Warning: This story contains major spoilers from night 1 of Syfy’s Childhood’s End. Read at your own risk!
It’s been more than 60 years since Arthur C. Clarke’s lauded 1953 science fiction novel Childhood’s End was released — which means that Syfy’s three-night event was the very first time controversial figure Karellen was brought to life.
Childhood’s End features a peaceful and nonviolent alien invasion by the Overlords, who promise to eliminate poverty, war, and sickness, which ushers in an age of peace. However, the Overlords insist on hiding their appearance at first. By the end of night 1, however, their leader Karellen (Charles Dance) reveals the Overlords’ true nature, to the shock and dismay of most of the Earth. Quite simply, the Overlords look like the epitome of the Devil.
For obvious reasons, Karellen was not easy to bring to life. “It was arguably the biggest challenge of the show, for all of us,” says executive producer Matthew Graham. “We all agreed very early on that we wanted a real actor, and we also agreed we’d have to have a really, really good actor, and we were very lucky to get Charles Dance.”
“My fear initially was that it could be anybody underneath this,” says Dance, who spent roughly four and a half hours in the makeup chair each time he suited up as Karellen. “When I first looked at myself, I thought, ‘No acting required, really.’ I’m covered from head to foot in latex and prosthetics. I thought there was not much I could do other than speak the lines. The team who made this thing, they’re very clever. Despite having everything stuck all over me, it didn’t stop the muscles in my face from moving. It all worked. I was pleasantly surprised that I could actually recognize myself underneath it.”
Some of what viewers saw onscreen on Monday night was real, and some was added in after the fact. For one, the horns were real, and really heavy, according to Dance. Also, “We put Charles in prosthetics, but then we knew that, because Karellen is eight feet high with giant wings, it was just impractical to not have some kind of CGI augmentation,” Graham says. “Originally, we had real wings on him as well, but then there were like four puppeteers who had to shuffle behind Charles everywhere he walked. After a day of that, everyone was frustrated, including Charles, so we dispensed with the wings and put those in afterwards.”
“We had a stunt double called Harley [Durst], who wore these amazing bespoke stilts that were built like deer’s legs, with the inverted knee bends,” Graham continues. “For the wide shots, Harley would walk around on these incredible stilts, and then we would change the stilts and turn them into legs in the computer. Very, very time-consuming, very complicated.”
It then became a complicated dance for Durst and Dance to match. “What I had to do when we were doing closer shots was to make my body move in the way his body moved, because walking on hooves is not the same as walking on feet,” Dance says. “Between us, we devised a strange rolling gait.”
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Though Karellen’s depiction is polarizing, to say the least, there was no hesitation for Dance and Graham to bring him to life. “There’s no getting around it — you either do it or you don’t,” Graham says. “I mean, if we didn’t do it, I don’t know what we would replace it with. We did some early designs where he kind of looked a bit like the Devil, but more like something else, and it just felt confusing — it felt like it was going to make the storytelling a lot harder. It was better to just say he looks exactly like Satan, because that’s the point of the story. I think with someone like Charles bringing him to life, I think we have a good chance of persuading the audience to buy into him, because of Charles’ presence and his voice.”
Adds Dance: “It’s such a rich character and such a wonderful story that I thought this is a challenge, but I’ll embrace that challenge, and I’m glad I did.”
See how the Game of Thrones alum got into character in the video below:
Childhood’s End continues Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on Syfy.