Larry W. Smith
Hershey, wearing the dinosaur costume, entertains a young crowd.
When Stephen Hershey moved to New York to be an actor, he didn't know that his first starring role would be as a 7-foot-tall reptile. Hershey wears a high-tech Tyrannosaurus Rex costume to promote the touring arena show "Walking with Dinosaurs."
Several times a day, Hershey climbs into a 100-pound dinosaur costume, affectionately known as Baby T. It's covered in a latex and spandex skin that looks remarkably convincing. The human legs sticking out of the bottom are just about the only reminder that this is a man in a suit.
Baby T blinks and moves like a real animal. Kids and adults instinctively get out of his way.
Two years ago, Hershey was a struggling young actor in New York when he auditioned for "Walking with Dinosaurs."
"The first time I got in the suit, all I was worrying about was standing up. They're asking me to blink? I can barely focus on just moving, just standing up," Hershey says. "But after a few months of that, and when the movement becomes second nature, then you can focus on the finer points of the characterization."
Hershey couldn’t study any real dinosaurs, obviously, so he drew his inspiration from another large animal.
"I base a lot of, to be honest, a lot of the characterization off of my dog. My parents have this huge bull mastiff. This like 200-pound dog. And whenever I come home, its face is in your lap. It's like a big baby, like a big animal," Hershey says.
Courtesy of Stephen Hershey
The man behind the mask with his family.
The man behind the mask with his family. Courtesy of Stephen Hershey
In the year and a half since he took the job at "Walking with Dinosaurs," Hershey has appeared on morning TV talk shows and thrown out the first pitch at baseball games.
Promoting the show outside a big office building in downtown Philadelphia recently, Hershey is convincing.
"The guy was realistic, the way he moved the body of the thing, up and down. It was crazy. The coolest thing I've ever seen in my life," says Nick Dangelo, who stopped by at lunch to watch Hershey's performance.
"Guy? It was a dinosaur! Are you kidding?" says Allison Gordon, also in the audience.
Eventually, Hershey would like to start acting again without the suit. But he still gets a kick out of the reaction Baby T provokes.
"There's a little bit of fear. But it's not a scared-for-my-life type of fear. It's like that moment of, I've never seen anything like this before, which is really cool to be a part of," Hershey says.
Hershey says that moment never gets old, no matter how many times he straps on the suit.