Day 6

Unmasking the bear in The Revenant: Meet the stuntman who mauled Leonardo DiCaprio

With 12 Academy nominations, The Revenant is a definite front-runner in this year's Oscar race. But one man, seminal in the most talked about scene in the film, won't get any Oscar love or much credit. We talk to stunt performer Glenn Ennis about playing the bear that mauls Leonardo DiCaprio.
Glenn Ennis is the man behind the bear in The Revenant. (20th Century Fox/IMDB)

Canadian stunt performer Glenn Ennis got pretty intimate with Leonardo DiCaprio in the film The Revenant. 

If you haven't seen it, you've probably heard about the much talked about and now legendary scene - the gruesome and harrowing mauling of DiCaprio's character, Hugh Glass, by a bear.

The scene's brutality and realism had many asking whether the bear was real, motion capture, CGI or a mix of all three.

Here to set the record straight is the bear himself - Glenn Ennis. 

As The Revenant sweeps various awards this year and is up for 12 Oscars next weekend, we talk to Glenn about the gruelling, exhausting and sometimes humorous role of playing the bear and what it's like being a part of something so big, yet not getting much love or credit for it.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Brent Bambury: When you were filming this scene Glenn did you think at the time it would become such an iconic moment in film?

Glenn Ennis: Absolutely not. It was a sweaty hard grunt of a stunt day for me, where I was physically exhausted all of the time, slopping around in rain and mud. Sure, working with Leonardo DiCaprio and understanding that that director was pretty substantial, having come off an Oscar win. It was going to be an important movie but that scene itself and what happened after the fact and how iconic already it is is a huge surprise.

BB: Well, it was iconic even before the film came out and there were those strange stories around it. What did you make of the rumor that the bear rapes the Leonardo DiCaprio character? 

GE: Yeah, that was pretty weird you know. I was a little behind in hearing that story and it already made the rounds for quite a while when I first became aware of it. I just can't imagine where that might have started. Pretty silly. And, obviously it's true. That was not in the storyline at all.

BB: And the mauling was consensual... 

GE: That has been my standard response about it all along the way. I can put my hands up and honestly say, Leo and I are fine. We're on good terms and it was consensual. 

BB: You needed to be on good terms because it must have been a very intimate tussle with one of the biggest movie stars in the world when you're filming it. Were there any awkward moments for you because of the amount of intimacy needed? 

GE: Well, first of all, working with stunt people which we had been doing for about a month before hand getting the whole scene ready to go. It's a very violent physical thing and missing one little step or whatever can make some pretty hard physical contact. So, I was trying to be a little careful with Leo, obviously, in that regard. So, I was stepping on eggshells. But then, yes, when your face to butt with him, as I said before. You know I had to pretend that my bear jaws, which were about a foot above my head, were in the his small of his back. So, you know, I spent a lot of time with my face and his butt as it turns out. We're both professional.

BB: There's a lot of people who would probably have paid for that privilege, right?

GE: I expect so yeah, men and women. We got along fine and had a giggle about it so.

BB: Good. good. So, you didn't look like a bear when you were actually filming the scene. You said you were wearing a bear costume but it didn't look like a bear costume? 

GE: If you think in the Smurf world, I'd say its looks like a bear. Yeah, it was a blue suit with a large foam under suit of padding under it to create the bulk and was actually a lacrosse helmet with a big foam, blue bear head on top of that. 

BB: But you still had to move like a bear. You had to have the actions that a bear would have had in that kind of an attack. How did you prep for those movements?

GE: Well, we watched video actually. There's a lot of wildlife video out there to study involving bears meandering and walking and interacting in their normal habitat. Also, there is a lot of video out there of bears attacking humans.

BB: Can you tell us the one that was most influential for you?

GE: There were several. Somewhere unfortunate situations where it was a bear that was somewhat trained and someone got into their environment and the bear didn't like them. There was one where someone apparently went over the wall of the zoo and so this bear had a long time to maul this person and people couldn't get there, access him, to try to save him or distract the bear. So it went on quite a bit. That gave us good insight into what a bear would do if it was not being hit with something, because typically someone is hitting it with a stick if it attacks a human. And, this one just had its time. So it would have a violent outburst and shake the guy and then kind of wander off a little bit, you know, look over there, look over there, calm, casual. Then it would come back and do something really violent again. It was unlike any kind of urgency. It just like a cat and mouse and I think that one probably had a fair bit of influence on how the final product looked. 

BB: So, in the final product, the CGI is overlaid onto your performance. But I heard that the first man to play the bear was actually sent to the hospital for exhaustion. Is that true?

GE: That's correct. There were two guys from the States and one of them went to the hospital with exhaustion. That's when I got the call to come in. Because of the physical exertion we couldn't do it with just one person. So during rehearsals especially, we would take turns so that one man could recover while the other guy could go in and do the scene again because it wasn't just us. It was a stuntman in a harness, three ropes attached to him, and then there was two guys on the end of each rope - obviously a pulley system to get there. And, they all had to integrate their moves perfectly, timing wise, to get all the movements, the lifts, the shakes, and all that to happen. What you see is just a small part of all the people who are actually actively involved in the scene and the action. 

BB: There are ropes attached to Leonardo DiCaprio as well which are then removed later. Is that how it works?

GE: Correct. Yes. 

BB: And, what about you? Did you have ropes attached to you?

GE: Not attached to me. No, but I had to kind of do a dance around those ropes. There was one coming out from either side, going away from them on the ground level and one going straight up from the small of his back. As I was mauling him, if you think about the scene, that bear was on top of him a lot, so I had to know where each rope was. As he rolled over, he would be tangled in the rope. And sometimes it was for a purpose and sometimes we would just let it be there while I move him around and then I'd untangle him on purpose, naturally looking for the scene to get ready for the next pull which was another five foot move with him . So if I ever had a foot in the wrong place and they pulled him, it would pull a foot from under me. If I didn't get him in the right place, the pullers wouldn't know how far to pull because that was all dialed in. So there are so many little particular pieces to get it just right. There was a lot of stuff going on that's for sure.

BB:The Revenant looks like there was a lot of momentum going into the Oscars. It won five Baftas in Britain last week. It won some Golden Globes. What is it like for you to be part of something, to be key in something, but not really sharing in the fame or the accolades? 

GE: Oh, that's fine. That's kind of a stunt man thing. We're familiar with that feeling. Not that I think this is worthy of it. I mean this performance like I said was a grunt work, just throw a guy around. There's far more deserving stunts and stunt people out there that deserve recognition for certain things. But we all get it at some point in time. We're also used to not being recognized. 

BB: Because people are saying that for motion capture that might be changing. Andy Serkis who famously played Gollum and Lord Of The Rings, because of his performances, that there should be a category that recognizes the skills involved and the fact that they're major characters now. They're not simply a part of the technology. 

GE: I could see that coming at some point in time. It's probably on its way. These guys are so incredibly talented and they are such a strong character quite often. I was just in Deadpool that's out just now. I actually was lucky enough to be chosen to be the face of Colossus. And he's a CGI character who has quite a big role in that film. So, I was his head. They scanned my head and face and I did all the facial expressions that you can imagine and they put them in a database. And, then, they used a stuntman to be his body on set to do the fighting. They used a different voice actor to put him together and they also used another face in the CGI studio to actually make my face act out like a puppet master kind of a thing. So it's like an amalgamation of a lot of people doing a lot of things. But someone like Andy Serkis, the motion capture performance is all him and that probably deserves something special in terms of recognition. But I could see it coming fairly soon.

BB: But the other thing about that is that data that's now stored on a computer, which is your face, it could be used two hundred, three hundred years from now. So, I mean how do you feel about the fact that all of those points have been stored and they could be reconstructed in a future time? 

GE: You know, that's something to think about. We've had issues with new media and how do you predict how things are going to used. I also recently worked on World of Warcraft, which will be coming out this late summer I think. Lots of computer generated stuff in that and we did motion capture for about six months. We did so many generic moves. You know, run down there, turn right. Run down there, turn left. Sprint. Stop. Those things could be turned into any character, any number of different looks for future. They might be dealing in this data that there might be a market for it. They can be just picked up on the market and used in a different film and made to look different and will the performer be recognized or compensated? That's a new thing that has to be addressed. 

BB: But meanwhile Glenn, if you met a grizzly in the wild, would you know what to do?

GE: Uh...Wow. Yeah. Be big like a bear. 

BB: Glenn, congratulations. Nice to talk to you. 

GE: Thank you very much.