How To Act With Chucky, Of Cult Of Chucky

  • Horror

Shot by police and cornered in a Chicago toy store, serial killer Charles “Chucky” Lee Ray used voodoo to transfer his soul into the year’s hottest holiday toy: a “Good Guys” doll. It was meant to be a temporary solution, but Chucky took to the murdering doll lifestyle and the killing spree continues through seven movies, including the newly released Cult of Chucky. It’s been 29 years since 1988’s Child’s Play — nearly three decades of blood-soaked romper overalls, little red sneakers and big knives.

But Chucky doesn’t murder alone, he has accomplices. Four joysticks, operated simultaneously with middle finger and thumb of both hands, control Chucky’s mouth to form phonetic shapes. A radio controller the approximate shape and size of a Star Trek tricorder (the old ones) steers Chucky’s eyebrows. The evil doll’s eyes and eyelids are each mapped to two more joysticks on third controller. “CHUCKY EYE” is written in red sharpie at the top. A puppeteer controls the arms from a handle jutting from his elbow — twisting to steer Chucky’s wrists. The sixth puppeteer manipulates his fingers with a metal cage inset with finger loops (looks like old-timey gym equipment) and a bicycle brake clutch.

“Puppeteers give me the luxury of acting as if I’m just directing an actor,” Chucky creator Don Mancini says in a featurette on the Cult of Chucky Blu-ray. “When the reality of that is, there are six different people that go into making Chucky lift an eyebrow and turn his head.”

But is Chucky just another actor for the actors? We asked the cast of Cult of Chucky what it takes to work against a complex animatronic, a rare experience in the CGI economy.

“They’re all laid down with these green suits. So he’s like this gigantic octopus, with a thousand tentacles,” Fiona Dourif told Player.One. Dourif plays Nica Pierce, whose parents were killed by Chucky in Curse of Chucky. In Cult, she’s in a mental institution for their murder.

“It’s a lot easier than if it were CGI,” Dourif said. “The only real issue is he gets all the takes. He gets all the time and all the takes.”

Two Chucky veterans, Christine Elise and Alex Vincent, agreed. Vincent, as Andy Barclay, fought off Chucky as a six-year-old boy in the original Child’s Play. Andy teamed up with Kyle, his foster sister (played by Elise) in Child’s Play 2.

Cult of Chucky begins with an adult Andy, who’s working toward normalcy, but lives in a fortified hunting lodge with a dark secret: Chucky’s still-living head, chained and locked in a safe.

Chucky's head, blown apart by Andy's shotgun at the end of Curse of Chucky. Photo: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

“Acting across from a head or the entire doll come to life… it isn’t that different,” Vincent said.

“Or an actor you fucking hate,” Elise added, “It’s all acting.”

“Andy, where he is now, is only slightly explained, but explained enough I think you can fill in the blanks about the rest, aside from how he got all the money for that cabin,” Vincent said.  (“It’s in Wyoming, it cost $10,” Elise answered.) “The torment of his childhood and what effects that would have are easy to imagine and build on,” he added.

It helps that actors are working with more than just the “gigantic octopus” of puppeteering when acting in a scene with Chucky. Just as essential as puppeteering to the living Chucky is his voice, provided by character actor Brad Dourif (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Dune, Wise Blood, Deadwood). Most of Dourif’s lines are recorded in advance, then synced with mouth movements choreographed before filming. By replaying the saved choreography, Chucky actually delivers his lines on set.

Since Dourif is a part of Chucky, he’s never acted across from the doll, but has worked with animatronics in other movies. “It’s fascinating and it really gets your attention. And you kind of go “Oh, that’s really good ... Oh yeah, I’m acting in this scene.’ But suddenly, once they’ve got it, then you really are acting in the scene. You’re really affected by it,” Dourif said. “But it can be gruesomely tedious in my experience. It takes a long time to get it right.”

And it’s reaching that point of synthesis, where Dourif’s voice and the puppeteers are perfectly synced, that create a believable interaction between a character and a self-conscious special effect.   “If you’re acting with somebody, your life depends on the other person with whom you’re acting,” Dourif told Player.One. “That’s where the life is, not in yourself, it’s in the person with whom you’re working.”

“Chucky has turned out to be, I guess, maybe the most important thing I’ve ever done,” Dourif said. “He’s an icon, he’s generational. More people know about Chucky than know about anything else I’ve ever done. He’s part of our culture.”

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