Van Ditthavong
Just Act Naturally

Directors love Kutcher because his work looks so sickeningly natural. And while he’s loath to disclose trade secrets, it turns out that insects can be less troublesome than petulant prima donnas who sulk over who got the biggest set trailer.

The bottom line: Getting insects to “act” is largely a matter of creatively harnessing their normal behavior. Need a mosquito to make like a statue? Just place it in a cooler first. Want to make a tarantula stay still for a close-up shot? Briefly cover its eyes. Have to get a fly to clean itself up? Gently place a bit of honey on its head and feet and watch it go to town. Trying to save pretty boy Matt Damon from becoming a human pincushion? Use young house bees that are easier to handle and less likely to sting. Duh.

Kutcher is especially proud of the spider-to-the-slipper scene in Arachnophobia. To get the delena to hit its mark, he fashioned two “fences” made of monofilament, which is thinner than a human hair — and invisible on film. Small motors moved the lines up and down, which deterred the spider from leaving its slipper-bound route.

“It’s all about connecting science with art,” he explains.

Kutcher’s bug know-how also helped him land a job consulting on Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man film. For a so-called “show-and-tell” session, one bug guy brought in a tarantula to play the spider that glides down from a web and bites Maguire. To Kutcher, a stickler for detail, that looked about as real as the cartoon spider in Charlotte’s Web.

“Not only do tarantulas not web, but who wouldn’t notice a tarantula coming down to bite him?” Kutcher points out. Fortunately, Raimi had decided the tarantula wouldn’t work and scrapped it.

As for the red-and-blue paint job on the steatoda grossa — aka the false black widow, or cobweb weaver, that was eventually used to bite Maguire, Kutcher rigged a contraption that held it gently while someone painted it with a four-bristle paintbrush. “You can’t just go to the store and buy a spider-holder,” he says.