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Paul Kasey: The man in the steel mask

Costume actor Paul Kasey has played a variety of monsters on Doctor Who, from Autons to Ood. As he prepares to play the Cyberleader in this year’s Christmas special, he tells Scott Matthewman how he got the job

“I do get asked by children if I can go and put my Cyberman suite on. I’ve been asked by a couple as well, which caught me completely off guard. People think I’ve got them all hanging in my bedroom.”

He’s been one of the more regular cast members on Doctor Who since it returned to the screens in 2005, but unless you were a keen-eyed viewer of documentary series Doctor Who Confidential, the chances are that you wouldn’t recognise him. Paul Kasey is one of several actors who regularly play monsters in the series, and this Christmas is performing in a number of roles as a variety of Cybermen in the Christmas Day episode, The Next Doctor.

“I can’t wait to see it,” he says. “This time as well as the Cybermen, there are Cybershades, the Cyberleader and then there’s the Cyber controller. And I’ve been all of them.”

While this episode is set during a snow-laden Victorian Christmas, it was actually shot during the summer – but the costumes were not too uncomfortable, he says. “A lot of the time we were filming outside, and you tend to be the one that’s nice and cosy, while everyone else is putting jackets on and trying to keep warm. On interiors though, depending on how small the room or the set is, with all the lights and the people and everything, then it can become quite warm. But we drink lots of water, and when they’re setting up all the different shots we get plenty of breaks.”

Although he’s been playing monsters in Doctor Who for a number of years, his start in the profession was by no means out of the ordinary. “I originally trained at Laine Theatre Arts in Surrey, starting there in 1990 on a three year course, although I got awarded a scholarship so I did a fourth year. I trained in every aspect of dance, musical theatre, acting and singing.

“I was quite lucky, because at the time they allowed you to work as well as train, so I was working from my second year onwards. I did pantomime and summer seasons, but I also did trade shows with Kim Gavin, who at the time was choreographing Take That. He would come down to Laine’s and get students to do some of his fashion and trade shows as well.”

The work continued after he left college, at which point he also started auditioning for musicals. A two-year spell in Grease at the Dominion Theatre followed, and in 2000 he performed in Fosse in the West End for a year.

“Fosse was just going on a world tour, which I wanted to do and never, ever wanted to leave it. But just coming up towards finishing that initial run, I auditioned for a role in the film Blade II, although I didn’t hear anything for a while. There was about a 15 week gap before Fosse went on tour, and I auditioned for and got a job on a cruise ship for 12 weeks, which would have fit in that gap perfectly. The contract for that was in the post, and then I had a phone call from the Blade II production company saying they’d like to offer me one of the parts.”

The role in the Wesley Snipes-led vampire sequel was of a Reaper, and would signal the start of a career in prosthetics work for Kasey. He followed it up with a role in British horror film 28 Days Later, in which he played an infected human. “I sort of went back to dancing after that, but at this point it was more sort of doing the odd choreographic work and lecturing as well.

“And then I auditioned for Doctor Who. They were looking for five main creature role people who had a background in prosthetics and costume work. And when they offered me the job, I really couldn’t say no to it, because it’s become something I’ve absolutely loved since getting my first taste of it on Blade II.”

Since featuring in the first episode of the revival as an Auton, a shop window dummy that comes to life, Kasey has worked on all four series of Doctor Who as well as spin-offs Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures. When it comes to developing a style of movement for each new species, the approach can vary slightly. “On Doctor Who, we have a choreographer called Ailsa Berk, and she deals with the movement of all the monsters and creatures like the Cybermen and the Ood. She gets the script and works out what’s needed with the director, then she rehearses with us. With something like Torchwood’s Weevil, I was just asked to do it. So I had to read the script and the breakdown of the creature itself, and while on set work with the director.

“But also, when I have the fittings at [costume creators] Millennium FX, you get a good sort of idea of how you want a creature to move in your own mind’s eye. And obviously, as time progresses, you can tweak it as you go along. Having the background in dance and movement is a great asset, just to have that knowledge and that physical awareness of how creatures move.”

The costumes Kasey has been given to wear all vary substantially, he says. “Some of them may have an animatronic head, you might have gloves, or they can be a full suit like the Cybermen. They’re all challenging in their own way. There are never two monsters which are exactly the same. They are comfortable – very comfortable – and any potential problems get sorted out at fittings prior to filming.

“You do have to be careful though, especially with costumes like the Slitheen or the Cybermen. In the suits we’re quite big, so you have to look after the suits, making sure you sit down carefully. When we’re up on set, a team from Millennium FX is there looking after everyone and making sure everyone’s okay. I do get very well looked after.”

Maybe it’s just as well that he has a team around him, as other people tend to shy away from the characters he plays. “What can tend to happen, and often does, is that you’ll go up on set and people can back away and not really want to speak to you. Even though they know someone’s inside, or they know who’s inside, on the outside we look completely different and they react to that. They’re not intentionally trying to alienate you, you know, but it can tend to happen.

“When I did 28 Days Later, and the sequel 28 Weeks Later [in which he also acted as a movement adviser], at lunch people wouldn’t sit with you. But when you’re covered in blood and look that gruesome, that’s completely understandable. So the only people that would tend to sit and talk to you are the people who have made the prosthetics, or the make-up artists who have made you up, because they’re quite used to it.”

Being encased in a costume also brings a degree of anonymity. “When I was the Weevil in Torchwood and we first started filming, I’d be there with my head on, which had to be glued down and all painted in. So none of the cast members had actually seen me and didn’t really know what I looked like. What tends to happen is that go in the dinner queue and no-one really knows who you are, which is quite funny.” A positive aspect to the anonymity is the prospect of repeat work on Doctor Who. “Once you’ve been seen, and possibly killed, on Doctor Who, then you can’t really come back. If something was to come along and someone was to say, ‘We’d like you to play this part,’ and it wasn’t a creature, then I’d be all up for it. But it’s not like I’m desperate to get out and be me, if you see what I mean. I’m definitely in my element and loving it. It’s great fun.”

Outside of the Doctor Who stable, Kasey can also be seen (albeit in costume again) as a Minotaur in the current film Inkheart, starring Brendan Fraser and Helen Mirren. 2009 will see him perform in BBC3’s supernatural drama Being Human, but he remains tight-lipped about his precise role. “I’m playing a creature, a very good one,” is all he can say at the moment.

While a full series of Doctor Who is not on the cards for transmission in 2009, a number of specials are due to be filmed before production starts on the fifth series later in the year. For Kasey, “Doctor Who starts up again just after Christmas. I’ve been asked to do the first recording block, which starts in January. There are three or four specials being filmed and then they go straight into the fifth series, so there’s not much of a rest for me.”

Along with the rest of the country, it seems, Kasey has also been caught up in the speculation about which actor will succeed David Tennant in the role. “I get asked all the time who it’s going to be, and I don’t know. Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant are completely different as actors, and in terms of how they bring the Doctor alive, but each is as fantastic as the other, really. I’m sure whoever comes in to play the Doctor after David will bring something as exciting and special as David and Christopher have.

“But it’s very exciting, isn’t it? And it’s making the news as well, which just goes to prove how big Doctor Who is. It came back, and just exploded! I know I’m part of it and everything but Saturday nights just aren’t the same now without watching a series of Doctor Who. It’s become such a big part of people’s lives and what they watch. Each episode in so completely special in its own way, and just as exciting as the last.”

• Doctor Who: The Next Doctor, Christmas Day, 6pm BBC1