IT'S NOT EASY to bring the kooky, spooky world of The Addams Family to life—but a perfectly executed disembodied hand goes a long way. Netflix's new series Wednesday shifts the focus away from the family itself, and toward the teenage life of deadpan, sardonic daughter Wednesday Addams (Jenna Ortega, living up to the high bar costar Christina Ricci set playing the role in the '90s Addams films). And while Gomez (Luis Guzmán), Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones), butler Lurch (George Burcea), and Uncle Fester (Fred Armisen) only appear in a few of the show's eight Season 1 episodes, another member of the family, Thing—who is, of course, just a hand—is alongside Wednesday for the whole ride.
But Thing isn't just a hand. Thing, who first appeared in Addams Family lore in 1954, is a character. And when we say Thing is a character, we mean thing is a character. As it turns out, Wednesday's Thing is largely the creation of three key people: visual effects supervisor Tom Turnbull, director and executive producer Tim Burton, and Romanian-born magician and first-time actor Victor Dorobantu. "It's not often you get to work and build upon enhancing an iconic character," Turnbull told Men's Health.
From very early on in the process, Burton told Turnbull that he wanted Thing to be composed as much from practical effects, with an actor on set and clad almost entirely in a blue visual effects suit, as possible. Turnbull was on board. But an issue arose: painting out the performer. Usually, painting out isn't much of an issue if it's an arm here or a leg there, but in the case of Wednesday and Thing, it meant removing what was in essence 97% of someone's body. And that someone happened to be the (according to IMDB) 6'2 3/4 Dorobantu. As the process got started, Turnbull thought it would be impossible to use as much practical as the duo initially wanted, something that was "difficult and an annoyance."
But by sheer will, Burton made sure it worked—the end result found Thing composed of around 90% practical effects and 10% CGI. "It's really because Tim was very much behind it, and he he strived to make sure that it worked on set," Turnbull says. "He gave me a lot of a lot of room to develop the process and the character with Victor."
Speaking of Victor: as soon as the decision was made early on for Thing to be portrayed by an actor on set, it was imperative for Wednesday to nail the casting. So when actors were auditioning, Turnbull was in the room with Burton—not something typical for a VFX supervisor—and knew right away that Dorobantu was the guy.
For one, he had the physical attributes the role required: "He had a good look for his hands, which helped. But really, he has amazing dexterity, and amazing speed. There are actually some shots of him, live-action, where he looks like he's he's almost stop-motion, because his actions are so fast." he says. "He can move his hand much faster than anybody else."
But there were also some more intrinsic qualities as well: "When we were watching him in the casting tapes, we could see that there was a little bit of Thing in him," Turnbull says. "He's a bit impish himself."
After the decision to go practical was made and casting was finished, the next step was rehearsing. Lots and lots of rehearsing. Turnbull and Burton worked with Dorobantu, running tests and going through the script and basically trying a lot of different things to see what would work. Still, until the camera started rolling on that first day, no one really could be sure just how well things would go. But when production on the first scene—when Wednesday discovers that Thing has been sent by her parents to spy on her—began, it was clear that all the hard work and preparation was worth the time.
"It was clear that everything we'd done up to that point had paid off," Turnbull says. "Victor knew what to do. Jenna was talking to a hand and managing to ignore this large person in a blue suit standing behind it. It was quite magical on set, and was extremely rewarding to see."
Turnbull, who was working with both David Cronenberg (remotely on Crimes of the Future, which was filming in Greece) and Burton (on location in Romania for Wednesday) at the same time, has high hopes for Thing in Season 2—should Wednesday get one. "I would love to see Thing take more of a character arc," he says." I think he's proven himself to be a successful character in the show, and I'd like to see an expansion on that."
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