RoboCop's distinctive cyborg walk is an iconic piece of science fiction movie imagery. It's hard to imagine the movie without it, but it wasn't simply movie magic that put the "Robo" in RoboCop's walk. Actor Peter Weller had to do it himself, and he struggled with it so much that production screeched to a halt, until an unlikely hero saved the day.
Being RoboCop wasn't easy. Even becoming RoboCop at the beginning of every shoot day was a massive task for Weller and a crew of makeup effects wizards. It took so long that, by the time Weller was actually in the suit, his makeup people had already done a full day's work.
"It was so intense, that experience, of putting on that suit—particularly doing the face, which took six and a half hours," Weller said. "Stephan Dupuis and the Robo team, Rob Bottin designed this genius applicator ... it took six and a half hours to do that prosthetic, and then another hour and a half to get into the suit. And we'd done an eight-and-a-half-hour day by the time the crew came to shoot, and you just had to shoot that face out in five hours before the rubber collapsed. There were 27 days of absolute ... I wouldn't say 'misery,' but it really demanded a Zen sort of discipline."
But that wasn't the end of Weller's transformation. After all the prosthetics and the armor were in place, he had to move like RoboCop, and that proved to be even harder than waiting for the makeup application to finish. To achieve the look he wanted for RoboCop's distinctive walk, Weller began working with mime Moni Yakim.
"He knew the work of Etienne De Croux and Jean-Louis Barrault, and was with Marceau. And he said, 'What we want to do here, I think, is have some sort of liquid movement with a staccato on the end of it, so it's like butter, but then with a big, hard definition at the end of the movement,'" Weller said. "And we started working on it, and I said, 'This is the guy for me.' And he designed it, and I just worked on it for four hours a day, that stuff. It was tough, man, but fun."
But then Weller ran into a new problem. Once he put the suit on and did the movements he practiced, he began to realize they didn't really work.
"It was not the hero that they had in mind," Yakim said.
Weller's sudden lack of a working physicality sent the RoboCop set into chaos, and eventually shooting was at a standstill. Weller worried that he might lose his first big Hollywood role, and director Paul Verhoeven was worried that he might bungle his first major American film. Then Weller had an idea: Call Yakim and see if he could fix things.
"So I went, they flew me over there," Yakim said. "A car came and took me over to the set. Nothing was happening. Everybody was depressed, especially Paul Verhoeven, who was going absolutely crazy. It was his first chance at doing a big American movie. I came to an extremely depressed place."
Yakim quickly realized he couldn't fix things unless Weller was in the suit, so after several hours of prosthetics work, Weller returned to the empty set and the pair began working to fix RoboCop's gait.
"And I worked with Peter and found out that all was in the rhythm, that we had to throw away everything that we'd done, rhythmically, over the four months, and to create the rhythm that would fit that costume," Yakim said. "That, instead of having the bulk as a negative thing, to use it as an asset. So we started to move slower, and to walk slower, the motions were slower. And we worked Peter's body into the weight of the costume, rhythmically. And, after about an hour, I called Peter, Verhoeven, and the guys, and told them to look at what he can do. And everybody got excited, and they started shooting. That's the real story. And it was in the papers, because Peter Weller actually said it that if I hadn't come to the set that day, there wouldn't be a RoboCop."
So that's the story of how a mime came to the RoboCop set and saved the movie for all of us. And you thought all they did was that invisible box thing.
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