Nickelodeon / September 1998



In The Beginning...

If you've only seen the covers of K.A. Applegate's Animorphs books, you might wonder how normal teens can turn themselves into animals. Here's the lowdown:

It all started with five kids (Jake, Rachel, Cassie, Tobias, and Marco) found a dying alien named Elfangor. He warned them that Earth was being secretly invaded by the Yeerks -- an evil alien species that takes control of people's brains. Just before he died, Elfangor gave the teens a powerful weapon: the ability to morph into any living creature they touch. With Elfangor gone and the Yeerk-controlled humans everywhere, the Animorphs must rely on their new abilities -- and on one another -- to defeat the Yeerks and save the planet.

Humans At Work

On Nickel-O-Zone's new Animorphs, human characters turn into wild animals through some pretty special effects. But on the set in Toronto, Canada, actors and animals -- from lions to lizards -- work side by side. We recently chatted with the humans about their animalistic coworkers.

Christopher Ralph: Tobias
Morphs into: hawk
On acting: "I've done a lot of theater, but this is my first time in front of the camera. I was terrified at my audition."
On bringing the book series to television: "We want fans to watch the show and say, 'Wow! This is just how I pictured it... and more!'"

Boris Cabrera: Marco
Morphs into: wolf, lizard, python, rat, cockroach, butterfly
Funniest animal moment: "We were filming a scene in which a horse comes up behind Brooke [Nevin] and nudges her in the back. But the horse nudged her so hard, she went flying into Christopher's arms."
On science fiction: "It's cool. I'm into The X-Files and X-Men comics."

Nadia Nascimento: Cassie
Morphs into: horse, skunk, rabbit, crocodile, butterfly, cockroach
Favorite Animorphs animal: "Bongo, the lion. Once when he was sleeping in his cage, I lay down a foot away, to see what it would be like to lie in the middle of the jungle with a lion. It was just like lying next to your cat, except he's really big."

Brooke Nevin: Rachel
Morphs into: lion, fly, cat, cockroach, butterfly
Funniest animal moment: "In one scene I had to make a hawk jump onto my arm. To entice it, I had to hold out a chicken leg. Then I watched as it ate the chicken leg right there on my arm, which grossed me out a little bit."
Animal she'd like to morph into: "A bird of prey, such as a hawk. An animal that could soar."

Shawn Ashmore: Jake
Morphs into: tiger, lion, lizard, dog, butterfly, cockroach
Scariest animal moment: "I had to pet a white tiger, and Michael Hackenberger [the animal trainer, see "Great Tame", below] told me exactly what I could and couldn't do, such as 'Don't move your hand away quickly' and 'Don't run away, because it'll think you're prey and come after you.' So I started petting the tiger, and somehow it jerked its head, and my fingers went up its nose. I thought, 'If this isn't the time to move my hand away, I don't know what is!' But I also thought, 'If I move my hand away, the tiger will probably bite me,' so I stood there in shock.
What happened next: "I kept on petting, until I heard Michael say, 'Back away, back away,' which is what I did. It was kind of cool and funny, but at the time I was pretty scared."

Great Tame
Animal trainer Michael Hackenberger is also the director of the Bowmanville Zoo near Toronto, which has provided animals for the TV show Goosebumps, the movie Billy Madison, and now Animorphs. He didn't bite when we asked him these questions.

What was the first animal you trained?
When I was around seven, I had a little white rat named Picadilly. I trained her to open drawers and sit in a small chair.

Which Animorphsanimal has the most acting experience?
Bongo, the lion, has been in more than twelve feature films, including George of the Jungle.

How do you protect the actors?
If there's any possibility of danger, I stand in for the actor. I doubled for Brooke Shields once by wearing a wig. You couldn't tell it was me, because the director made sure the shots were quick.

Do you have any pets?
I have a young serval, which is an African wildcat about the size of a golden Lab. But I wouldn't recommend them to most people as pets. I'm in a unique situation.

What animal would you like to morph into?
An elephant, because that is my favorite creature. I'd really like to know how an elephant feels.

Animorphs premieres in the Nickel-O-Zone on Friday, September 4, at 8:30 pm. The show will also air at 9:30 pm on SNICK. Show airs one hour earlier in central time zone. Show times are subject to change. Check local listings for details.

Nickelodeon / Transcript by Pam