In the horror movie Skinwalkers, two distinct groups of werewolves find themselves locked in a lycanthropic civil war: one faction embraces their animalistic nature and revels in their bloodlust, while the other believes their condition is a curse and works to suppress the wolf within.
For special effects guru Stan Winston, whose work has been seen in movies like Edward Scissorhands, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and Jurassic Park, Skinwalkers was a passion project that afforded him the opportunity to do something he's always wanted to do. A fan of monster movies since he was a kid, Winston fondly remembers watching old Universal classics on TV. For him, the actor's performance was always more important than the make-up. So in making a werewolf movie his way, he wanted to be certain that his effects wizardry did not mask the people beneath, opting to use practical costumes rather than computer generated magic. "I have no aversion to digital," he says. "I have an aversion to people using it improperly, or not to its best advantage. And when you take a performance away from an actor, I think it's a mistake."
Winston is quick to make the distinction that although he has done films with werewolves before, this was the first instance in which he was able to present the creature in the way that he's always to. Jason Behr, who stars as Varek, the leader of the evil werewolves, says that Winston's make-up was a seamless extension of the actor. "When you put on the claws, and you put in the teeth, and you put in the eyes and you stand up, you feel like you've become something else." Winston's desire to let the actor shine through the prosthetics was realized, with the costume being less cumbersome than viewers might expect. Behr explains, "The suits themselves did allow for a lot of physical freedom and movement, because Stan knew that we had to do all these stunts."
Co-star Natassia Malthe, who jokingly describes her lupine alter-ego as "a raving female in the worst time of her month," says that the practical effects were one of the distinguishing marks of Skinwalkers that set it apart from other werewolf films. "It's a lot more realistic, and the costumes are just an extension of ourselves, in a way. There's not a lot of CGI, so it's very human-like."
Shawn Roberts, who plays one of the werewolves opposed to Varek's camp, was thrilled to be a part of Winston's production. "Just having his name and knowing that this is something that he's always wanted to do and that he's really put his heart and soul into this, it's very uplifting," the actor says. "I mean, it's an experience all on its own to be able to be a part of that, and always be working with somebody that's a legend and has affected, to a certain point, all of our lives. And it was incredible."
But the project almost got away from Winston entirely. After being enthralled with the story's focus of internal character struggles against a monster movie backdrop, Winston learned that the script had been optioned by another production company. But serendipitously, it come back to him some two years later, reinforcing his notion that it was the perfect vehicle for his vision.
For the actors, Skinwalkers offered the opportunity to do something different. For Jason Behr, the chance to mix things up by playing the villain was a major attraction. "That was one of the biggest draws for me," he says gleefully. "It's such a departure for me. It was something I've never done before. I got a chance to shoot guns and ride motorcycles and do all this insane wirework and stunts, and just be a big, badass wolf."
To prepare for his wolfish role, Behr watched documentaries on wolves in the wild, and checked out those living at a local zoo. Meanwhile, Malthe took a less literal approach to her animal watching. "I found what animals worked for me," she explains. "I didn't necessarily just use a wolf--I used a little bit of cat, I used a panther. You know, anything that could get me into an animalistic and dark kind of feel and mood is what I would use in my imagination. I also used a lot of music that was leaning towards the dark side and wild side, so I could get into that frame of mind."
Malthe also hints that destiny may have been at work in her landing a role in this movie. "I actually had a dream about doing a werewolf movie," she laughs. "So for some reason, I kind of thought I was supposed to do a werewolf movie because I had this dream. It sounds corny, but it's true. And so when each werewolf project came by, I'd be like, 'Oh, I'm going to get this!' And I didn't get the one that I thought I was going to get, but then Skinwalkers came along, and I got it." But she tries to diffuse people reading too much into her seemingly precognitive vision, adding with a smile, "It's kind of a hokey pokey thing for me to say in an interview, because a lot of people think that might be very strange."
With its many action sequences, Skinwalkers required the actors to put in their fair share of physicality. Malthe comments, "I had done wirework before, so the training was easy for me. And I have a background of dance and gymnastics, so I prefer to do my own stunts, as much as I possibly am allowed to do on set...If I wasn't an actor, I would probably get into stunts."
But at the end of the day, no werewolf flick would be complete without a steamy sequence of animalistic passion, gratuitous or not. When bluntly hit with the million dollar question of, "How was the werewolf sex?", Jason Behr only laughs and offers a wise suggestion to curious patrons everywhere: "Fantastic. You should try it some time."