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September 07, 2018 at 01:23 PM EDT

You rarely see Javier Botet out of makeup these days, but horror fans have felt his presence. Slender Man (Slender Man), xenomorph (Alien: Covenant), Crooked Man (The Conjuring 2), Faceless Man (The Crucifixion), Keyface (Insidious: The Last Key), Mama (Mama), and now Mara (Mara) — these are all faces Botet wears on film as one of the most sought-after monster movie actors in the industry.

Saban Films

“It’s a dream to be part of this business,” Botet, 41, tells EW over the phone from Toronto, where he’s currently filming parts in Andy Muschietti’s It: Chapter Two and Guillermo del Toro’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. “When you’re a child, you always dream about something like that. Over the last 13 years I’ve been working a little in Spain, but [in] the last five years after Mama, everything is going crazy… It’s like living the dream.”

Botet was diagnosed at the age of 6 with Marfan syndrome, a rare condition that caused him to sprout to 6 feet, 6 inches while remaining at a slender 120 pounds. His diagnoses proved to be an advantage. While many Hollywood productions tend to lean on CGI, Botet puts the “act” in “practical effects” through makeup and prosthetic transformations.

“I think the industry for the last 10, 20 years has discovered the CGI for everything. They are using it for everything too much,” he remarks. “Yes, I’m fighting against that. Not hard ‘cause I think some realized they have something special [when it] looks real. But you don’t need the CGI.”

Having worked in Spain through 2005’s Beneath Still Waters (his first film role) and in the [Rec] horror films, Botet’s turning point came with 2013’s Mama. That film marked the beginning of fruitful relationships with Muschietti, the director, and del Toro, the producer, and tipped off the industry to what the actor could do with just his body.

“A lot of people thought I was CGI,” Botet says, but “a movement test” recorded of him before filming began proved otherwise. 

That video started making the rounds in Hollywood and simultaneously drummed up buzz. Even though the actor says he still scours the trade news for any potential roles he can play, many filmmakers now routinely seek him out.

At one point, Botet was trying to get a hold of Sony to talk about the title role in Slender Man, blissfully unaware that the studio was actually trying to track down his contact information. Mara‘s Clive Tonge was another director who already knew Botet’s name.

“The second I saw him I knew he was the man for Mara,” Tonge, who saw Botet’s performance in [Rec], says. “We rehearsed his part in his hotel room after my work day was done. I filmed him on my iPad and we went through some of his basic movements. Very quickly I realized that Javier is a true artist and, rather than me tell him what to do, I got better results when I let him show me what he could do.”

Saban Films

Botet’s work as Mara, a demon who attacks its victims during fits of sleep paralysis, can be seen in theaters, as well as through digital and on demand, this weekend opposite Oblivion‘s Olga Kurylenko as criminal psychologist and Mara’s latest victim Kate.

To Botet, these roles are more than just monsters — they’re three-dimensional characters. He tries to make each one distinct, and that comes through studying “the motivations” and “the condition” of whoever — or whatever — he’s playing.

“Sometimes they are ghosts and they don’t follow the rules of the physical world,” he says. “So, for example, you can move slower and more elegant or take your time because you know no one can stop you. It’s different when you’re a monster because they have more animal instincts and they need to be more aggressive and attacking the moment they appear.” The former was the case with Mara, a creature that prolongs the terror oozing off paralyzed victims by steadily crawling over their bodies.

Tonge remembers “one time in rehearsal” when Botet’s “hand slowly rose and started feeling and crawling around the bed like an alien spider. I thought he was simply doing it to be creepy but no — he explained this was Mara searching for information. He knows his body and what it can do better than anybody and there was no better example of this [than when] Javier requested that his costume be cut away at the back because ‘there’s a lot of information in my back.’ Oh boy was he right.”

With the xenomorph in Alien: Covenant, Botet focused on the beast’s “strong and fast-growing” body. “The heart and the hands are working so fast and that was an idea I came to this creature with,” he recalls. With Slender Man, it was an “easy” process because of the simplified makeup application, but the creature itself was “not very expressive.” Other times, a role is about fear — “how much fear the creature has to have.”

“A lot of the time the creature isn’t only attacking, it’s sometimes defending,” he explains, “and there’s some difference that I try to understand in every different creature.”

Botet maintained a fondness for these otherworldly beings since his first experience watching Star Wars, a franchise he’s still hoping to join at some point. He studying fine arts in Granada, Spain, and pursued book illustration, all while making short films in his downtime. Botet remembers doing everything, from “drawing storyboards” to “writing and directing [his] own parts.” It was then through a movie makeup class that his teacher, director Brian Yuzna, gave Botet the role that began his cinematic journey in Beneath Still Waters.

Eduardo Parra/Getty Images

“I want to do everything in the movie world,” Botet says. At the same time, he’s “not rushing.” 

“Maybe next year, maybe in 10 years. Yes, I think I would enjoy changing the things,” he thinks. “And if one day I’m tired of [acting] I will participate in [directing].” 

Botet never feels pigeonholed as the “movie monster guy,” since he’s also acting in comedies and dramas in Spain. That same kid who grew up obsessing over the aliens in the galaxy far, far away is now just genuinely happy to be doing what he’s doing. It’s why he doesn’t feel that, despite his experience and despite his relationship with the director, he missed out on playing Pennywise in It. He wasn’t even thinking about that. “[Muschietti] knows exactly what I have and he needed me,” Botet explains. “He called me and said, ‘I want you to do a little part’ and I was so happy I didn’t need to look for that ‘cause he’s my friend.”

Botet gets to do “a little more” in the It sequel, but says, “I can’t tell you anymore. It’s going to be very fun to see.”

To those who know Hollywood’s Slender Man, Tonge seems to nail it best: “Javier Botet is a friend and a horror legend.”

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