A Timothée Chalamet ventriloquist dummy has been the subject of much scorn this week: It’s been called the stuff of nightmares, cursed enough to bring up to your therapist, and (worst of all?) a mistake for a miniature Jonathan Cheban. Because there is no beat more fun than the Chalamet beat — good morning, Derek! — Vulture called the doll-maker behind the dummy to get his side of the story. Meet Chris Alan, a regular Chalamet stan with a normal day job, who constructed the dummy as a going-away gift for his neighbor. “I’m not naïve when it comes to the internet. I know what trolls are and all that stuff,” says Alan, who had crafted six celebrity dummies prior to this one. (He estimates he has made 25 ventriloquist dummies in total.) “But I wasn’t really expecting to get trolled for a dummy. It was sort of weird. It’s been crazy.” He explained to Vulture how he made the dummy, why he made the dummy, and why it’s worth exactly $122,795.
Why did you choose Timothée Chalamet as the model for your dummy?
First of all, he’s an amazing actor. The reason I did was that I had a next-door neighbor who was taking a new job in New Zealand, and she loooooves Timothée Chalamet. We had this mutual thing for him; we both thought he was amazing, so talented. I’d done other celebrities in the past, and I said I should do a little Timmy — we call him Timmy, like a bunch of people do.
I call him Timmy too.
I thought, I should do a little Timmy ventriloquist dummy. My goal was really to give her one as a going-away gift, but I didn’t get it done in time. I work full-time, this is just a little hobby. I had been working on it and working on it.
Tell me, in as much detail as you can, how you make a doll like this.
Well, what you start out with is making a sculpture, just like you were making a bust. I used something called Super Sculpey, which is a polymer clay. I don’t know how familiar you are with clays or anything like that. Polymer clay — you bake it. You might have seen polymer clays in a craft store in little blocks; they have different colors. I buy a big, huge block of the professional version. You sculpt the head and then you bake it to harden it. After I have the head the way I want it, I take a brush-on silicone, like a rubber, and I brush it all over the head. I do about seven layers of that. Then on top of that, you make what’s called a mother mold, which is a hard shell to support the silicone mold. After you have all that done, you take the shell off, then you cut off the silicone mold and remove the head from the inside, and then you have a mold.
From there, what you do is put the mold back in the hard support shell — the mother mold — and seal it up. I just use electrical tape to wrap it up and close it. In the base of [the head], like at the neck, there’s a hole, and I pour this two-part liquid resin inside, which is like a hard plastic that sets up in anywhere from two and a half to five minutes. I pour this into the mold, then I plug the mold, and then by hand I rotate it for about 10 minutes to be on the safe side. What that does is creates a hard head. Then you demold it, taking the mold off. Then I cut the jaw out, I build the interior, like the teeth and tongue and the inside of the mouth. I fit the mechanics inside the head. Then I paint it, build the body.
If I worked on one nonstop, I could probably do it in a month. Because I just do it very sporadically, I started this one maybe in September and just finished.
What was the most difficult part of Timmy to get right?
The hair was tough because, of course, he has that crazy hair. People online do not like the hair at all, which drives me crazy. My response to them is: You’re welcome to do better. Go for it! You think you can do better, you’re welcome to try. I intentionally made his hair longer than it was at the actual Golden Globes, because he typically has his hair a little longer. I kind of like it that way. I do want to have someone curl it and do the appropriate things. I’m not that obsessed with the hair; it was for fun.
The outfit was kind of a nightmare. I’m not a seamstress by any means. I think I got the grasp of how to be a seamstress by making this outfit. I basically played Project Runway on a loop in the background as I was doing it, to keep me going and inspire me: You can do this! You can do this crazy outfit, you’ll be fine!
Very Tim Gunn saying, “Make it work!” I love it.
I have to ask why you chose the sequined-harness look specifically. Was that always the plan? It was definitely the hottest carpet look he’d had in a while.
I think because it got so much attention. It was so different. The harness, we’d seen it on the runway, but on the carpet we hadn’t seen anything like that. I loooove red carpets. I’m a typical gay man; I’m all over the awards shows.
So many people, like Cody Fern and Billy Porter, are going outside the box. For myself, it was so refreshing to see that. In my opinion — and I don’t know how long Billy Porter has been doing it — Timmy was the first one to take that crazy of a step. I think he called it a bib. I thought it was so cool. I’m all about anything with sequins or beading on it. Plus, it didn’t look like it was that difficult to reproduce, honestly. On one red carpet, he wore this really amazing green velvet suit. It might have been the year before. I would’ve loved to replicate that, but hell if I know how to make a suit!
Even making a blazer feels so much harder.
Oh, absolutely! Dealing with lapels — no, thank you.
How does it make you feel that some people are calling the dummy creepy or saying it’s not a perfect likeness?
I don’t think they understand, first of all, that it’s not necessarily supposed to be a perfect likeness. It’s not a portrait, per se, it’s more of a caricature. It’s meant to be fun. Things are exaggerated! His jawline is clearly not as pronounced as I made it. You can’t really see his ears [in photos], but they stick out. You accentuate those things in a caricature. Yes, I want it to be recognizable, but for people to be so nasty — that’s what I wasn’t really expecting. I’m a kind of quiet person, believe it or not, and I’m so used to my friends and acquaintances seeing these [dummies] and understanding where I’m coming from.
I’m not a ventriloquist. I don’t go out and perform or anything. I’ve just always thought the art form of the dummies themselves was really neat. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve loved ventriloquist dummies. I’ve never wanted to perform with one; I just thought they were a really interesting art form. In places like Spain, for example, they take the artistry of puppetry really seriously. It’s fascinating to me. It’s a joke here in the United States.
As far as the creepy factor, I completely get it. I embrace that. I did a dummy of Anderson Cooper, and, as a surprise for him to give to Kelly Ripa, I did one for her. That one was cool because I asked Diane von Furstenburg’s studio to make a dress for her, and they did. It was crazy. It was five years ago, literally today, June 11, that Anderson gave Kelly the dummy. It’s kind of ironic.
Can you explain how you came up with the price, keying it to his birthday: December 27, 1995?
Although eBay probably won’t enjoy this, the goal wasn’t actually to sell the dummy. The goal was to have fun with it, get a little bit of publicity. Ultimately, I’d love to be able to give it to [Chalamet]. I’d love my friend in New Zealand to come back to the States and, whether on TV or not, to give it to him. For that reason, I set the price so astronomically high that no one would actually buy it. Anderson’s show on CNN is called AC360, so his was priced at $360,000. With Timothée, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I looked at his birthday, and I thought, You know what, that’s what we’ll do. We’ll just do his birthday: $122,795.
How did you become familiar with Timothée? Was it Call Me by Your Name?
No, there was a movie I saw that he did maybe two years ago, Miss Stevens. I thought he was phenomenal in that movie when [his character] went off his meds. That was really where it started. When he did Call Me by Your Name, of course, that blew up. I’m dying to see the Woody Allen movie — although I’m not a big fan of Woody Allen’s personal life. I’m looking forward to seeing that.
When my next-door neighbor moved in, she was more into him, like all the other girls are into him [scoffs], Just for his looks! We formed this bond over the whole thing. When he was nominated for an Oscar, we were super-excited about it. When he wasn’t nominated [for Beautiful Boy], we were super-bummed about it. I think I was more bummed about the fact that we wouldn’t get to see what he’d wear on the red carpet for the Oscars. He just keeps pushing the envelope. I’m very into fashion.