[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers from “Marvel’s Runaways” Episode 4, “Fifteen.”]
While a few of her “Runaways” peers are exploring newfound super powers, Gert Yorkes (Ariela Barer) has had her own equally surprising discovery. Her scientist parents keep a veritable menagerie in their basement, but Gert wasn’t prepared to stumble upon one particular creature: a dinosaur.
While “Runaways” revealed the anachronistic reptile last week, it wasn’t until Episode 4 that Gert understands she has a connection with it. Just as the raptor is about to attack — or be attacked by – her adopted sister Molly (Allegra Acosta), Gert yells, “Stop!” and lo and behold, the dinosaur halts. As of this point, it’s not revealed why the dinosaur listens to her, but Gert’s parents Stacey and Dale (Brigid Brannagh and Kevin Weisman) engineered her – yes, the dinosaur is female – for their protection.
Barer, whom some may recognize as goth Carmen on Netflix’s “One Day at a Time,” was immediately on board to play Gert from the start. “I was like, ‘Oh, I’m going to act with a dinosaur. Yeah let’s do this,’” she said at a set visit in September.
Having a dinosaur – even a relatively human-sized one – interact with characters is far easier on the page than it is on a live-action TV show. While CGI is used for some scenes, much of the time the actors performed opposite a practical puppet of the creature.
“This puppet, it’s incredible,” said Acosta. “It is literally living and breathing. They have one person dedicated to [her mouth and eyes]. It makes acting with it so easy because I forget it’s fake… I’ll see her in passing, and they operate her between takes. I’m just like, ‘Hey girl, how was your weekend?’ It’s unreal the level of detail that goes into every shot. They have someone to cover her in slime between every take so she has that glisten.”
Barer added, “Props to the guys who did it because she’s a heavy little thing, like 85 pounds. And there’s one guy holding her, and he knows all the moves of a dinosaur and when you’re doing scenes with her, I’m just so happy that I get to work with her.
“You just see her eyes and you see pure innocence, what an animal should have,” she continued. “I see my cat in her. [She] just isn’t an old dinosaur, she’s like a bird, dog, crocodile, and that’s how they made it in the comic with her iconic nose ring. It’s just an amazing thing to work with people of such high caliber … these are the people who did ‘Jurassic World.’”
Like her prehistoric pet, Barer has also taken on some of the more recognizable hallmarks of her character from the original Marvel comics. As Gert, she sports purple hair and glasses, and is a rather sarcastic, outspoken girl who is passionate about social justice.
There’s one aspect that Barer personally brought to the character that isn’t necessarily canon. In the second episode, when Gert sings a lullaby to Molly at night, that’s a personal composition. Barer is part of a band called The Love-Inns, and has been singing since childhood.
“It wasn’t going to be such a big thing and originally we were just going to do a song that is already written,” said the actress. ”But then because they found out about the band and the music I make at the table read, [co-creators Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage] came up to me and said, ‘Hey, do you want to maybe write the song for us?’”
Barer and series composer Siddhartha Khosia sat down to write the song, “thinking about what a 6-year-old girl would write.”
The haunting melody is a sweet closing note to the episode. It comforts Molly, but Gert’s voice also travels down the vent to the basement, where the dinosaur is also listening. Perhaps this is the source of the animal’s loyalty to Gert. Music has charms to soothe the savage beast, even ones that are supposed to be extinct.
“Marvel’s Runaways” releases new episodes on Tuesdays on Hulu.