From Niña Medeiros in the REC movies to the Crooked Man in The Conjuring 2 and KeyFace from Insidious: The Last Key, Javier Botet is a master at bringing cinematic nightmares to life through his creature performances. His recent role as the Big Toe Corpse in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (based on the books by writer Alvin Schwartz and artist Stephen Gammell) is another iconic creepy performance, and with the film now on Blu-ray, DVD, and 4K Ultra HD from Lionsgate, Daily Dead had the great pleasure of catching up with Botet to discuss bringing the Big Toe Corpse to undead life, reteaming with Guillermo del Toro (who produced and co-wrote Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark), working with fellow creature performance actor "Twisty" Troy James on IT Chapter Two, and he also shared his hopes to reprise his role as the Crooked Man in a Conjuring spinoff film.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, Javier. I had a lot of fun watching your recent role as the Big Toe Corpse in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Just out of curiosity, how did that role come about? Did they approach you because you have this reputation as being one of the great creature performance actors working today?
Javier Botet: It's easy because Guillermo kind of knows me. He worked with me a few times. He knows my work. So in the moment he saw the illustrations, the original illustrations, he said, "Wow, we need Javier Botet, of course," because he knows my profile, he knows how skinny I am, so for this creature I'm the perfect choice because the original illustration is so skinny, and so I was the perfect choice and that's easy. And it even was easier because curiously, at the same time, I was in the same studio. I was working in on IT Chapter Two, and I was working with Doug Jones in an episode of Star Trek [Discovery]. Everything was being shot in the Pinewood Studios in Toronto at the same time they were producing Scary Stories. So Guillermo and [J.] Miles Dale, another one of the other producers, said, "Of course, it should be Javier Botet."
I love that Guillermo brings back people that he works with, because of course you had worked on Mama, which he produced, and then Crimson Peak. So it's really nice that he's able to get these collaborators back with him.
Javier Botet: Yeah, it's a dream.
Were you familiar with the Scary Stories books? Did you read those growing up, or is this kind of a new world for you to explore as an actor?
Javier Botet: No, I never before had the luck of knowing about these books. But when I started hearing about the project, a lot of months before they prepared the shooting, I started researching. I try always to research, to read, to see. And I was reading, and I was seeing even the YouTube shorts, because there's a guy that made shorts with low budgets, these pretty little movies. But I saw a few of those to understand the stories. I always try, in every project, to research and find everything I can to feel more comfortable with the information I have when I'm working.
"The Big Toe" is one of the most memorable entries in the Scary Stories books, and I think you really nailed the character. When you were getting ready to bring that character to life, was that daunting at all because you knew that people had read these books for 30 years?
Javier Botet: When something is already loved for a lot of people, it gives you a lot of respect, more respect. So you need to care about what the people love about this character. I always take care of that, but I try to do what I feel. But knowing that there's a lot of people that already love this character for something, it's a pity not to take that and make it an authentic [performance]. So I try to work with that, too.
And the character looks so creepy on screen. I know they used some CGI, but I heard they also used a lot of practical effects, too. What was the makeup process like for you as an actor? Was there a lot of practical effects makeup that they put on you before you filmed your scenes?
Javier Botet: My character in the movie, everything practical but the toe, because in one moment my feet start walking without the toe, so I was wearing a green little dart in my toe that was glued, but that was the only [CG] thing in the scene. All the makeup was practical, of course. Norman Cabrera made very nice makeup. It was like five, six hours of makeup. There are other characters in the movie that needed more CGI, but my character was 99% practical and the toe was the only thing they edited digitally.
So many Guillermo del Toro projects are very practical, and I know he loves the practical effects, having come from that background.
Javier Botet: He loves it. He was working in effects, so he knows how to do everything. He wants everything in practical effects. I love them, too, so I agree with Guillermo. Things are so different when they are only digital, so it's nice to do as much as you can with practical [effects] and then, if you need something else, help yourself with CGI. But something little if it's possible.
And the movement of your character is very creepy as well. Especially with your performances, movement is so important to the character and how you bring out that personality within them. Did you work with the director, André Øvredal, at all on how he wanted the character to move? Or did you get a lot of freedom in how the Big Toe Corpse moves through the house?
Javier Botet: Well, we usually make a movement test with the makeup. So in this movie we did it, too. One day they applied all the makeup on me and I was making like a model walk with Øvredal, and he was seeing the makeup, and we spoke a little about movement, but I did my own stuff. He was happy. So after that, we shot it a few days later and I did what I wanted. Well, nobody say that there was a problem, and so I felt so free. Sometimes the director gives me a lot of cues, something concrete, but something specific. But most of the time they give me a lot of freedom because after a lot of years working on this, I have a lot of experience. So they usually give me some cues, but in this one he gave me all the freedom.
That is good to hear. It's nice when you can bring your own ideas and personality to the character, especially when you've played as many as you have. And it was also great to see another actor who does a lot of creature performances, "Twisty" Troy James, who was also in this movie as the Jangly Man. I loved how it showcases both of you.
Javier Botet: Yeah, Troy is an amazing, nice guy, and it's great what he's doing. And in the movie he did an amazing job. It's great. I worked with him in a scene in IT Chapter Two. We spent a whole day together. That [scene] for sure will be on the DVD or something like that. But we've been working together in this movie and he's an amazing guy. He's so talented and so lovely.
It was great to see you come back for the second IT movie. Did you get to play multiple characters in the second film? There are so many different versions of Pennywise. Can you talk a little bit about some of those characters that you played?
Javier Botet: Yeah, I was playing the hobo again. And I was playing the witch as well, the transformation of Mrs Kersh, who attacks Jessica Chastain in the house. But after that I appear again in the water. And I did other things, but in Chapter Two, there's a moment when Mike opens a folder—I don't know who opened the folder—but there's a corpse, a burned corpse. That was me. And it's only a picture, but it's a pity that this scene doesn't appear in the movie, the scene with the two burned corpses. And that's the scene I played with Troy James, but I'm sure it will come out in the DVD.
Oh, I sure hope so. And that scene with Jessica Chastain was very well-received in my theater. It was one of the creepiest moments of the movie. Was that a really fun scene, where you get to charge out of the shadows at Jessica? Was that a fun one to shoot for you?
Javier Botet: Yes, and all the calm before the storm. The scene is very nice. So, yeah, I love this scene.
One of my favorite roles of yours in recent years was when you played the Crooked Man in The Conjuring 2. I know a lot of people would love to see a Crooked Man movie, and I know they've kind of been working on one.
Javier Botet: Yes, me too. Since the first time I met the producers, when we were shooting Conjuring 2, they spoke to me, they told me that the intention was to make a spinoff. So I said, "Okay, let's make Conjuring 2 first and then we will play it by ear." But I love the character. It's amazing, beautiful. So it's a pity to see only a little, little part in The Conjuring 2. I'm so excited and I want to make a Crooked Man spinoff. But I know the same that everybody knows. They wrote the screenplay and they are waiting at the moment. They want to do it, but we don't have a schedule. We don't know when it's going to happen.
Before I let you go, in addition to Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and IT Chapter Two coming out on Blu-ray, are there any other projects coming out that you can talk about or that you're excited for fans to see you in?
Javier Botet: I'm working now. I'm in LA for the next five or six months. We're working on an Amazon Prime show. It's a series called Them: Covenant. It's a horror series. It's 10 episodes and I'm working on it. There are more projects in the future, but nothing is totally signed yet, so it's not closed. Everything I tell you can change, so it's better to keep silent.