Wednesday, Netflix’s teen dramedy take on the macabre Addams Family daughter, has captured the hearts of many, breaking the streaming platform’s record for most hours viewed in a single week. Most of the praise for the series has gone to Jenna Ortega’s fantastic performance in the titular role, but there’s also plenty of love for her endearing sidekick: Thing, the autonomous severed hand whose origin story Wednesday calls “one of the great Addams Family mysteries.” Thing isn’t new to the Addams Family world, but Wednesday’s version of Thing, played by Romanian magician Victor Dorobantu, gives such an emotional performance that he’s become a fan favorite. After pictures of Dorobantu’s behind-the-scenes process went viral on Twitter, fans became obsessed with how the cinematic feat was pulled off.
Slate sat down with Dorobantu to ask him about the process of creating Thing. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Nadira Goffe: Walk me through the logistics of filming and portraying Thing.
Victor Dorobantu: We were trying to find ways to communicate, to find the images that we could use, to find the alphabet, like American Sign Language, that we could use. We were trying to find signs that scuba divers use, also Marine Corps and stuff like that. So we tried to just mix all of that together for 50 percent. The rest of the 50 percent was improvisation. I was trying to react to [Jenna Ortega’s] lines and to her expressions, and I was trying to disconnect from my body.
About the behind-the-scenes: Everybody knows that the blue suit I wore was for the VFX guys. But also, we had scenes where we didn’t need it, but we still used it for me, because it was helping me too—it was helping me to disconnect from my body.
Also, a big part of it was Tristan Versluis’ work for the prosthetic team. They were trying to make Thing look exactly the same for each and every day. And all the prosthetic scars and the stump that we attached to my wrist, everything was a big process.
What other inspirations did you use for Thing’s movements?
I didn’t have too many inspirations because you don’t see hands disembodied [in real life]—hopefully. I was trying to get as much as I can from the internet about Christopher Hart [who was also a magician], and his performance as Thing, because I was a big fan of his magic and I didn’t know that he was the one who played Thing in the old days [in The Addams Family live-action films]. And the rest of it was just trying to imagine my hand as a whole body, not like a spider or something like other people think.
Some people say that he’s a pet. If you remember that scene in the show when Thing is flipping off [Wednesday’s love interest] Tyler for saying that? I did that naturally, because he’s not a pet. He was seen like a human body. I was trying to see the wrist as his face and his eyeline. I was trying to turn his head. I was trying to make him grounded, and see the thumb as a leg and the small finger as another leg, and the rest of it was just expressions, you know?
How did you … audition for this? How did you get this call? You know, it’s a very unusual role to land.
Somebody called me and told me that the team was looking for magicians in Romania. I was doing magic until now, and other jobs as well—magic was kind of a weekend job for me. I was doing gigs and corporate events, doing close-up magic, not stage magic—like I’m walking around to people at parties and trying to do magic in their hands, you know?
They contacted me after seeing me on a TV show in Romania, something like [America’s] Got Talent. They called me, I was like okaaay … I closed the phone the first time—I didn’t believe it. I was thinking it’s a joke, or a prank, or a scam. They called me over and over again until they convinced me to come. And when I went there, I didn’t believe that I would get this role because other magicians that I’m a big fan of were there. So, I had no expectations, but here I am.
Tell me more about your magic and how your experience with magic influenced how you portray Thing.
I’ve tried to explain the misconception that a magician would do this role, making it easy, but a magician is very mechanical with his hands. We are not gracefully moving our fingers and stuff. We are used to doing movements over and over again with cards, and stuff like that with dexterity, but that’s not the helpful part for Thing. That repetitive part is easy for a magician, but sending emotions to his fingers and being emotional for each and every movement that I made with my hand, that’s more complex than being a magician.
For me, it helped a lot being a guitar player. [I’ve been] playing the guitar since I was little, my father was a guitar teacher. Also, I was passionate about puppetry when I was in my teenage years, I was working in a child theater.
Sounds like they found the perfect person for the job! What are some of your favorite Thing scenes? [Spoilers for Wednesday, Season 1 Episode 7, follow.]
My favorite scene is the one where Thing is with Wednesday and Fester—I’m not spoiling everything, but you know what I’m talking about. That’s my favorite scene because Thing really tried to give everything a hand can give. Being woken up after a near-death experience, it’s very hard to act [that out] without a whole body, you know? That’s my favorite because all my friends told me that they cried at that scene.
Also the scene where Thing was ignoring Wednesday, just going through a fashion magazine. This one I love because I think that that attitude was priceless.
On Thing’s big near-death scene: How do you prepare to do that scene when you’re separated from the rest of your body?
I didn’t have too much time to practice or to rehearse. I tried to find a position where my hand was on the table with Fester and Wednesday, I also had to make room for them. That scene was very hard also because I tried to make Thing look like he was in pain, and I was trying to shake my hand very hard, and I remember the whole table was moving, it was moving even the camera. That scene, it was just improvising on the spot. I hope I’m not wrong, but I think [Jenna Ortega] came up with the idea of giving the pinky promise, so everything was just improvisation.
What are some of the most uncomfortable positions that you had to stay in while you were filming?
Every one of them was very hard to do, but I think the first moment when you see Thing in the series, in the first episode on the bed [in Wednesday’s dorm room]. They just made a hole under the bed for my body and my hand was sticking through the mattress and my head was like turned looking at the small monitor under there. It was very hard to breathe and keep it going and my hand was going numb.
How long did you have to do that for?
I don’t know. It was like 20 or 30 minutes, but it’s too much for a hand.
Throughout filming, did your hand or body cramp? Was it physically taxing?
The body was squealing a lot. The positions that I had to go through were kind of uncomfortable, doing it every day. Of course I had moments when I was feeling pain, or when I had to go into cold water or cold weather, because Romania during wintertime is crazy. But in that moment, I would just try to remember where I am and what I’m doing, then I would just forget about it. Like, I would do it again over and over again—I don’t care.