Getting Glued Into A Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Suit Wasn't Fun For The Movie's Stars

If you're a fan of the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," then you are familiar with The Suits. You know the ones. They made their first appearance in the 1990 film directed by Steve Barron. Created by Jim Henson and his Creature Shop, these giant anthropomorphic turtle costumes have become synonymous with the TMNT brand. They are uniquely bulky and completely cover the actor's body, including their head. On screen, they appear as if they would be rubbery to the touch, and if you think about what it must be like to actually wear one of the costumes yourself, you might start to get claustrophobic, sweaty, or both. They are the thing that makes the '90s film trilogy so memorable because they predate CGI and are all about good old fashioned costuming and puppeteering. Depending on who you ask, people either love or hate their unique look.

But no one has a more complex relationship with the suits than the actors themselves who, for the entirety of filming, were at the mercy of the constricting costumes. Even though the Turtles look like they're having a great time skateboarding and kickin' it in the New York City sewers, the actors who played them were actually dealing with enough costume-based frustrations to send even the most chill turtle into a Raphaelian rage. 

'Then you were in there'

In order to become the Turtles, David Forman (Leonardo), Leif Tilden (Donatello), Josh Pais (Raphael), and Michelan Sisti (Michelangelo) first had to undergo an intense costuming process that required them to endure having an entire mold of their body created. In an oral history for The Hollywood Reporter, Pais remembers this tedious process. He says, "They flew me to London to Jim Henson's Creature Shop, and I was body casted from head to toe, every inch of me except for two straws in my nose. It was super intense." These casts would become the base for the Turtle costumes that Pais and his fellow Turtles would essentially live in for the duration of the film's shoot. 

Once the costumes were ready to be worn, suiting up was a complicated process. Pais recalls the specific steps of getting, quite literally, into character, referring to it as, "an intense relationship between me and the suit." The costumes covered every inch of the actors' bodies, and Pais explains, "We would suit up from toe up to neck. Then the head would go on. Then they would glue the head to the body so that it was all seamless. Then you were in there." It truly was an all-encompassing experience that left the actors at the mercy of 70 pounds of latex.

Off with their heads

To make Donnie, Raph, Leo, and Mikey come to life, the Turtles had to be manned by more than one person. The four actors who wore the actual suits each had two additional puppeteers whose job it was to animate the bulbous, animatronic heads. "Each Turtle has two puppeteers — one moving the eyes, one moving the mouth, and you're timing everything together," explains Tilden to The Hollywood Reporter. Because the heads were so complex, problems were frequent. Pais recalls these technical difficulties as taking an hour or more to fix, and the actors would have to endure the heavy suits while they waited for the issues to get resolved. "You learn very quickly if you have any claustrophobic tendencies," recalls Sisti.

Obviously, being encased in 70 pounds of latex for hours at a time can really take its toll on a person, and sometimes the reality of the suits would get to be too much for the actors. Director Steve Barron recalls Pais, who plays Raphael, really struggling with the situation in true Raphael fashion. "[Pais] had a sort of mild claustrophobia himself. He was also playing a character who had mental issues," recalls Barron. "On top of that, he had this thing where it'd get to a point where he was in there too long and he had to get out and that head had to come off."

But it wasn't just Pais who sometimes needed a breath of fresh air. He recalls the other actors occasionally going into what seems like a panic over being glued into their costumes. "We would just freak out, and you would hear one of us go, "Take the head off! F****** take the head off! Take it off!" Your blood was literally boiling," remembers Pais. To help alleviate some of the discomfort, crew members would spray the actors with compressed air. "Eventually they made a little air conditioned bubble that we would go into," says Pais, but the grueling reality of the suits was often difficult to bear.

Channeling the anger

In the film, Raphael really goes through a lot — there's that whole "knocked unconscious and taken to a farm to recuperate bit" that has particular staying power — and his trademark anger is often brought out in full force. Pais, who plays the hot-headed turtle, really used his frustrations with the suit to help him tap into Raph's rage. He tells The Hollywood Reporter:

"The first thing we shot might have been when you first see the Turtles walking through the sewer and coming into where they live. Everything that could go wrong went wrong. There was water on the ground and we realized the latex was very slippery. We'd be going along, and one of us would wipe out. That opening sequence took about eight or nine hours. Things would break down. Those frustrations helped me to really find a way to physicalize Raphael's anger — his fury. The whole situation, I just used it to create this guy." 

Even though the hours were long and the suits were nearly unbearable, Pais and the rest of the Turtles found ways to persevere, which is something that every Turtles fan can truly appreciate. "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and its two sequels are essential viewing for any fan of the franchise, and their memorable costuming will live on forever as truly representative of all the Turtles have to offer.