Lets Talk About Captain EO Starring Michael Jackson part 3
by Terri Hardin ( is a puppeteer, artist, and Disney imagineer)
When last I left you Michael Jackson had just been tossed across the room by our Evil Queen, Anjelica Huston.
Rehearsals continued and Anjelica now sat most of the time on a ladder way up in the air. This was just fine with Michael Jackson. However the rehearsal could be filled with fun and frolic. For example, Francis asked me to stand in for one of the Whip Warriors as the suit performers played the creatures in rehearsals. I’m very good with a whip. I looked at Michael and cracked the whip by his feet. He jumped and I told him to run and I cracked the whip again. I was smiling when I said this and Michael playfully ran away and I chased him all over the sound stage. Everyone could hear him giggling and jumping as I chased him. Close your eyes and you can hear his high-pitched voice.
“Stop playing around you two!” Francis looked at the both of us with his hands on his hips.
Another time Michael was rehearsing his dance moves with two of the top pop-locking performers in the world, Poppin’ Taco and Poppin’ Reggie. Taco and Reggie, had just finished playing robots in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. They were cast in Captain EO as the Rainbow multi-lit up Jukebox Popping Robots that follow Michael Jackson in the final scene.
Reggie and Taco had met me before and as I came in they started to tease me and dare me to come and pop with them. Somewhere in the archival footage is me with Michael Jackson, Poppin’ Taco and Poppin’ Reggie all pop locking together. One of my fondest memories is dancing with these amazing guys.
The first day of shooting finally arrived. I had one final fitting to adjust the Idy and Ody puppets. The builder Lance Anderson, had put a hinged rod up the back of both of their necks and when I went to move the heads, they wouldn’t move right. These rods restricted my movement of the heads.
I asked him if he could take the rods out and he said that they were essential to the build of the character. (A side note here) The only thing that is essential to your puppet is that your performance be the best that it can be. Otherwise when the film is viewed, you will be blamed, not the faulty puppet.
So as I rehearsed, I worked the heads and broke the rods in the necks. Oops! Then the builder asked to fix them as he saw me taking the broken pieces out of the necks and tossed them aside saying, “No, No, I’m cool.” That’s how Idy and Ody dance so well at the drum set during the “Let me show you” scene in Captain EO.
Michael Jackson was just amazing on Captain EO. He wrote the songs and co-created all the dance sequences you see in Captain EO with his Choreographer, Jeffrey Hornaday. It was magical to see this man in action. Yet every morning he would have several flats of seedless green grapes brought in. Before we went to work, Michael and the puppeteers would go to his trailer and have grape fights. Yes, really — grape fights! It was so silly and so much fun. It happened everyday for three months.
Anjelica Huston seemed stern at first, but I kept greeting her with big smile.
“Hello Anjelica?” “Good Morning Anjelica?” “How are you today Anjelica?”
Most of the time she didn’t answer me, but I kept greeting her like this anyway. Finally one day she stared at me.
“Terri, do you have brain damage or what?”
“Nope, but I feel everyone deserves a happy hello, especially you.”
She just stared at me for a few moments and I held the stupidest grin I could and only blinked. Finally she broke out with laughter and we’ve been great friends ever since.
“You’re so goofy.”
During shooting, production asked Anjelica to come and try out the flying harness she would be wearing as the Wicked Queen. When she saw it she decided that she would only allow them to fly her up about 5 feet.
“Who will we get to do the high stuff?”
“Get Terri, she seems stu…, I mean, she seems capable of doing this stunt.”
Production then offered me the chance to stunt double for Anjelica. I accepted — I mean, duh! In all the shots where you see the full shots of the Wicked Queen in the air above the dancers, it’s me. It was amazing hovering high in the air while Michael Jackson stares right into your eyes. Wow! Since I was the stunt-double for Anjelica Huston, the makeup artist Tom Burman had to make me look exactly like Anjelica’s Wicked Queen.
As Francis set the cameras up to shoot the Wicked Queen’s point of view, wranglers got me into position and hoisted me up as the queen. Anjelica had finished her close-ups and had gone back to her trailer to rest.
We were all ready to begin. I recited the lines and Michael looked up. His line was
“Not only see this gift, you highness, but hear.”
Do you remember it? Picture it in your mind now. See Michael’s face as he spoke this line in the film. Do you have it? He was good, right?
Now imagine Michael looking up and upon seeing the Queen, all the blood draining out of his face. His voice shrank to a whisper and he’d turn away as if almost crying.
“Cut!” Francis wasn’t happy. There had been too many takes to get the shot. He went to Michael and with gentle pressure asked Michael what was wrong. When Michael didn’t seem to have an answer, Francis reminded him that he was the fearless Captain EO.
Michael tried again. However try as he could, every time he looked up at the Wicked Queen (me). He cowered. Francis suggested that Michael take five to collect himself.
Watching this, I realized that Michael thought I was Anjelica. Remember the Improv?
I begged the wrangler to let me down. I finally told him I had to go to the bathroom and if he didn’t want a golden shower, he best let me down.
The technician just let go of the rope that held me. When my brain finally registered how fast I was falling to earth with my feet bound behind me I thought my face would hit the cement. Thank goodness the tech grabbed the rope back.
I didn’t wait to justify my positioning but ran right over to where Michael was relaxing.
I was using my very best Anjelica voice at first, then I softened my voice and looked up at Michael.
“Michael, it’s me?”
“Oh yea! It’s me baby. And if you don’t get this scene right, I’m coming for you Michael.”
After that, what you see is the direct result of Michael Jackson being able to do what he was supposed to because he realized it was NOT Anjelica Huston.
There was one question I’d like to respond to, “What was Michael’s explanation when asked about it?”
I never asked him about the allegations. I knew after meeting him that the charges were false. He had many people on the set to visit him and every one quietly defended him. Remember when people know eact other and care about each other, they don’t believe the gossip or rumors or dirt about their friend made by someone they don’t know. A good friend will stand by their friend and believe them.
Fasination With The Fantasic Poppin' Pete and Poppin' Taco.
Excuse while I strain an eye muscle trying to pop ‘n’ lock like so. Not alot of people would think I’m into that kind of stuff. Too bad I suck at it, but ain’t bad to do when I’m watching Breakin’ and Breakin’ 2.
For you newbies… Poppin’ Pete is in Chris Brown’s “Yeah 3x” plus Poppin’ Pete and Poppin’ Taco were in Captain EO as well… robots c;
Hopefully sooner than later I’ll somewhat be doing this ish…