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It wasn’t supposed to be all about the goat.
When production designer-turned-director Robert Eggers set about making his first feature, The Witch, he instructed editor Louise Ford to keep the movie’s hircine star — a 210-pound billy goat called Black Phillip — in the margins.
“We were deliberately trying to play Black Phillip down in order to make his importance more surprising,” says Eggers, 32, of the character, a farm animal belonging to a Puritan family having a rough go of it in 1630 New England.
On the fourth day of filming, Charlie rammed his serrated horns into Ineson’s ribs, dislodging a tendon. “Everything hurt,” Inerson recalls. “I spent the rest of the five-week shoot on painkillers.”
With one particularly violent scene involving William and Black Phillip still left to shoot, Eggers — who was determined not to go the CG route — commissioned a puppet version of the goat.
“There was one puppet half the size of Charlie,” Eggers says of a first failed attempt. Another was commissioned: “Someone had flown from L.A. on a plane sitting next to a giant goat puppet. That one was the size of a cow. Both didn’t look very good and were laying in the dirt by the makeup trailer,” Eggers says.
In the end, several elaborate Black Phillip sequences had to be abandoned, but one key scene in which Black Phillip rears onto its hind legs — distressingly close to two young actors who play creepy twins — was non-negotiable. (The goat was on a leash during the dangerous sequence and the leash was later digitally erased.)
Despite having gotten the shot, Eggers says he would not work with Charlie again. But Anna Kilch, Charlie’s wrangler, insists Charlie did the job and did it well: “It was a difficult shot, but he did it perfectly quite a few times so we were really happy with him.”
Kilch was surprised to hear that Eggers and Ineson had such a negative experience with Charlie. “He was kind of the star of the show so we ended up using him a lot. Maybe that’s why [they found him difficult]. But no, he was fantastic,” Kilch says.
Ineson begs to differ. “It’s wonderful that his fantastic performance is bringing notoriety to the film,” he says, “but there’s a little part of me that’s like, ‘Seriously? That f—er?'”
“There’s an incredible restaurant in London called The Smoking Goat,” Ineson continues. “When Robert was in town, we went there for my wife’s birthday and shared this incredible goat dish. We remembered Charlie. Not so fondly.”
— The Witch (@TheWitchMovie) February 24, 2016
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