January 15, 2016 1:54 pm
Updated: February 26, 2016 12:50 am

Meet Glenn Ennis, a.k.a. the bear from ‘The Revenant’

He's one of the hardest-working stuntmen in Hollywood North, with roles in the blockbusters "Deadpool" and "The Revenant", where he plays the bear who savages Leonardo DiCaprio.

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You thought that the bear in The Revenant was real, didn’t you? Believe it or not, the big grizzly was a feat of CGI, and there was actually a man (not unlike Planet of the Apes‘ and Lord of the Rings‘ Andy Serkis) in a blue suit behaving like a bear, walking like a bear, and yes, attacking like a bear.

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Canadian Glenn Ennis, 51, has been a stuntman and actor for about 15 years. He’s worked on films like Watchmen, and he stunt-doubled as Jason in Freddy vs. Jason, appearing in the climactic scene of the movie completely on fire. Now he can add The Revenant to his body of work. (Another stuntman, Tim Sitarz, also had some time as the bear.)

The Vancouverite is currently on-set for Braven in Newfoundland, appearing in a role as well as acting as stunt double for Jason Mamoa (Game of Thrones). The 6’4 1/2”, 250-lb. Ennis (whose wife is Lynn Colliar, a Global News B.C. anchor) spoke with Global News about his surreal, gruelling experience filming The Revenant as the bear.

Global News: So how, exactly, does one get the role of a bear?

Glenn Ennis: They had two people from the States doing some of the rehearsing, getting the routine down. One of them had to go to the hospital for exhaustion. The process is picking someone up, throwing them around, turning them, attacking them. Running on your hands and feet for 10 yards is pretty tough for a big guy. It’s non-stop for a full two minutes. Once this guy was taken to the hospital, I got a call from Vancouver asking me if I could come do this.

I learned the routine quickly. They wanted authenticity, someone who moved like a bear. Maybe my acting background helped with it. Because of physical exhaustion, it was impossible for one person to do it exclusively. But I was the number-one bear.

READ MORE: The Revenant review: A very cold, unflinching, beautiful movie

How do you embody a bear? Did you watch nature videos, things like that?

There are a lot of videos. Thank you Darwin, for having people who are silly enough to get themselves into situations where they get attacked by bears on video. You can easily find people being attacked by bears. People in enclosures, people who pet bears, there’s some stuff to study. They do have some traits and ways of attacking that are pretty specific, so we tried to integrate those things into the movie.

What’s interesting is often, an attack will be quite violent for a brief bit, and then the bear becomes seemingly calm, has a graze, takes a little break, and then goes back to being very vicious and violent. We thought it was like a cat playing with a mouse. It runs the show, is a non-emotional creature, and probably feels like it has nothing to fear.

That happens during the bear attack in the movie. Would you say there was a painstaking effort to have 100 per cent authenticity?

Absolutely. In rehearsals, I would wear a blue suit with a bear head. Obviously that doesn’t make it into the film, and the CGI guys paint the bear in. Alejandro [G. Iñárritu, the director] was adamant that the blue bear moved just like a real bear would move, and it was essential that it had the same nuances that a bear would have. Even though it was a big Smurf bear, it still had to be as authentic as possible.

There must have been a real bear on set, though, right?

There was no bear ever on set. The closest a bear ever got to set (that we knew of) was at the Calgary Zoo. [Laughs]

WATCH: Global Calgary meteorologist Jordan Witzel crucial to making of The Revenant

How gruelling was the attack scene for you?

Alejandro shot the scene chronologically, from its beginning to its end, two minutes in total. It was very difficult if you look at the geography where the attack takes place. Leo is thrown against a tree, turned over, rolled over, tossed, batted and then he crawls … he had three wires attached to him the entire time. Those got tangled in my feet, around his legs, around his head. Everything had to be choreographed in order to unwrap the wire so we could make the next move.

After you do a two-minute session like that, you’re exhausted and your thighs are burning. You’ve got to put it all back together and start again. It was a couple days of shooting, just outside of Squamish, B.C., dozens and dozens of times. The lunch break was the killer because you’d cool down, and then have to get back into it.

Was it Leo you were attacking, or his stunt double?

It was his stunt double who rehearsed most of the time, but he stepped in and rehearsed a bit because there were so many parts to this big sequence that had to be learned. You couldn’t chew it in pieces, it had to be shot all at once. Leo was around somewhat, but a lot of my work was with the stunt double until we started shooting.

You were rolling around on the forest floor with Leo — you realize that’s a dream for many people, right?

[Laughs] I was, about 20 per cent of the time. That’s the funniest thing, if you notice the bear head in the picture, they wanted the bear mouth to be right on his lower back. I was supposed to grab his jacket with my hand to make it look like the bear’s jaws were pulling it. In order to have the bear’s jaw in the small of his back, basically my face was in his butt. My face was in Leo’s butt for a fair bit of time. I can see how that’s someone’s fantasy, but it wasn’t mine! [Laughs]

WATCH: The Revenant boosts Alberta economy

This strangely falls in line with that false bear rape story.

Wasn’t that bizarre? It was people with no life, I guess, who started that. I spent a lot of time rolling around with Leo, but it was all consensual. [Laughs]

How does it feel to be involved in a movie that just won Best Picture at the Golden Globes, and is nominated for a Best Picture Oscar?

It feels cool. I’ve been in a lot of movies and had parts that I thought were going to be substantial; sometimes they are, sometimes they’re not. When I was doing it, I had no idea that the bear scene was going to be such an integral part of it. It was hard, sweaty work for me. And now that it’s turned into what it’s turned into, I’m incredibly proud of the work. I’m a small part — obviously the geniuses who made it look as good as they did with the CGI deserve credit — but it’s still pretty cool to be a part of it.

‘The Revenant’ is now playing in theatres.

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