Button actors tell us how they acted against F/X instead of Brad Pitt.

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Taraji P. Henson, who plays the adoptive mother Queenie in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, told a group of reporters that she rarely worked with lead actor Brad Pitt. Since Button ages in reverse, his childhood called for visual effects that made Pitt appear to be an elderly infant and a preteen hobbling with a cane. For the infant, Henson worked with an animatronic puppet.

"When Queenie first meets Benjamin, they built this incredible animatronic baby," Henson said in a group interview this month in Beverly Hills, Calif. "It took three puppeteers to operate it. The apparatus looked like a remote control that you would use for a car or a boat. They would make it wink at me in between scenes. It was really freaky."

In later scenes of Button's elderly youth, stand-ins performed Button's actions. Pitt's likeness was added in post-production.

"They hired three really good actors [of] different sizes," Henson said. "Brad, [director] David [Fincher] and the actors made sure they were all on the same page as far as who Benjamin was, so that in post-production, when they had to do the CGI work, it matched what the actors were doing."

The stand-ins gave the other actors performances off of which to play, Henson said. Co-star Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, who plays Button's surrogate father figure Tizzy, also shared scenes with the stand-ins.

"It didn't bother me at all," Ali said in a separate interview. "You got used to it. When I was working with Peter, one of the guys who doubles for Brad, he basically had [Pitt]'s wardrobe on, but underneath he had a hoodie that ... was really tight on his face, with little yellow dots that they could use to manipulate the movement of Brad's face and be able to place his face on there. So he'd be wearing a hat and have a hoodie on under it. You'd see this little blue-looking scuba thing, but other than that, you got used to it. It was just something you saw every day, so after a while it didn't really matter much or register."

Jason Flemyng, who plays Button's biological father, said it was easy to imagine Pitt in the performances of the stand-ins. It would have been much harder to play the scenes with no other actor opposite him.

"They're both really, really accomplished actors," Flemyng said. "It's not like working with a casting director [reading the lines off camera], where it's, like, agony. They were great actors in their own right. You know in theater there's the fourth wall, and there's the proscenium arch, and you see all those people out there. You just don't take it in. If you did, you could never do a love scene with a boom operator with his microphone."

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button opens on Christmas Day.