[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.”]
Viewers of “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” on Netflix will notice that for each puppet character, usually two performers are credited. One is the more well-known celebrity name such as Bill Hader, Awkwafina, or Lena Headey, whilel the other is a name that’s probably not as familiar outside of puppeteering circles. IndieWire spoke to “Game of Thrones” alum Nathalie Emmanuel and puppeteer/actress Beccy Henderson to understand the contributions of each performer to the Gelfling known as Deet.
In “Age of Resistance,” Deet is Gelfling of the Grottan clan who lives underground in caves and cares for animals. She learns of a sickness in the Crystal of Truth called the Darkening that is infecting all the living things in Thra, and she sets out to put a stop to its source: the Skeksis. To play the cute but heroic Gelfling, casting went with a relatively unknown puppeteer.
Casting Sweet Deet
Beccy Henderson had been an assistant puppeteer on a number of UK projects, but before “Age of Resistance,” she was probably best known as the bespectacled Aisling in the breakout Netflix series “Derry Girls.” Auditioning for the role of Deet was an unimaginable dream come true for the actress, since Jim Henson’s original 1982 film “The Dark Crystal” looms large as the pinnacle of puppeteering artistry and creativity.
“I did the audition in London and then I went to a Forbidden Planet across the road that was selling these Gelfling Funko Pops of the original movie. I bought the Kira one that came with a little Fizzgig,” said Henderson. “I thought, ‘That was just an incredible experience. I got to puppeteer Gelflings and that’s never going to happen again in my life. You need to have a souvenir of this event.’
“Then lo and behold I got this crazy email a month later saying that I was cast as Deet and I couldn’t believe any of it. The day I turned up on set I was still waiting for them to be like ‘Oh, we thought you were a different Beccy Henderson.’ I was terrified.”
In some ways, Henderson is the perfect person to embody Deet, since this is the actress’ first real character that she could originate. Henderson doesn’t just make puppets move, but gives them personality and life through expressions, movement, intonations, and phrasing. Or, to borrow “The Dark Crystal” parlance, Henderson gives Deet her very essence. Henderson’s natural wide-eyed enthusiasm for the project mirrors Deet’s experiences with the world above ground.
“My story is almost very similar to Deet’s because I was this new puppeteer coming into a core team of these people with like 30 years’ experience. I’m from Belfast but I flew over and just moved to London to be here and I didn’t know anyone,” she said.
“I was just blown away that I was there with the Hensons. There’s so much energy so easily put into Deet cause it’s like being overwhelmed by this new place and new people and just checking everything out and also just being able to walk into these crazy sets that just blow you away. Nothing’s left to the imagination. Everything’s there, every tree and root and wiggly creature. Every inch of it is performed and puppeteered and it’s just amazing.”
Finding Deet’s Essence
For Deet’s voice, the actress leaned into what was on the page. She said, “You can see from her lines that she’s gentle, she’s bit naïve, she sees the good in everything. It’s a beautiful coming-of-age story.”
Deet’s physical design by Brian and Toby Froud also informed Henderson how to play Deet. “The sculpt for Deet is just beautiful, and there’s a certain amount of work already done for you. I can just put her on and just have her look around a bit, and everyone’s like, ‘Ah, Deet!’ because she’s just stunning.”
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You can find me and Deet in the August edition of @empiremagazine !! Along with a great write up on Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. Coming August 30th. Only on Netflix. mMmmm. Photo caption: "Lead Puppeteer Beccy Henderson brings life to Deet" AND my beautiful lil gelfling is being voiced by @nathalieemmanuel <3 Ready yourself! @darkcrystalofficial @netflix @grottanclan @nxonnetflix @hensoncompany #darkcrystalageofresistance #darkcrystal #thedarkcrystalageofresistance #thedarkcrystal #puppeteer #puppet #puppeteers #gelfling #jimhenson #behindthescenes #behindthescenes🎬 #nxonnetflix #netflixandchills #Netflix #empiremagazine #grottanclan
As seen in the making-of documentary “The Crystal Calls,” there’s a physical hurdle that the puppeteers must surmount because the puppets themselves are large, heavy, and cumbersome. The performers must rely on monitors and playback to make sure their puppets hit their mark, have the right eyeline, and meet any other number of intricate spatial specifications.
Puppeteers must push past those difficulties to create a nuanced performance, making unwieldy but beautiful objects come to life fluidly.
“Every Gelfling moves a little bit differently and sits a little bit differently on your hand. The mouth might be harder to close on this puppet than that puppet and there’s a different stiffness to each one,” said Henderson. “You have to practice with it and find the different nuances and find what their neutral position is, to get the way they move differently from the other Gelfling. You can’t just pick one up and then go for it.”
Deet’s outward presence and movements are also unique, and wouldn’t be the same as say, Brea’s or Rian’s.
“Deet is Grottan, so she was from underground and she’s come up [above the surface]. She has these amazing massive ears and she can’t see very well, so with Deet I would always focus on the energy that she is assessing everything around her through her ears and not her eyes,” said Henderson. “So her head moves a lot because her ears are always kind of like looking at and trying to separate her surroundings and analyze things the way that our eyes would. That’s a nice base for your performance when you have this kind of core thing that you think about and perform with.”
Deet’s New Voice
Only after everything is shot and performed, does the other actor come in to record those lines over again. Emmanuel, who’s best known for playing Missandei on “Game of Thrones” and Ramsey in the “Fast and the Furious” franchise, had laryngitis and bronchitis when she did her voice audition, but still landed the gig.
“It’s very different from animation because animation is adapted to your performance. We have to make sure that our performances match in sync with the puppet,” said Emmanuel. “That’s where the challenge is, especially when it comes to differences in accent and things like that from the puppeteer. The way in which that person might talk or the emphasis they might put on a sentence or word or very minor differences in cadence, it’s very bonding in that respect.”
Henderson said, “The voice actors have the very challenging job of coming in and having to match what we did. I filmed everything before I knew it was Nathalie that was playing Deet. She has matched exactly the energy that I put down. I watch it and I can still hear my performance, but it’s with her voice.
“It’s a really hard job to come in and act like someone else’s performance because maybe you wouldn’t have made those acting decisions or you would have wanted to read the scene more angered or more sad But you just have to do what the puppeteer has done. So it’s probably really frustrating.”
Emmanuel points to a scene where Deet must convince a guard to let her speak to Maudra Fara of the Stonewood clan as a particularly challenging scene to get right vocally.
“She tries explaining to the guard why she’s there and she has this really long rant,” she said. “Beccy has a very different accent to me and she speaks much faster than I do, generally. And so it was really, really challenging getting that whole rant in one breath and make it logical. [Director Louis Leterrier] was like, ‘Let’s just break it up into sections and we can just fix it in the edit.’ I was like, ‘No. I’m gonna do it right now. One take.’ I was really determined. I was really pleased that I did it because when you listened to it back, it was really fun.”
Deet’s Proud But Protective Parents
In the series, Deet has two fathers, and in a way, Henderson and Emmanuel are Deet’s two mothers. The two actresses didn’t meet in person until the European premiere of “Age of Resistance” in August, when they bonded over playing the Gelfling.
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Our #DeetMeet finally happened!!!! 🧝🏽♀️🔮✨💖 What a fantastic night at the European Premiere of @darkcrystalofficial which is coming to @netflix August 30th! Guys……….. GUYS! IT’S 👏🏽 SO 👏🏽 GOOD 👏🏽!!! I’m so excited for you to see it…. and for you to meet @youngsterbeccy and mine’s darling little gelfling #Deet… She’s literally the cutest! #TeamDeet #wemeetatlast #soexcited #BeccyHenderson #puppeteer #actresses #theexcitement #darkcrystalageofresistance #netflix #august31st #AREYOUREADYTHO #fortheloveThra
“I definitely felt very protective of her because she’s quite cute and very sweet,” said Emmanuel. “But’s difficult for me to be solely protective of her because I’m not the only one who plays her. So, I definitely do feel like one of the parents of Deet a little bit. It’s like she’s like our little baby that we brought into the world.”
Although the Gelflings triumph by the end of the season, Deet’s moms have reason to worry about the little Grottan. During the climax of the battle with the Skeksis, Deet absorbs the sickening power of the Darkening that the Skeksis Emperor tries to unleash upon the Gelfling army. It’s disturbing to see Deet scream and tremble with the force of the Darkening.
“Where do you go from that? She’s so filled with the Darkening,” said Henderson. “You can’t dispel it onto any other thing because then you’re just cursing another living creature. She has to find a way to live with it herself I think and come to terms with the Darkening. It’s pretty scary and it’s really evil. Would it call her? Have we lost Deet? Is that it? Is she evil now? I really don’t know. They don’t tell me anything.”
Emmanuel is a bit more optimistic and hopes that viewers can take away a bigger message and put Deet’s accomplishments into context.
“What’s so great about the story is it’s about young people being galvanized, seeing the evil in society, and fighting the powers that be,” she said. “She’s this little Grottan who’s lived underground for her whole life and she managed to achieve amazing things. There’s the idea that we’re powerless as individuals, but I think this really dismantles that idea. I hope… young people watch it and know that yeah, we can make a difference.”
“The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” is currently streaming on Netflix.