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Creature RolesUI alumnus appears in Academy Award-winning film, Argo
Andrew Varenhorst: tall, lanky, loves sports — an audition junkie.
The UI alumnus has his profile down pact. He knows his strengths and limitations and checks three actor-specific websites several times a day for roles that fit that mold. For Varenhorst, it’s all about compatibility.
“I don’t care if it’s a student film or an independent, I’ll go,” he said.
Varenhorst said he pushed himself to do a lot of theatrical work early after graduating from UI in 2004 with a Bachelor of Arts. While living in Austin, Texas, for four years, he was cast in 40 plays.
“I’d be auditioning for my next show as soon as the one I was on was opening,” he said. “Anything to get on stage, to get in front of an audience.”
One of Varenhorst’s latest roles is in Ben Affleck’s 2012 film Argo, which was recently nominated for a Golden Globe award. Set in the middle of the 1979 Iranian Hostage Crisis, Argo is loosely based on an account of a rescue mission to save six U.S. diplomats from militants who took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Tony Mendez, a CIA operative working on the mission, poses as a producer of a fake film, Argo, along with a crew of Hollywood helpers, to infiltrate the embassy.
Varenhorst plays the “Blue Monster,” a featured extra in Mendez’s fake movie. He said the role called for a tall, lanky actor with creature suit experience. Varenhorst played “Chewbacca” at Walt Disney World in 2001 as part of the Disney College Program, a summer program where students are cast as various characters and interact with parkgoers.
Shooting lasted two days at the Beverly Hilton, a luxury hotel in Los Angeles. The scene involved the staging of a fake press event to cement the Argo’s legitimacy as a real movie. Varenhorst said his debut is a short one, but the facetime is a definite benefit.
“I think what surprised me the most is that my face is only seen for maybe three seconds, and the rest of the shots I have the mask on,” he said. “But I’ve gotten a lot of response from friends and family. It’s cool.”
Oftentimes Varenhorst said roles are acquired via people he met on other films. Varenhorst said actors can be remembered by their work or even just their look.
“Everyone out here is shooting something else,” he said. “So, a grip on a comedy might be directing a horror short film next month. You never know.”
Once a film role is landed, Varenhorst said he has little control over how the performance will look on screen.
“Acting is such a challenge, and I love it,” he said, “Whatever choice I’m going to make better play. You might have 2 or 3 takes and that’s it. Maybe a year or two later you’ll see it.”
With creatures, actors work closely with special effects artists, people for whom Varenhorst said he holds much respect.
“I get pumped to play creatures,” he said. “(Special effects artists) have a talent to create these wild ideas into reality-based beings.”
Varenhorst said he treats creature roles almost exactly like character roles. As he would with a character, he said he goes through a series of progressions, such as who they are, what they do want and where they came from.
Varenhorst said he attributes his comfort level in creature roles to his athleticism. He was a part of the UI water polo club and played in intramural basketball and hockey leagues.
“I’m tall and lanky and love playing sports,” he said. “Which is important to working in very uncomfortable prosthetic pieces or masks for extended hours, and usually it involves physical exertion and stunts.”
Although his theatrical training and body type are pros for creature work, Varenhorst said he doesn’t want to be seen as a specific type of actor — one that only plays creatures or one that only plays characters.
Creature roles help build an actor’s reputation of being dependable, Varenhorst said.
“If you can get through hours of prosthetic applications, or work in a creature suit that’s hot and tough to breathe in, and then give a great performance, you’ll have other people wanting to work with you or reference you to their friends,” he said.
Learn more about Varenhorst’s work on his website or via Facebook.