Based in 1719, Prey tells the story of Naru, a Comanche warrior who is just trying to prove her worth to her tribe! However, there is just one small twist, and that lands in the form of a Predator. An unknown alien species that has landed on earth to battle a suitable opponent, whilst killing anything in its way. With minimal dialogue, and a realistic setting, Prey trades that big, blockbuster, sci-fi movie approach for something much more personal, and it really does work! STARBURST catches up with the Predator himself, Dane DiLiegro, to discuss his time on the movie, and much more…
STARBURST: So, how did you get involved with the world of Prey? Dane DiLiegro: In January 2021, Alec Gillis who is part of Studio ADI, reached out and asked me to come into his shop for a design pitch on a project he was doing in Canada. I went in and there’s the Predator costume from the 2018 film, and I’m thinking “Oh wow, this is the new Predator movie!” So yeah, I put on the suit, and Alec told me to bring a balletic svelteness to this character, that he was doing. They had a 3D-printed iteration of one of the concepts of this Predator head. They put that on and I looked through two tiny holes that were drilled into the head, and I did how I felt this predator should move. I did my thing, and they were very happy with the way it looked. When I realised that they hadn’t cast anyone for this character yet, I pretty much got on my hands and knees and begged them to have me for this role. It turned out that they loved what I did, and I ended up doing all of the acting, stunts, and motion capture!
Once you were involved then, what kind of research did you do on this legendary character? Did you dive into the movies, and look back on what Kevin Peter Hall had done? I did a little bit. Dan Trachtenberg set some boundaries and parameters of what he wanted his Predator to be, and how he wanted it to move, he specifically told me he was looking for a departure from what Kevin did, the 1987 wrestler stand-off, big brute. He was looking for a lean, dynamic, animalistic character. I was thinking feline, so I watched some panther videos. This is interesting, so leading up to this, I actually watched Mr Bean, because he’s very good at non-verbal communication, and telling a story without using words. If he does speak, it’s some mumbling or grumbling. For me, I really needed to see the design of this character, and see how that would feed into the way he moves, and everything. Showing where his shoulders are, his arms are, and how I’d be able to manipulate this character in such a way where I can tell his story, while still staying true to the way he looks.
The training to play the Predator seemed like it was intense! Can you tell us about that process, and what it was like to take on?
Leading up to the film, I did a few months of parkour training, I knew this Predator would be running through trees, and jumping over things. He would be one with the Force! It was very important to make his movement through the forest seem natural and effortless, and parkour or freerunners are very good at making everything look natural. So I trained in parkour for a few months, I did a bit of martial arts training, weapons handling, nunchucks, sword handling, bo staff, kali, a little bit of silat, and I just trained with my trainer in LA on a daily basis. I knew this Predator would be moving quickly, I knew it wasn’t going to be a big, slow, lumbering thing, so I wanted to get those movements down. I also knew I wouldn’t be able to see anything, so that was another factor!
Looking back, what do you remember the most about your first day on set? Is there a particular moment that really stands out to you?
This was my first major motion picture, so that first day on set, I think they were on day fifteen or sixteen, something like that, and I didn’t realise how massive this crew was. For the first time in my life, I’m on that inner circle with 300 people around us. Dan and Jeff Cutter are there, discussing the shot, and I’m in this inner circle, taking part in that. It was a crazy experience for me, because I’m looking around seeing these highly trained professionals setting up a major motion picture, and then I look down and I’m wearing this Predator costume. I’m like “Oh my God, this is about me, I’m the guy! Responsibility, accountability, this is crazy, don’t screw it up! Don’t say anything - just do your job” It was pretty wild!
The costume itself looks huge, how long did it take to transform into the Predator, and what was it like to just do a day’s work in it?
It only took about eleven minutes to get into the costume, it was a full-body suit, there were gloves and feet, that’s pretty much it. Then obviously, the head took two-three minutes to strap on, but nothing was glued to me, and there was no make-up. Once you get into the costume, and you’re feeling this foam latex on you, and you have these big giant muscles, it definitely helps with getting into character. It was crazy, not being able to see anything, and I had to tell this character’s story. It was funny, when we wrapped, I remember thinking, I can’t wait to see this movie because I haven’t seen a damn thing this whole time! You’re in this suit for sixteen hours a day, it’s hot, it’s uncomfortable. Not just the suit, but it’s hot outside, and it’s up to me to stay as fresh at the end of the day as I was at the beginning of the day. Dealing with all the sweat, the energy, and going to the bathroom, there are a lot of factors that come into play with this character, on top of the acting that I have to do to tell this character’s story.
Why do you think the overall look of the Predator has gone on to be so well remembered?
Those mandibles, that face, the dreadlocks, there are so many aspects to this character that no other movie monster really has. When I’m portraying a non-human character, the further away you got from humans, typically the harder it is. It’s very easy to just walk around like a guy and be a humanoid. You’re getting further away from humans with some of these characters, and it’s very difficult to disappear into these characters and really get away from how you would naturally move and feel. So when people say “There’s a guy in there? I didn’t realise?”, that’s the biggest testament to me because it’s my job to be unrecognisable. It’s up to me, to not let the audience know that there’s a guy in the costume. Yeah, it really was crazy, and such an iconic character. It was a huge honour, and I’m grateful for the opportunity.
There are clearly huge an amount of practical effects within Prey, how exciting was it for you to work on sets like that, and what do you think it brings to the experience for the viewer?
There’s a sense of realism that Dan wanted. We kept it as practical as possible; we had six suits and four heads. Two of those heads were animatronic, controlled by four people. It was hyperreal, and for this film, we shot 96% on location. We only had about five stage days, where we shot inside a sound stage. The rest of it was in the middle of the woods, in Alberta. We were very in the elements. When it was cold it was cold, when it was hot, it was hot! We felt every bit of that. I think Dan wanted to draw as much realism as he could out of all of these little aspects of the practical effects, the locations, and overall production. Obviously, you can see that it comes to life on screen there. That decision paid off. It might have been more difficult to film things, but the decision ultimately paid off.
Opposite to this, you also did some motion capture! How fun was that to take on, and again, what do you think it brings to the movie?
It’s interesting, we spent a day at a freerunning facility in Calgary where I put on an inertial suit and essentially walked around, slashed things, and moved around as the feral Predator would. Jumping off things, pretending I was leaping off trees. Hanging off walls, and then leaping off walls into foam pits. There is even an instance where I had to lift up a big giant pad over my head, which is the scene with the bear in. To show that it was really heavy up and over my head, and slam this thing down. There’s another instance where someone attacked me with one of the pads and I had to wrestle it like the bear, and throw it down on the ground. All of those things you see on screen, even when the Predator is cloaked, and he is fighting the bear, that is me. I might not be there in the water at that time, but those motions were my motions. It’s like I’m looking at that cloaked Predator, thinking holy crap, that is me! I can see me in that.
Can you tell us what that bear scene was like to work on, and how long it took to capture?
There were three elements of that scene. Number one was we were actually there in the national park, on set, on location. They put an actual beaver dam in the middle of a flowing, very real river. Then there was a day when we were on the sound stage and they had the beaver dam in a tank with these giant jets that would create the current for that shot. That day, we had a guy in a reference bear suit there, and then there was me in a grey suit, that I was tussling with a little bit. It showed how the Predator was moving when Naru was inside the beaver dam, watching this fight transpire. Then, obviously, the third element of that was just me wearing the inertial suit, and that freerunning academy doing the Predator’s movements, that will be applied to that scene. It was pretty crazy; that scene took a long time to shoot, it was quite complicated, and it turned out really well.
What do you think the location and time the movie is set in does for Prey?
The thing that’s amazing about this movie is, for me at least, even as the Predator, it’s not a Predator film. It’s a period-piece adventure story, with a little sci-fi and horror sprinkled on. There just happens to be a Predator in this film. It almost could have worked with another monster, if you take away some of the Predator niceties that come with that. I think the thing that makes this film so successful, is that it’s just an adventure story about Naru, and her journey, and what she’s going through. Dan just happened to put a Predator in it, and that’s what I think makes it interesting. Historically, you look at monster movies, you look at sci-fi movies, you look at that horror genre, and you go, “Ah, no one ever really takes this genre very seriously” but this is very well shot. The cinematography, the score, this is statue worthy stuff we are talking about here. So you are taking those elements of an award-winning film, and you’re sprinkling horror and sci-fi over it. I think that’s what’s interesting about the fresh take of this film. You’re dealing with 1719 and you’re looking at a film that has a wider reach, to a demographic. Whereas if you’re focusing on it being just sci-fi or horror, you can quickly turn people away without them even watching it first, and I think that’s what makes this film a breath of fresh air.
Can you elaborate on what Dan Trachtenberg was like to work with throughout the filming process, and how you think he helped bring Predator to life?
He was a pleasure. He is a cinephile, he’s a movie nerd just like me. He gets it, he really understands the fandom, and how all of that works. He also understands filmmaking, so for me, it was interesting working with him, because you might have an older director who has been in the game for a long time, but maybe they’re not necessarily a fan of what you’re filming. You could sense Dan’s passion, and what he was bringing every day in terms of how he felt about this franchise, it was there, and it was very, very real. It’s apparent. I feel like if Dan wasn’t a fan of this, or if Dan wasn’t a nerd essentially for all things sci-fi in film, it would show. We would shoot some scenes, and he likes using references. For some scenes he would say, “Think of this scene from this other movie, as the inspiration for this” and I’d go, “Oh, I know exactly what you’re talking about” and that would inspire some of my movements. A very easy director to work with, and the way it all came together, in the end, was awesome.
Dan said that this was a ‘David and Goliath’ story, would you agree with that?
Yeah, absolutely. Every Predator movie has operated under the umbrella that we all know the Predator could just crush its enemy in two seconds if they wanted to, but they have a code that they have to stand by. With Amber’s character and my character, it was interesting to see the dynamic between them because you’re dealing with that similar David and Goliath feel. No one in their right mind would look at the Predator and think “Oh, I can beat that!” Naru really truly believed that she could. Eventually, the Predator is a little unrefined, he is a little bit hubris, and she outfoxed him, she beat him in the end, and she outsmarted him. It was interesting to see the way that played out.
We've got to ask, what was Amber Midthunder like to work opposite, and how do you think that she helped in capturing that tense dynamic between you both?
She was great, she showed up every day, and she brought it. She did as many stunts as she possibly could before production came in and said no. That final fight scene, between her and I, except for a couple of shots was very much her. She was right there, swinging things at me, being swung at, and she really brought the intensity, and it was a pleasure working with her. I would 100% work with her again.
There are some insane weapons in this movie, what were they like to work with, and was there a particular weapon that you yourself really enjoyed using?
I think they’re all pretty cool in their own little way, I thought that the cut clamp was cool, the way the Predator threw it as an underhand frisbee, and caught Raphael’s leg to cut it off, because he was running away. I thought that was interesting. Obviously, the netball was very fun to work with! That scene was very complicated and difficult to shoot, because I was in wires, the stunt actor to my right was in wires, I had to slam him on top of his stunt actor companion, pull my blade out, grab the netball behind my back, and throw it. That was a very complicated scene to shoot. I enjoyed the weapons, the combistick was badass, obviously the bolt gun, which leads the Predator to his ultimate demise, but is still a really cool gun nonetheless.
Tough question time. If we haven't covered it already, which scene was the most rewarding for you to work on, and why?
The burnt glade sequence by far! It was about 39/40 celsius for you outside. It was very hot, we shot in the middle of the day. That was an extremely rehearsed scene, where just that one shot, the camera is on my left, and it’s following along with me, it’s panning to the left as I slash one guy through the chest, I smack this other guy against the tree, I take the cut clamp out, I do a little spin, I threw him like a frisbee, the other guy attacks me, and I choke him up against a tree, the other guy comes and attacks me while I’m chocking him I disarm him with his own axe and kill him, and then I cut that guys head off. Just that whole sequence to me is just so cool, it’s so badass. It was very arduous shooting that scene, because I couldn’t see any of those guys. We had to rehearse it until the cows came home. I couldn’t see anything, I had to look at the ground, and follow sticks along to make sure that I was walking in the right direction. It all worked out, which is very rewarding to see, and it made the Predator so much more badass. I’m glad that that scene worked out, and I’m glad that they kept it in the film.
Obviously, the film has become an instant hit! With new and old fans. It's early days, but looking at the movie, why do you think that is?
It’s interesting. I’m not surprised that the film is doing so well, but I am shocked that it would do this well. As I said before, it’s not a heavy focus on the Predator, it’s not a heavy focus on the sci-fi or horror elements, you have this fresh, period piece, an adventure story about a girl who is going against their tribe, and going after what she wants. That film in itself is for everyone, it covers the entire basis there. Now, it’s like let’s put a twist in there, let’s put Predator into the story as the main antagonist, and it really does work. Dan doesn’t shove any Predator things down anyone’s throat. Nothing is gratuitous. It was done in a very classy manner. Everything I think was delicately and intricately constructed on-screen so that it wouldn’t detract from the fact that this is a period piece, an adventure movie. There just happens to be a Predator in it. I think that’s where this film really rings true, and what makes it fresh, while still staying true to the Predator cinematic traditions.
Prey is available to watch on Disney+ right now. You can check out more from Dane DiLiegro here: https://www.instagram.com/dd