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Former rugby star from Kelowna turns heads as the bear in 'The Revenant'

Canadian stuntman Glenn Ennis is shown in the gear he wore while playing the bear in the movie "The Revenant."
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/ho
February 03, 2016 - 8:00 PM

Rugby took Canadian Glenn Ennis around the world. Now well into his second career as a stuntman/actor, the 51-year-old is fielding calls from afar for his part in helping bring the murderous bear in "The Revenant" to life.

"It's really surprised me a lot," Ennis said from Vancouver. "When I did it, it was just hard grunt work. Typical stunt days, like I've done many times ... I guess the bear attack was in some of the teaser clips and it got some attention.

"But after the fact, wow, yeah I'm fielding calls for interviews from all over the world."

Part of the reason is the savagery of the scene in which a wrong-place, wrong-time Leonardo DiCaprio is repeatedly ragdolled, clawed and bitten by a bear protecting its cubs. The other reason is the length to which Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu went to in assembling the scene.

It also helps that the film, a gritty period revenge story set in a harsh icy frontier, is a hit.

"And I think the fact that that picture of me in a blue bear suit came out kind of gave people a chuckle," Ennis said with a laugh. "So it kind of personalized it a little bit."

The six-foot-four 250-pound Ennis wore a blue bodysuit over pads, with a blue generic bearhead on top of what looks like a blue hockey goalie or lacrosse cage.

The bear was computer-generated but Ennis, DiCaprio's stunt double and the actor himself did the intricate choreographed dance — which took months of planning and post-production — that gave the special effects wizards a guide to flesh out the two-minute scene.

Imagine a mini-Cirque du Soleil in a forest.

The plan was to have the actor/stunt double in a harness attached to three ropes, with two handlers manipulating each rope. The work was so demanding that one of the original stuntmen went to hospital with exhaustion.

That's when Ennis got the call.

Ennis, who grew up in Kelowna, rehearsed for a couple of weeks in Calgary and a week outside of Squamish, B.C., where the scene was shot over a couple of days.

"The director had a vision and he found his location about an hour and a half outside of Squamish and about 400 yards up a logging road and then another 400 yards into the bush from there," Ennis said.

"It was muddy, wet and sloggy and pounding rain. And it was quite an endeavour to get in there and shoot this thing."

DiCaprio's stunt double did most of the rehearsing but the actor learned the routine once it was down pat and was in the harness for the actual shooting. "I was throwing him around for a couple of days."

Ennis spent most of his time with his weight balanced on his hands and feet. "It was a thigh-burner, that's for sure. It was incredibly physically demanding."

After all that rehearsal, on the first day of shooting he dislocated his finger in his first run at DiCaprio.

"I had to kind of grit my teeth and carry on for the next two minutes, swatting him and grabbing him and throwing him around. They finally yelled 'Cut' and I took off my blue glove and put my finger back into place.

"I tried to act tough but I'm not as tough as I used to be in my rugby days. I did that probably about 20 times back when I played rugby."

He taped it up and kept going.

Ennis, who did his homework by watching bear attack videos, saw the final product for the first time in the cinema.

"I was absolutely astounded," he said. "I have been around a lot of CGI and I've been that guy and seen myself rendered on screen after the fact. A lot of that's cool. This one was amazing. They took it to a new level, I'd say."

Ennis is no stranger to wearing strange get-up.

He plays an Orc in "Warcraft, one of five stuntmen/actors turned into an army of thousands (one of the others is six-foot-seven Daniel Cudmore, brother to Canadian rugby star Jamie Cudmore). The Duncan Jones film is taken from the "World of Warcraft" computer game.

"You're running around in a skin-tight grey (body)suit with all these lit-up bulbs of light all over you, wearing a helmet that has little cameras on little sticks in front of your face pointing back at your face so they can read your facial expressions," Ennis said. "It's kind of a goofy setup at times to make these CGI movies come to life."

A robust, hard-nosed No. 8 forward, Ennis captained the Canadian rugby team, scoring seven tries in 32 appearances in a distinguished career.

"Very athletic, tough — he was our enforcer when required — and highly skilled," recalled former Canadian captain Gareth Rees.

Ennis played in three Rugby World Cups, ending his club career in Japan before retiring in 2000.

His younger brother had been a stuntman for about a decade at the time and convinced Ennis that his size and physicality would serve him well.

"I've had many roles that are Thug No. 1, Tough Guy No. 3, SWAT team member number whatever," he joked.

These days, Ennis does about two-thirds stuntwork and one-third acting. Sometimes he does both on a project.

"Strangely my rugby career didn't give me many specific skills for a stunt career but it did teach me how to fall down and that's a big part of stuntwork," he said dryly. "I just kept falling down."

Recent projects include a six-week shoot in St. John's, N.L., on a film called "Braven," which stars Jason Momoa of "Game of Thrones" (he played Khal Drogo).

Viewers will also see him in "Deadpool," which opens later this month.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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