Deadpool was scorching expectations and box office records last weekend, and while Ryan Reynolds’ performance as the titular character in his passion project has been getting a lot of well deserved praise, the supporting character of Colossus managed to steal quite a bit of the film.
Actor and veteran FX guru Greg LaSalle provided the motion-capture facial performance of Colossus, and he’s no stranger to the process: Lasalle and his team won a Technical Achievement Award at the 87th Academy Awards for the innovative design and development of the MOVA Facial Performance Capture system.
On the morning of Deadpool‘s premiere, LaSalle took some time to chat with us about bringing this version of the beloved X-Man to the big screen.
You’ve brought to life what I feel is the most faithful live-action creation of Colossus to date. What went into creating this version of the character for Deadpool?
Greg LaSalle: [Deadpool director] Tim Miller was adamant that Colossus represent what he felt that he was in the actual comics. That’s why, hopefully, he looks and acts the way the other people interpreted him from that. The other thing was that he also wanted to use the best of different people’s abilities. So in this case, the face [of Colossus] doesn’t look like mine, but using this new technology it transfers my performance.
So in essence, all the movement from Colossus’ face is from my performance, and that’s done using a high-tech motion capture system and mathematical process for taking the scans it generates – really high-resolution scans – and putting them on, in this case, Colossus. The resolution of it is so good, I think it’s like 7,000 data points, all the wrinkles and the way the brows are and the mouth’s shape – all those things get transferred over and it’s pretty cool to see the final product.
How did you work out scenes where your character was interacting with Deadpool or Negasonic Teenage Warhead?
Greg LaSalle: In this case, because computer generated characters can become costly, Tim wanted to make sure that whatever we were going to generate for Colossus was actually going to be in the film. We actually waited to start until September on Colossus, after [Tim Miller] had cuts of the film and made sure what the lines were going to be and that sort of stuff.
Then in September, we did the first batch of captures and the way we did them, most of them we recorded [Stefan Kapicic – Colossus voice actor] first doing the voice and I would rehearse for days with those and the live action plates. They would put the audio into the live action plates they’d already filmed, and I could see what’s going on and then hear the voice, and that way I could just practice the timing of everything. Not actually worrying about the character, but just make it so that I knew kinesthetically, meaning just automatically, I could say the lines at the right time.
Then when we were actually filming, that’s when I worked with just Tim Miller – none of the other actors – and we’d watch plates and we’d discuss, this is Colossus and this is how he’s feeling – he’s frustrated, he’s mad, he doesn’t understand this – whatever his actions are supposed to be, and then we would rehearse those and then we’d film and do a bunch of takes until Tim said, “That’s the one!”
How does that work when you have to do physical things like fight scenes without other actors?
Greg LaSalle: That’s a lot harder, because with facial motion capture you can’t do anything to hinder the camera’s view of your face. So in scenes like where Angel Dust (Gina Carano) is choking [Colussus], well you can use hands and things, but you can’t have anything actually there. I rehearse by trying these things – like I’d take a belt and I’d put it around my neck and pull in front of a mirror and see what is actually happening when something is pulling and rehearse that, and rehearse that without the belt.
And the vomiting scene was the same thing, that was actually the hardest thing to film. You can’t fake these things, you have to get into them. It got to the point where we had to stop because I would have just spewed all over the camera and passed out. Then you have to get up and do it all again and again. So this sort of stuff is a different challenge, and it’s either the same or more challenging than just doing lines.
Having only worked on your Colossus scenes, what was it like seeing the entire film put together for the first time?
Greg LaSalle: I was only privy to the shots that I was in, but knowing Tim Miller for so long, I kinda knew the gist of everything. You envision what you’re going to see, you set these expectations, but when I saw it from the opening credits, from the first time I saw those I was dying laughing. I was like, “Oh my god!” Tim’s sense of humor… one of the reasons he endeared to this character of Deadpool is that he has a very similar sense of humor. I just loved it. I was in wonderful shock. It was better than my expectations, and my expectations were very high knowing Tim’s quality of work.
Having only had a performance onscreen one other time in Night of the Museum: Secrets of the Tomb as Augustus Caesar, did you learn anything new about the process this time around for Deadpool?
Greg LaSalle: Yes and no. There’s a lot of restrictions to doing just the facial capture because of the way the capture system is structured. I’ve been acting for a few years, so I just like all of it. It’s hard to explain, but any actor that does his work will not have any major problems in doing facial performances. It’s just something that I kind of fell into, and I’m more than happy to continue to do it, but I like both kinds of acting: in front of the camera and motion capture.
Are you signed on perform as Colossus in the recently announced Deadpool sequel?
Greg LaSalle: The Deadpool sequel was only really announced a couple of days ago, so this is all new to everybody. Right now we’re just taking it one day at a time with the release of the first one. So I’m not exactly sure what’s going on with Deadpool 2 just yet.
So where can we see your work next on the big screen?
Greg LaSalle: What’s really funny is I just finished filming a movie with Ryan’s wife, Blake Lively. Which was funny because again, the filming of parts always takes place after the film is already being assembled, so I never met Blake until last Monday [at the Deadpool premiere] when Ryan introduced me to her.
It’s not a big visual effects film, it’s a film where computer generated characters are fit into a real world, and one of the characters I play is her newborn baby, and that was quite a challenge. I think that’s the big difference with some of this acting, they ask you to do things you couldn’t possibly do as a regular actor in front of a camera, because there’s no way I’m going to play a one or two-minute old baby.
That’s one of the characters I play in the movie with her. It’s not a caricature, it’s not like me talking or anything, it’s me as a baby being born and gasping for its first breath and opening its eyes and things like that. It’s pretty amazing.
Wow, that’s a pretty big shift. From Colossus to a newborn baby.
Greg LaSalle: [laughs] You know what? Now that you say that, I don’t think it is, because that baby is innocent and gentle and Colossus is too! That’s one of the reasons I was so attracted to playing Colossus – to get to work with Tim and to get those things across in the performances instead of the way a lot of computer generated characters need to do their performances in the past.
Deadpool is currently playing in theaters everywhere.