We head to Troublemaker Studios to visit with the cast and crew of the long-awaited sequel to the classic Arnold Schwarzenegger film
One of the most anticipated movies of the summer is the long over due sequel to the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger classic Predator, called Predators, which opens in theaters on July 9th and was written and produced by Sin City director Robert Rodriguez. If you're scratching your head saying, "Wasn't there already a Predator 2?" Well ... you're right, there was. The 1990 film starred Danny Glover hunting the creature in a futuristic Los Angeles and failed to score either at the box office or with fans. However it did manage to gain a strong cult following much like the first film. Eventually, the hunting creatures were featured in the Alien vs. Predator film series, which again failed to connect with fans at the box office. But now fans can look forward to a new chapter in the franchise with the forthcoming Predators, which is directed by Nimród Antal (Armored) and is based on a script that Rodriguez wrote for Fox in 1994 right after his first film El Mariachi had come out and while he was waiting to shoot his follow up Desperado. According to Rodriguez the film is a direct sequel to the original Predator movie, much in the way that James Cameron's Aliens was a direct sequel to Ridley Scott's original Alien, and that the movie will have no connection to Predator 2 or any of the Alien vs. Predator films.
The story is based around a group of badass humans, all dangerous and from different walks of life, who are kidnapped from Earth by the Predators and taken to their hunting planet as game. Now the humans have to use their fighting skills and learn to work together if they intend to survive the new planet's rough terrain and dangerous inhabitants. Nimród Antal and Rodriguez have really assembled an amazing cast of award winning and accomplished actors for the film that include Oscar winner Adrien Brody (King Kong), Topher Grace (Spider-Man 3), Alice Braga (I Am Legend), Danny Trejo (Grindhouse), Walton Goggins (TV's The Shield) and Oscar Nominee Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix). The film also features three different types of Predators, the classic Predator as seen in the first film, the new Super Predator and another new type of creature called the Black Super Predator. We will also get glimpses of other strange alien creatures that the Predators are hunting, as well as a look at their pets, which include an alien hunting dog and an alien falcon.
Back in December, just before Christmas, we were given a rare chance to visit Rodriguez's Troublemaker Studios in Austin, Texas, and visit with the cast and crew. Upon arrival at the Studio we were shown around the facility and took a tour of an area that was made to look like the jungle of the alien planet. Next, we entered a sound stage where we met creature actor Carey Jones, who plays one of the Super Predators in the film. Jones was in full costume and was doing some visual effects tests with creature effects supervisor Gregory Nicotero. Nicotero's company, KNB EFX, is taking over creature design duties from Stan Winston Studios, who designed the creature for the original film. However, Nicotero is no stranger to the creatures or Winston himself, having worked with him as a member of the creature effects crew on the first film.
Nicotero began by introducing us to the Predator that Jones plays in the movie "This is one of our three super Predators. Each one of them has a different personality and a different function. So this is our dog handler, Predator. There are these alien hunting dogs that they used to flush out our heroes and track them. So with this guy, you can notice the armor on his legs and the armor on his arms is there, because the dogs have these big horns and spikes. So it sort of protective mode as well and then of course they all have their plasma cannons, and each one of them has a different function," Nicotero explained. "There is another super Predator called Baltimore, and one of his weapons is a UAV falcon that can launch off with his shoulders. So they cannot only track with their different sensors and helmets, but they can also track from the sky. So it's just another weapon that they use when they're hunting and then we have our Black Super Predator who's basically the leader of the three of these creatures." Nicotero explained that there are several different types of Predators in the film and that one is based on the original Stan Winston design from the first movie. "We refer to him as classic," Nicotero said. Nicotero continued to describe the other types of Predators. "Then the three super Predators. There is a falconer, there is the dog handler, and there is Black. So those are our three designations for our super Predators." He also said that of all the Predators in the film, the Black Super Predator who was nicknamed "Mr. Black" by the crew, is the only one of the creatures who's face will be revealed in the movie.
Nicotero continued by describing the difference between a "classic Predator" and one of the "Super Predators." "There is a different design for the face of course, and the bodies with the classic Predator. The armor is blocky, and we matched a lot of stuff. The actor who is playing that is Derek Mears, who is about 6'3" and we have worked with him quite a bit with the super Predators. We are using actors that are 6'8" so they are a lot taller and as you can see he is a lot leaner. Robert Rodriguez and Nimród, when we first started the project, they used a really great analogy. They said that the classic Predator is a cassette tape and the new Predators are the Ipod version. So that kind of triggered a lot of visual things in my head, in terms of making them taller, making them sleek and keeping the armor really close to the body. So that they are not bulky, because we wanted to get the idea that they are fast, elegant and that they are efficient. Even in terms with the dreadlocks and stuff. The dreadlocks on the classic Predator come out and we gave them that kind of Rasta look but we swept all the dreadlocks back. We made the face a lot longer. We just wanted everything about him to look more elegant, like a black widow. We wanted it to just be really deadly looking."
Earlier, when we had first arrived, we walked by some production offices and saw some pretty interesting drawings of character designs on the walls. There were designs for the Super Predator, designs for the Predator dog and falcon, as well as a drawing for a completely different looking creature with a caption that simply read, "Alien Stick Figure." The creature in the design resembled the Alien creatures from the Alien series and the previous Alien vs. Predator films with the exception that the design was depicted with the creature standing more upright than we have seen in the past. We asked Nicotero if that design was in fact for an Alien type creature and if we would actually get to see that in the film. "There is a great sequence where our heroes realize that they are being hunted," explained Nicotero. What is happening is that our heroes are being tracked, and their goal is to find out what is tracking them so they set a trap and they are able to successfully vanquish one of these creatures. They think it's a Predator and then they realize that it has the same altimeter that they are wearing this little piece of alien machinery that's on them. So suddenly they realize that this thing isn't even one of the Predators. It's not hunting them it is being hunted just like they are. So it's just this weird light little red herring sequence." We continued to press Nicotero to see if the creature was deliberately designed to look like an alien from Aliens or if that was just a coincidence? "No, not really. We wanted it to have a completely different flavor than the Predator because you have to be able to look at it and visually know that it looks different, and there were a couple pieces of artwork that we had generated. We wanted it to be kind of phony looking, and I hadn't thought about that till you said that. But we do these weird shoulder bone sections in the faces it was kind of Japanese inspired. It has that kind of flavor of Japanese sculpture, we wanted it to be tall, really thin but be long in the arms and we just wanted to throw the proportions. So it is a completely different creature."
After speaking with Nicotero we had an opportunity to visit the set and speak with the director, Nimród Antal, who explained the scene that he was shooting. "This is a sequence within the film, were they've discovered a character who has managed to survive amongst the monsters and he has invited them into the cave, which is a derelict alien artifact that's been left behind and he's made it into his home essentially." We later found out that Nolan, played by Laurence Fishburne, was the name of the character that Antal was referring to and he talked about casting the acclaimed actor in the role. "I had the honor of working with him on a film that I did about a year ago. He was a true partner, beyond the fact that he's a superb actor, he's just a lovely guy to be with and that really helped me a lot when you feel the love. So he's been a blessing to me and his talent speaks for itself. I was lucky to have him." We asked the director if the Nolan character was actually a replacement for Schwarzenegger's character, Dutch, from the first film who was written into Rodriguez's original script. "No, He was always conceived as a separate character," answered Antal. We followed up by asking if there was a chance that Dutch might appear in the film in the form of a Schwarzenegger cameo. "No comment," he replied.
Antal has recruited a very talented cast of actors for this film and he talked about what attracted them to the project. "Well, Robert Rodriguez, my producer, played a huge role in that and as we started pre-production we looked at names that were coming up. There were the typical sorts that you would expect in a film like this and we tried to go against the grain. We thought casting a physically "Schwarzenegger-type" character would have done the original film a disservice and would have done this film a disservice because we are not trying to remake or copy the original film," Antal explained. "I feel we are trying to further that world and the story further, so the casting of Adrien and Alice, I told everybody early on that I can make anybody look tough. What I can't do is teach them how to act so it was great to have very talented actors from the get-go and it makes my job much easier." The director continued by discussing the choice to dismiss the other Predator films. "It's more so the last two films, of course, the first film is the one we were working off of but it was more so the Alien vs. Predator films we've dismissed." So Predator 2 would still connect to this franchise we asked? "Well, Predator 2 was closer to the original film than what the Alien vs. Predator films later became so it was more the Alien vs. Predator films that we were dismissing and it was an aesthetic. It was based on the designs, they kept on getting bigger and longer. Longer swords, blades and the weapons became slightly cartoon like by the end, so we wanted to just bring it back," said Antal. "I think the best science fiction is grounded science fiction. It's science fiction you can believe in and you buy into, so far as design and everything else that's what kept us grounded."
Most people were pretty surprised when they heard that Oscar winner Adrien Brody had been cast in the lead role of mercenary soldier, Royce, and we had a chance to talk to the actor about the role. "He's somewhat of a badass. Royce is a complicated guy. The bottom line is trying to not be complicated. He's trying to...he's someone who's done everything in his power to shed emotional attachment to things...the antithesis of me," said Brody. "I'm a very emotional person and I try to have empathy. I think it's an interesting way of viewing the world, to come at it from an opposite perspective. I think deep down within him, there still lurks a human being. But he's a survivor, and I think ultimately, just like a scientist, there has to be a level of detachment in order to put survival first. And I think that makes him very well suited for the circumstances that he's found himself in." The actor continued to discuss filling the shoes left by Schwarzenegger from the first film. "We're making a very different movie, but there's always going to be some expectation, especially because of Schwarzenegger making the original Predator and being such a body builder. It's very different. I'm not trying to do anything like that. I feel like, in any role that I play, it's important to look the part, but also within a movie like this, there's a playfulness that has to come with it, and I think that it's a balancing act. I feel that, if you open up the newspaper and you see any of the myriad images of soldiers today, they're more my build than anything. What I'm trying to create is an authentic look for it, but also, this is an action movie and you kind of have to look fit. The important thing for me, rather than a six pack and being kind of buff, is to put on a little size, both as a look and for what that does to me as a person. How I feel, to feel strong enough to handle myself in a situation that this guy would be presented."
We asked Adrien Brody to tell us what Antal brings to the production as a director that was maybe missing from the original? "Well, it's hard to say. I don't know what vibe was there when they were shooting. It was a very different time, but I think, working with Nim, he's got a great enthusiasm as you probably saw. He really is very passionate about this. This really means a lot to him and I think his excitement helps motivate everyone else and we're all very excited. We're pretty motivated to bring something. It's reminiscent of Antal and all these kind of movies that I love and the feel is very kind of foreboding and spooky. I've never seen anything like it and I've traveled a lot," said Brody. "So if we can create that environment and then live within that environment, it should be a fun ride, I think." The actor continued to discuss working with Laurence Fishburne on the film. Fish is amazing. He's so cool. Telling war stories from Apocalypse Now, it's great. I mean, he brought such a wonderful energy to the movie and it comes in the right spot. I think people will get a kick out of that, but I don't think they'll be taken out of the picture. It will be fun. We came up with a funny exchange, and you'll have to see the movie. Hopefully they'll put it in, but some choices that "Fish had made gave me an opportunity for something I improvised and they were cracking up. So we'll see. If I can get them to let me play a little bit, it will be in there."
Brody's character definitely tangles with some Predators in this film and he teased a few of those scenes for us. "I get into it with. I don't know if I should elaborate on it, but I get into it with them and the dog sequence is pretty awesome. There was kind of a cacophony of different things going on in that one. There was a lot of action happening in that sequence, but the battle between the Predators was the most exciting." The original film was known for having some great one-liners and we asked the actor if he would be saying any future classic lines in the film? "I have a few that I've asked to put in and some that we're working on, we have yet to do the couple that I've thought of. They're pretty funny to me and then I've done a couple that were scripted that I think can be deemed one-liners. It would be good to have on a reel, at least, somewhere, where you're very serious and then you have (in the Schwarzenegger voice) STICK AROUND!'"
Next we spoke to actor Topher Grace who plays disgraced physician Edwin in the film. While Grace's character seems to be just a normal doctor, he is harboring a deadly secret and we asked the actor to tell us a little bit about his character. "I play Edwin. Edwin is very different than everyone else in it. You're supposed to wonder why he was chosen when all these other similar types were selected. And there's a twist, of course. Actors live to play twists." The actor continued to discuss his thoughts when he was first offered the script. "I was dubious because I really liked the first Predator, but all the sequels haven't been as good. Then when I read this, I thought, what Aliens was to Alien, this is to Predator. Because Predator never really got its due, it never really got that sequel. Nimród's such a huge fan of the original. It reminds me of that James Cameron. He had everything that was in the original, but he wanted to go in a slightly different direction and create all this new stuff. And this is the same thing. The first one was very macho and this one is really more of a character piece."
Since Grace's casting in the film was also a big surprise to fans, we asked him if he had been surprised to be offered the role? "Not when I read it. I was psyched, mostly because I got to be in a Robert Rodriguez production. A lot of my friends have done movies down here, and I was like, when do I get to be in that club? It's amazing. He has his own little Hollywood down here," said Since Grace. "I wasn't surprised, this was an awesome script, and I was pleasantly surprised that they asked me to do it. There have been a couple of scripts that are legendary in Hollywood that never got made. It was really smart of Fox to say, I don't know if the franchise has gone in the direction we want it to go. I mean Robert wrote this before he wrote Desperado, and it's great that somebody thought to go find him and let him make that film."
Grace also had nothing but complementary things to say about working with Laurence Fishburne. Laurence is amazing. I always want to say in these interviews who's really nice and who's not because you wonder at home what that guy is really like. But Laurence is the nicest...I mean, he's Morpheus. You don't know what to expect. He blended right in with the group. He tells us all the stories we want to hear about Apocalypse Now and (The Matrix. His character in this is so out-there. It's really, really fun to just sit there and watch him do his thing. " Finally we asked the actor just how bloody fans should expect this installment to get? "Yes, it does get bloody towards the end. This is a genre that I haven't been in as much, but certainly one that I love to watch. We jumped off a waterfall in Hawaii, and I thought, this is awful. It was terrible, it hurt and then you watch the playback and you think, oh my god that was awesome! That's the coolest thing I've ever been in and it's a real Hollywood movie. This is what you dream of when you're younger, running through the jungle, swinging on vines and killing aliens."
Actress Alice Braga plays Isabelle in the film and we talked to the talented actress about her character. "She's a sniper. She's a tough cookie. I can say she's sweet inside but tough outside, just to do her craft more than anything. It's funny, Nimród gave me a little book that talks about snipers. It's kind of a manual that snipers use in the Army, and it talks a lot about how they prepare and what are the qualities that a sniper must have. One of the qualities is being really focused and you cannot be emotional. You cannot take emotion from your work. You need to think about the target and all that. So it's hard to kind of say because, you know, but mainly knowing that information it tells a lot about how a sniper is and that's who she is. At the same time, she is a strong woman."
We also asked the actress what it was like being the only woman in the cast? "It's awesome. It's really nice because it's only eight characters and my character is the one that is always trying to grab everyone together and stop the fights. She says that we have strength in numbers instead of being alone fighting these creatures and that together we can be stronger. It's really interesting because the boys, I call them my boys, they've been amazing with me. They protect me and we create things together. As an actress it's been a great experience," said Braga. "It's interesting enough there's not many girls on the crew. In Hawaii there was even less. It was only the script supervisor and I. Here we still have a little bit more but still like a lot of men. I love every second of it. We've created a unit that is really strong and I think we kind of brought that as actors and as characters. I think we got that unit of it."
Since her character is a sniper, we asked the actress if the Predators let her keep her weapon in the film? "Yeah, because we start the film with our own guns and stuff and then from there the story starts developing. But each of us has our own thing, that as the characters we bring, so I was lucky enough to get that. It's funny that you ask that because normally it would be a male sniper, and that's why I liked that they scripted it as a girl. Because a girl, as I was saying about emotion, girls are really emotional. We have period. Once you have period, you get emotional. It's like how come a girl is the sniper of the team, but it's really nicely balanced," explained Braga. "I've never done a character like this and it's been a challenge because you need to find that strength, but at the same time you cannot lose her own being. It's kind of been interesting to balance that and also as a character how to stand up and face, seven guys that are just making fun of you. The first few pages of the film, of course, the characters are playing with her or taking her for granted so I think it's interesting how she'd get that strength. Just playing, not as a woman or a guy but playing a strong human being."
We next spoke with actor Walton Goggins who plays death-row inmate Stans, and the actor told us a little about his character. "He's a celebrity in his own mind and famous. I think he just had a bad three days. His name is Stans, Walter Stans, and he's a bit of a celebrity. It's interesting because his crimes were committed 15 years ago. He's been on death row for 15 years, so he's not lonely because of all the fan mail. So he's a little more well adjusted than most serial killers, I think." The actor continued to talk about playing the role. "I think I've made a career out of making despicable people likable, if that's any consolation to myself. It's been interesting because the guy who kills 38 people is not the guy you'd want to have over at Thanksgiving, but I think his humor comes from pessimism, it comes from a cynical worldview and he's able to say things that are very familiar on our planet, on an alien planet. When you hear things like that repeated, it's really funny given the situation that he's in."
Goggins revealed that in the film his character is sprung from death row by the Predators and brought to the fighting planet. "I've got a reprieve. I didn't need the Governor. Yeah, they kind of picked everybody out and I was one of them," he explained. Speaking of Governors, we asked the actor what he thought about rumors that Rodriguez was trying to get Schwarzenegger to make a cameo in the film. "Would you put in a good word for us, that would be fantastic. No, none of us know the answer to that question. That's a rumor that's been floating around since, I think, before I even came on board. No one will either confirm or deny that, but God, it would be nice if he would. The movie I think impacted a lot of people. I was sixteen or eighteen at the time when this movie came out, so to do something with Arnold Schwarzenegger would be pretty cool." We finished by asking the actor if he had been watching the original for inspiration and if so, had he perfected his Arnold imitation yet? "Everybody does an Arnold impression. It's interesting because we all have various lines from the original movie and they're organic to this story. But they do come out. People do say them and you wouldn't recognize them out of context without the accent. But then you kind of do and it's like, oh my God, that was a line from the original film. And I actually hadn't seen the movie since I saw it the first couple of times way back when. I didn't want to see it before the movie began just because I didn't want to feel like I was just part of a movie. I wanted to be a part of this movie," finished Goggins.
While we were walking across the lot to finish our visit by talking with the man himself, Robert Rodriguez, we bumped into Machete actor Danny Trejo who was kind enough to talk to us on his day off. Trejo is no stranger to Robert Rodriguez films having worked with the director on almost every one of his movies including Spy Kids, Desperado and the upcoming Machete. In Predators, Trejo plays Cuchillo, a Mexican drug cartel enforcer and we asked the actor to tell us a little bit more about his role in the film. "I play one of the hunted. Now how do you make an assassin/drug dealer sound likable? You know, I play one of the guys that the Predator is hunting. I don't know if I'm supposed to say, but there's a group of us that they captured because we're all killers, and for sport they hunt us. So we all start coming together trying to fight this Predator. So it's amazing watching this group of all single kind of killers try to become a unit."
The actor also discussed what Rodriguez's involvement on this film has been like compared to the films that he directs. "He's kind of behind the scenes on this one. That surprised me, but that purely shows Nimród's capability," explained Trejo. Because if Robert didn't like what he was doing, believe me, he would be there. But Nimród is a great director. He really kind of surprised me, you know, I've worked with a lot of directors, I think I've got a hundred and eighty movies under my belt so I kind of know who's good and who's full of shit. I love directors that know what they want. You have a lot of directors that shoot until they decide what they want. I love directors that already know what they want. Nimrod must have read that Robert's book "Rebel Without a Crew". Because he's that proficient," finished Trejo.
Finally, we had an opportunity to speak with Rodriguez himself and the producer talked about the genesis of the project and why he chose Antal to direct the film. "I looked around for writers to come in and rewrite my script because my original script was done in 1994. I hadn't really produced before so I was looking for someone that felt like a kindred spirit that would bring their own take on it but we'd speak a similar language," said Rodriguez. "We just met him and he's a great guy. You could feel that he could be really great with crew and cast. I saw Armored where he worked with a group of very singular actors and he seemed to be able to bring them all together. I knew that was the person I would need on this based on the script that I had, with only seven or eight people that were going to be stuck on this planet. I knew he had the chops for that. You always have a leap of faith when you go into something like that but you could just tell that it wasn't going to go wrong. I felt very comfortable with him."
We continued by asking Rodriguez how close the new film will be to the original treatment that he wrote over fifteen years ago? "The main thing that it was going to be was off-world. It was going to take place on the Predator planet. I wanted it to kind of emulate the first movie and kind of go back to a jungle setting so I put it on a different planet. That was a different script completely because it had Dutch still in it, Arnold Schwarzenegger's character," explained Rodriguez. "So it was just more the idea of these people coming on to a planet where there's a lot of tension within the group. The title Predators is supposed to have a double meaning. Are they the predators or are the creatures the predators? Then even if there were no predator creatures, the idea is that these humans would kill each other before the movie was over."
Rodriguez continued to discuss in more detail the journey of this project from the script he wrote in the '90s to the film that fans will see this summer. "What happened was I was hired only as a writer back then. So, Desperado had some time before it was going to go and I told my agent, you know, I have several months off. Could you see if there's any writing assignment? He replied, Oh, Peter Rice over at Fox has an idea to do another Predator movie, Predators. I thought, okay, call it Predators kind of like James Cameron did with Alien to Aliens," explained Rodriguez. "So I wrote it but that was it. I didn't have to direct it so knowing I wouldn't have to direct it I wrote all kinds of stuff in there that was impossible to do. It was 1994. A lot of technology didn't even exist so it was like, hey good luck figuring this out, getting on another planet with creatures. Of course they couldn't quite go make that movie and then Arnold wasn't interested in doing another Predator by the time they got around to it so they went a different direction and did the Alien vs. Predator movies."
"Then just late last year, Fox came back and said, we want to reboot the franchise, we looked up your old script and we thought this is great. That this is the way to go, start new with a fresh approach," continued Rodriguez. "So suddenly that became my problem trying to figure out, 'oh no, how am I going to do all this? But the technology was possible, so it was good that the time had gone and they offered it to me. They asked if I would direct it and I couldn't, I was directing something else. But I said I would love to produce it. They came and saw Troublemaker Studios and said can you put it through your system with your people and hire writers and a director? I thought that was great because I did like a lot of the ideas that were in that script and I'd never written on assignment before so it did feel kind of strange to give the script away. I always did kind of like it. So it was really gratifying to have it kind of come back and get to be a part of it even though I'm not directing it. I still get to walk on to the set and see the Predators and go join in the fun. I still get to be a part of the movie rather than it just going and being made somewhere else," Rodriguez stated.
We asked Rodriguez about the freedoms that 20th Century Fox has given him and Antal with the franchise and what it's been like collaborating with them. "Yeah, they've given us a lot of freedom to do it within the budget. They're very happy with what we've done with it and they are obviously big Predator fans themselves. The executives that I've worked with are just huge Predator fans and that's why they wanted to do this movie and why we're making it down here just to do our thing as fans. So that's what's kind of fun about coming and doing a reboot is ... well it's hard to do the first one because no one quite knows what the movie is. Everybody knows what this movie should be. It should top all those other ones that we had before it and feel fresh. Feel new for a new generation because the character just is totally classic." We also wanted to find out where he stood on the debate of whether the film would be rated R or PG-13? "When they first brought me the script that I had, my original script was very R. So I knew that they were fine with it being R. Part of the reason they give them to me is I can contain the budget."
Finally, we wanted to know from Rodriguez himself if he believes that this film will be the beginning of a new franchise and if so, has he already been plotting ideas for the next one? "It suggests a lot of world that you could go and explore. The movie just touches on a few ideas where you can already ... there's a lot of story value in them, you could already imagine other pictures with different characters," explained Rodriguez. "It's very rich in that way. What you see is just tastes of what the world could be. I don't think it necessarily has to go down after that point. I think when the world is that rich you can do a lot with it. It kind of depends on who's doing it."