Van Ditthavong
Locusts, Spiders and Ants, Oh, My!

Kutcher, 69, developed a love for nature and insects during childhood summers spent in New York’s Catskill Mountains. After earning an entomology degree from University of California, Davis, and a master’s degree in biology (specializing in insect behavior) from California State University, Long Beach, he prepared to immerse himself in academia. That all changed, though, when one of his former college professors got a call, asking if he knew anyone who could tend to the Exorcist II locusts. He recommended Kutcher.

The gig fit him as snugly as a cocoon. Eager for more work, he did some research and found that, at the time, about one of every three Hollywood films included scenes with insects. Clearly, this could be a career with legs — and wings, as the case may be.

Kutcher’s biggest break came in 1990 during a nine-month stint on the Arachnophobia set, where he rode herd on about 500 spiders (and you thought Octomom was busy). To cast the right spiders for the job, he held what you might call an arachnid Olympics to determine which of three species would earn the starring roles. The gold-medal winner: delena cancerides, or huntsman spiders, shipped in from New Zealand.

“Two tarantulas played the king and queen spiders, but the delenas were in most scenes,” he notes.

Then, in the other-duties-as-assigned department, Kutcher taught the hefty but nimble John Goodman to channel his inner ballerina during spider scenes, lest he step on them and violate American Humane Association guidelines for protecting animals in films. Call it a no-insect-left-behind policy.

“We cut out the bottom of his shoes and taught him how to step on spiders by putting the holes over the spiders,” Kutcher explains. “If he would’ve stepped on them with his heels, he would’ve squashed them. But he had the feet of a ballerina.”