How Douglas Tait Built a Creature Reel

Article Image
Photo Source: Courtesy Douglas Tait

Douglas Tait has 65 film and TV credits, but there's a good chance that you wouldn't recognize him in any of those roles. That's because Tait's main gig is playing creatures, including the Long Face Bar Alien in J.J. Abrams' 2009 reboot of "Star Trek" and Sleestak in "Land of the Lost." More recently, he played three different characters on the ABC's series "The Quest," including the villain Verlox.

"It wasn't something I pursued," says Tait of the roles that built his career. "It just sort of became a thing as the years went on."

Tait's career path began in high school when he got a job playing characters at Universal Studios Hollywood. After graduation, he kept the job as he pursued a more conventional acting career. Because of that amusement park gig, though, he would get calls to play monsters and other characters that rely on heavy makeup. After he played Jason Voorhees' stunt double at the end of "Freddy vs. Jason," Tait knew that he was on to something.

Still, there are plenty of challenges involved in playing creatures. Learning how to act with a face covered in prosthetics is its own task. While some actors refuse to look in the mirror as they run lines, Tait often has to because the prosthetics can change how facial expressions appear on screen. "If I want to raise my eyebrow," he says, "I can't just do it slightly."

Some costumes are more cumbersome. An animatronic mask, which he wore in "The Quest," can restrict sight, sound, and even breathing. But Tait tries to use his costume's restrictions to help create the character we see on screen. "You really have to mentally put yourself in another place," he says.

Tait trains not just to hone his craft as an actor, but also to maintain his physique. Spending 8-to-10 hour shoots in a heavy costume requires him to be strong and flexible. Yoga and pilates are part of his routine, but Tait's favorite workout is primal movement, which he says is helpful given the characters he often plays.

Tait, who is 6' 5", says his basketball-player build has helped his career. "They either want really tall or really short, depending on the character," he says. "When you're in a creature suit, they build the muscle off of that."

Another plus is his bald head, which means that makeup artists can bypass piling the actor's hair underneath a cap. Still, the make-up process can be long, as artists poke and spray his face while Tait must remain still.

For Tait, playing creatures has led to a rewarding career. He recalls the time that he filmed "Land of the Lost" on Universal's lot, which isn't far from the amusement park where he used to work as a teenager. "I remember dreaming someday of actually working in movies while I was in the park performing," he says. "It was a really great feeling to be there."

Like this advice? Check out more from our Backstage Experts!