Alex Galatis wore the costume for Dudley the Dragon‘s first two seasons. After that, Kirk Dunn performed the character while Galatis continued providing his voice. The blend was seamless.
In May 1999, Dunn recalled winning the role: “I showed up for this audition. They put me into a body puppet. My right arm went up inside the dragon’s head. And they pointed a camera at me and pointed a video monitor towards me and said, ‘OK, you’re going to be Dudley. Go ahead.’ And I tried. … Sometimes I could get the lips to move right but then he’d be looking at the ceiling and then I made him look at the ceiling but then his lips wouldn’t move. I thought it was a disaster. I ended up thinking, well, that was one for the books. I’ll just forget about that and try to continue on with my life.”
As it turned out, Dunn got to play the lovable dragon after all. “Actors will do virtually anything for money,” he said. “The Dudley gig was great because it was a regular gig on TV, which was more money than on stage, so I was thrilled to get the audition.”
Dunn performed the character at schools and other public venues. As he did, he discovered Dudley had fans. Lots of them. The kids saw him as more than just a puppet. He was a friend. When Dunn wore the dragon suit for a school visit in Atlanta, Georgia, hundreds of students and their parents crowded into the gym and chanted Dudley’s name.
Executive producer Peter Williamson was stunned. “I was quite taken aback because I didn’t realize he was quite that famous,” he told John McKay of the Canadian Press.
Working the cumbersome dragon suit was challenging. Dunn had to operate the dragon’s mouth, arms and hands, and eyelids, remember the dialog, pour emotion into the dialog, watch where to step with his vision restricted, and react with comedic timing, all the while smothered in a bulky eight-foot costume with oversized sneakers.
“A lot of the time the process doesn’t allow for art,” Dunn told CBC Radio One. “For example, on the TV set, they’re interested in speed, and getting it down quickly and doing it effectively. So I’m worried about the speed and hitting your mark and saying all the right words you can’t worry about the artistry of it. But that happens after you get comfortable and that’s something you try to put in there to keep it alive because that’s so easy to get in there to begin with. I think anybody who gets in there to do art for art’s sake—I think we all do—we become really frustrated and somewhat bitter when we’re not allowed to find that art again; when it gets beaten out of it. It’s up to you as an actor or an artist to make sure you keep it in there in whichever way you can.”
Dunn was glad the costume hid what he really looked like.
“If you’re going to be goofy, it’s good that people don’t know who you are. So they would say, ‘Oh, he’s a goofy guy; he can only do goofy stuff.’ Which is a good thing about nobody seeing my face because they can’t typecast me as Dudley.”
Beyond his skills as an actor, Dunn has extended his creative palette as a writer, textile artist and corporate coach.
“The money has come and gone for Dudley; I think it’s in RSP [Retirement Savings Plan, a Canadian account] somewhere, so it’s still working for me, somehow,” he said on CBC Radio. “Now I’m doing some writing to keep the money coming in; I’m doing lots of auditions again so if anybody wants to audition me, please feel free.”
Learn more about Dunn’s talents at his website, here.
Sources: Kirk Dunn interview on CBC Radio One, Monday, May 31, 1999; John McKay, The Vancouver Sun, June 29, 1996, “Dudley Does Right in U.S. Market,” p. C12. Special thanks to Kirk Dunn.