Who was in Peter Pan Live!‘s croc suit? It wasn’t Brian Williams, father of Peter Pan him/herself Allison. It also wasn’t The Sound of Music Live! star Laura Benanti, despite what she may have claimed on Twitter. No, it was someone else; someone who quite literally kept a lower profile: Assistant choreographer Charlie Williams. (No relation).
Much of the Twitter activity during the event was directed toward the crocodile, who was named the “true breakout star” of the production by Mashable. EW got Williams on the phone to dish on what it was like playing Captain Hook’s reptilian foe—and dealing with Christopher Walken’s croc-enthusiasm.
When did you know you had the part?
Well, it was actually [director and choreographer] Rob [Ashford]’s idea. He said he had a fun little part for me. I was nervous at first about saying yes because I didn’t want to miss out all on the other fun stuff, but we were obviously able to make it work.
Right—you got to be in some other numbers, as well.
Yeah, you see me throughout. I had 10 costume changes during the show: I was an islander, a pirate, and also partnering the mermaids in the lagoon. It was a busy night.
How was the croc suit? Any CG involved?
No. It was 100% me. It’s funny to hear people online saying, “Oh, I wish the croc had always been the guy and not CGI’d in” or whatever when it was me the whole time in the croc suit.
What was it like getting into the suit?
It wasn’t the most comfortable thing ever. Going from dance numbers to a huge costume took some getting used to. I worked with Catherine Zuber and the creators of the costumes, who were open to helping me design it. It worked perfectly the way I wanted to puppet it, with my head down and a long kind of extension of my spine straight up. But the costume was very hot and very bulky, especially since it involved a helmet. I wouldn’t want to wear it around town, but I really had a good time doing it.
So your head is facing the ground?
Yeah. And the biggest challenge was that I could never see. To keep the croc’s head level my nose was basically pressed into the ground. I was just listening for people around the stage, and I had to find landmarks in Neverland to guide me. It was very difficult to act with people in the scenes because I never could see them.
The suit must have been heavy too, right?
Yeah. It was made as light as possible, but even so it stuck out so far from the top of my head. There were bungee cords that went from the forehead of the croc all the way down my back to help support the weight. So not only did I have to get into a big body suit, my dresser also had to attach those cords as I held the helmet on.
Why did it have a helmet?
Because the headpiece was so large. My head was pretty far down into the gullet and the snout of the crocodile stuck out another two or three feet, so it needed support from somewhere. In order to handle the weight of the croc face I had to have a head contraption that enabled me to manipulate it in the way I wanted.
Did you do any sort of research into crocodile movements?
I definitely did. My goal was to make it as real as possible but keep it in the fantasy world of Neverland. The way Catherine designed the costume, with the elaborate colors and the purples and blues, it wasn’t going to be obviously a normal crocodile. I was able to take some liberties in the movement as well. I didn’t have to keep completely with what a real crocodile would do, but I wanted to keep in that realm. To me slower was better—it was more confident, and more scary.
What were rehearsals with Walken like?
He’s great. You never know what Walken’s going to do. That’s part of his charm. He’s always on. He and I had a great working relationship. Being the assistant choreographer, I also got to rehearse a lot with him one-on-one for his dance numbers.
He was always dying to see the croc suit. During rehearsal I had nothing since they were busy building the suit, so I was crawling around, slithering around the room with no help from a costume. He kept saying, “I need to see the suit, I need to see the suit.” When it finally revealed itself he was very impressed, and he really got into it, especially at the end when I get to be on my hind legs, watching him walk the plank. He even added the line, “don’t rush me” when I was trying to crawl and get to him on the deck of the ship. So the croc and Hook had a little banter, which was fun for me.
I was completely flattered. I didn’t think the croc was going to get much attention at all, being that it had such little camera time. But I do realize that it was a standout in the way that it was unique to everything else in the show. It’s great that everyone has an opinion about the croc, and I saw that people were claiming to be the croc. Even John Travolta was rumored to be in the croc suit, so I’ll take it.
Was there a quintessential croc moment for you?
The scene that we call “The Duel,” when Peter Pan and Hook meet on Marooners’ Rock. Hook wounds Peter and then the croc comes in and kind of saves the day. That was a big moment in the story and cool to do physically, because I got to wait down in the mist of the lagoon and rise up at the right moment to protect Peter. Allison and I had a lot of fun in rehearsals—we decided that the croc and Peter were buddies and had each other’s back. It was easy to play that when I wasn’t wearing the suit, because I got to act and look at her and have facial expressions. Of course, once I was in the suit no one could see any of that.