It Took Months To Build Buckley's Costume For Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

The ninth episode of "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" (which aired on June 30, 2022) is an action-packed riff on Ridley Scott's "Alien." In the episode, several Enterprise crewmembers are left behind on a snowy planet to investigate a distress beacon. While the Enterprise flies away to deal with another mission, the main characters find the ruined husk of the U.S.S. Peregrine, and hundreds of dead crewmates. Soon, the Enterprise crew learns that Gorn eggs had been laid all over the planet, and that the vicious Gorn babies — miniature murder lizards — laid waste to the people on the Peregrine. The visiting Enterprise crewmates are next. 

One of the conceits of the Gorn is that they, like in "Alien," implant their eggs inside the bodies of others. The babies incubate inside another person's torso, then burst out by force. This reproductive foible is first demonstrated with the body of an alien nicknamed Buckley, played by actor Carlos Albornoz. Buckley is of a species with an elongated blue head, a miniature face, and no nose. Thanks to a glitch in the universal translators, Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush) is unable to understand Buckley, and has to suss out his medical condition on her own. It's not until too late that she realizes a bloodthirsty critter is about to escape from his abdomen.  

In a recent interview with Daily Star Trek News, Albornoz revealed that he had no idea what Buckley was supposed to look like until he arrived for makeup tests and found that he was going to be completely covered, head-to-toe. Albornoz had assumed that he, like many "Trek" aliens in the past, was going to be given mere facial prosthesis. Despite being covered, however, Albornoz admits that he ended up becoming very fond of Buckley.

Blue goo

Albornoz was, of course, not dismayed about needing to be completely covered. One might not see his face, but playing a creature would be fun by itself. Also, an actor might see as a challenge; how much emoting can be done with just body language? Albornoz describes the month-long process of being fitted for the Buckley costume, and how each piece needed to be fitted separately, beginning with the large blue rubber hands he had to wear:

"I went about a month earlier, and they just covered me in this blue goo just to get my cast, and they covered my arms as well. And then it took about a month to when they called me in for a fitting and I got to actually try on the hands for the first time. They showed me the head — the head wasn't prepared just yet — but I was able to get on the hands and the suit that they put me in, which was awesome. That was the first fitting."

The suit is a bulky black coat — very stylish — that Buckley wore on the frozen planet. Buckley spent a good deal of the episode sitting in a medical bay, breathing heavily and occasionally cussing in an alien language. The inside of the suit was, incidentally, coated in slime to indicate that something was going horribly wrong with Buckley's body. Albornoz was covered in an alien suit, with pockets of slime inserted throughout. All of this, Albornoz loved. He especially loved the helmet he needed to wear to get the Buckley head around his own. 

The helmet

Albornoz compared the experience to being Tony Stark. 

The alien head he wore has outfitted with servos and mechanical animatronics to operate Buckley's mouth and facial features. This has long been SFX common practice when constructing creature faces and heads, and can be seen in movies as varied as "Labyrinth" and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." It's quite rare that a prosthetic, animatronic head be operated by the actor inside it. Albornoz was delighted to wear a mechanical alien helmet, his face surrounded by tiny moving parts. Once outfitted, he then would have to adjust his physical performance to match the facial features of the mask, which were operated by puppeteers by remote. He said:

"That was the first fitting. And then the second fitting they put on the helmet, and that was really cool because it was like being inside Iron Man. Like, you could see – you know when they film Iron Man and you see Robert Downey Jr.'s face and all that stuff moving? That's what it was like for me. You see all the little moving gears and stuff all over the place. Yeah, it was awesome ... There's puppeteers, and they're the ones that are controlling the facial features. So I had to do all the body movement, and it was just like this synchronized dance almost that we had to do with each other."

Buckley met an unfortunate end, so the character will not be returning. But "Trek" is notoriously kind to visiting members of its supporting cast. Given the way small roles tend to expand into big ones throughout the franchise, It's likely Albornoz will return in some capacity. Perhaps as Buckley's twin brother.