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Monday, June 17, 2024

Victor Dorobantu

Victor Dorobantu is a busy man.  A professional magician, Dorobantu played Thing in the hit Netflix series Wednesday, alongside Jenna Ortega as Wednesday Adamms and Emma Myers as Enid Sinclair.

Although small, Thing proved to be a memorable character.  The original Thing in the 1964 The Addams Family television series was a disembodied hand in a box.  Later, in Tim Burton‘s The Adamms Family films, Thing became a free-roaming hand and the family’s faithful handservant.

In the recent Netflix series, Thing was developed as a character in its own right.  Thing was sent to Nevermore Academy by Wednesday’s parents to watch over her, but soon became embroiled in her schemes to solve various mysteries.  What made Dorobantu’s portrayal so impressive is that Thing is just a hand – no face, voice or body to convey emotion – and yet he was able to invest his performance with such emotion that Thing felt like a distinct character, with their own wants and desires (usually a manicure).

During a recent trip to the UK for Sci-Fi Weekender (reviewed here), Victor Dorobantu spoke to Geek Pride about the challenges of bringing such a unique character to life.

How did you portray Thing with so much personality and character?

It wasn’t something that I learned, exactly. When I met Tim Burton, we spent a month before the other actors came in on set, trying to find ways for Thing to communicate, because nothing had been established. Thing’s attitude, gestures and vocabulary was surprisingly improvised. We tried to find ways using alphabet of the American Sign Language (ASL), but nothing worked.  For example, in sign language, you need to have two hands, the face and a body, so it’s not possible. Usually characters, even an object like a fridge in a cartoon, has eyes and stuff like that. But Thing has nothing like that; no voice, no subtitles, nothing. I just tried to put my soul in it and act like I was the hand. The blue suit that I was wearing was not just helping the VFX guys, it was helping me ignoring my body and just being the hand.

When they were resuscitating Thing, it even had me tearing up.

That scene made everybody tear up, but it was actually kind of improvised. I remember Jenna said in that moment she couldn’t cry: she was just too tired and couldn’t make herself cry. The only thing that made her cry was me petting her hand, and everybody started filming. We also improvised that little pinky promise.

The dialogue was great, but Thing didn’t really have lines.  He sometimes looked shocked and would have to transmit an idea, so then I had to find ways every day for those movements.

You also managed to convey an amazing amount of speed in Thing.

In those scenes, such as when Thing is running in the train station, I was strapped on a dolly. They built a dolly, like a bed with wheels, just for me, and the camera guy had his own seat on that. It was a vehicle pushed by people, and I would be lying on my belly and running with a hand on the ground.  It’s impossible to run that fast with your hand on the ground and without moving your hand or wrist. Each one of us would brainstorm ideas about how can we make this possible.

What was the makeup like?

Thing had makeup on all the fingers and the palm.  The wrist was prosthetic makeup, like a big piece of silicone, modelled for my hands by Kristin Baxley, who is one of the biggest prosthetic guys in the world. The scars were prosthetic, like they were tangible – we had a big truck full of these.

Each and every one of those positions that I was in required a specific stump. That’s what they call them. It was one for the upper part of the wrist and one for the scenes where Thing was standing up on the table. Each of those positions have one stump accordingly. We had scenes where they had to change three stumps, and each and one of them lasted three hours in makeup to apply. It was kind of a pain in the butt, but even though the positions I was in were terrible, I only felt happiness doing it, because it was something new to me.

How did you become involved in Wednesday?

I didn’t sign up for anything. I was just called one day by a woman asking if I want to play in this, and I thought it’s a joke, because who calls you random without signing up for something, and tells asks if you want to play in a famous movie now? Nobody. She called me like three or four times, and then I realised it’s actually true.

I went to the casting, and all the magicians in Romania were called, because Tim Burton was searching for a magician.  The old movies used the magician Christopher Hart, and he just went there again.  I don’t know why I was chosen. I never asked.  I just appreciated that I got to portray Thing.

Was Tim Burton only looking for magicians for the role?

Tim had decided to do that because he thought the dexterity of a magician was needed for this.  In my opinion, magicians are generally very robotic and use muscle memory a lot, which doesn’t help. In the case of Thing, I discovered that you need to be graceful with your hands to be able to create emotions.  A guitar player, piano player, or puppeteer, these guys are the best ones. I don’t know if I was the best choice for Thing, but after I saw the final edits, and people’s reactions, I guess I can say that I was.

Many things from my past brought some character to Thing.  Not just the magic part, but I was also a guitar player. I was acting in a small children’s theatre in my hometown where I was puppeteering.

At what point did you realise you needed to be fluid?  What was that learning process?

I just went with the flow. When they called me for this role, I was very frustrated, because I couldn’t find many jobs as a magician in Romania. In Romania this kind of artform is kind of niche; the entertainment is not appreciated. There are very few magicians in Romania that really can say that they earn a decent amount of money from this.  When I found out that I was cast in this role, I realised you just never have to give up. It sounds like a cliché, but it is the best advice I ever got; never give up on your dreams.

Is that a cultural thing for magicians in Romania?

I know a lot of great magicians in Romania, but there are only three or four that really can live from this kind of art.  I don’t know why, maybe because in Romania, we don’t have much entertainment. When we do, it’s only about acting or music. Nothing else like magicians. All these kinds of other arts are not appreciated.

Are we going to see more of Thing in Season 2?

They have said Season 2 is coming, but they have not yet decided when and where.  I know that they will make it, but I have not heard anything about the location. I just keep hearing rumours on the internet like everybody else.

Victor Dorobantu; thank you very much.

All photos are by Peter Gatehouse and used with permission.

Peter Ray Allison
Peter Ray Allisonhttp://www.peterallison.net
Science Fiction: the final frontier. These are the articles of the freelance journalist Peter Ray Allison. His continuing mission: to explore strange new realms of fiction, to seek out new genres and new visions of the future, to boldly geek where no one has geeked before.

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