t imagine that this is what I’d be doing in my adult life, it was just what I was doing when I was a kid. I’ve been fortunate to find some continuity between my childhood and my adult life. It’s like your childhood with a bigger budget. It’s pretty thrilling. There are times where you start to take it for granted a little bit, but it doesn’t take long to snap out of it and realize it’s a dream job in some sense.

You’re a choreographer and movement director. How do you approach new projects?

The first part is meeting with the director and reading the script and finding out what it is that these characters want. I look at what it is — where do these characters come from? There’s the story, so — what planet are they from, what happened to them? A lot of what you do is you place restrictions on them … because as humans we move certain ways, especially if you’re working with a dancer or something, they tend to soften things, make them beautiful, it’s very presentational. So I’ll (tell them), “You have a broken leg,” see how that works. But it’s interesting, it’s really working with character, it’s acting in another sense. It’s just how you express it through your behavior, creating a movable vocabulary.

What qualities does someone have to have to be able to portray characters like monsters?

If I’m helping cast, I want to find somebody that has some kind of interesting movement. They don’t have to specifically be a dancer or a stunt person, they just have to have a good presence. I usually ask for good actors first because if they can’t internalize the behavior, you see it in the eyes. That’s really important. So you have to able to find people who can internalize the movement to some degree, you want to get in their heads.

A lot of times I’ll work with actors who are already cast in something, like Angela Bassett in “American Horror Story,” and they’re, you know … I get to work with amazing actors. Getting them to do what they do, finding what is unique about them. And a lot of times, when you’re working with somebody that strong, my work is easy.

Will the Demogorgon be returning for season two?

I can’t say.

That’s not a no!

All I can say is that season two is darker, it will be darker.

Things You Didn’t Know About Mark Steger:
Favorite Horror Movie: “Get Out.” Favorite Classic Monster: “Forbidden Planet’s” Monster from the Id. Favorite Childhood Board Game: Chess.  Longest Time Spent Getting Into Costume: 27 hours.

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