In advance of Shane Black’s forthcoming Predator revival (and the original film’s 30th anniversary), nostalgists around the internet have been revisiting what’s probably the most thrilling of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ’80s output. The latest is a comprehensive oral history of the film from The Hollywood Reporter, who talked with the screenwriter, cinematographer, visual effects supervisor, some actors, and a few more about how the now-iconic action film came to be.
There’s plenty of takeaways: intense heat, bulky costumes, and a shitload of red ants made filming hell; Sonny Landham, who played Billy, was terrifying and needed his own bodyguard; the cast couldn’t have cut it as real soldiers; and Schwarzenegger apparently took meetings in hot tubs.
Probably the most striking revelation, however, is that pretty much everyone THR spoke to had a different story regarding why Jean-Claude Van Damme, who was tapped to play the Predator, was famously fired from the film. Everyone agreed that, yes, he had been cast and, no, he didn’t like the early red and silver renditions of the alien beast. Everything else, apparently, is up in the air.
The most likely account comes from producer John Davis, who very simply states that production realized after hiring Van Damme that “the Predator couldn’t be 5-foot-6,” a claim that holds water when you consider his replacement, Kevin Peter Hall, was 7 feet tall.
But who wants that boring story when the rest are so deliciously insane?
As Craig Baxley, the film’s second unit director and stunt coordinator, tells it, Van Damme was a show-off and hilariously, stupidly careless.
Craig Baxley: Joel and I were walking down the hallway of the hotel together and Jean-Claude was walking toward us with his assistant. And Jean-Claude walked up and said, “Are you Joel Silver?” And he said yeah. And Jean said, “Well look at this!” And he jumped up in the air, I swear to God, did the splits with his legs straight out and his crotch was at eye level — and I’m 6 feet tall. He was there to play the creature, and a company called Boss had designed a creature. It had the head of an ant. And they spent an absolute fortune on this. And so they brought Jean-Claude out and they put the head on Jean-Claude, and Jean-Claude stood up and freaked out, and took off this $20,000 head and threw it on the ground and it shattered. And Joel said, “What the f— are you doing!” And he told Jean-Claude, “You’ll never work in Hollywood again! Get off my set!” So that was it.
Casting director Jackie Burch also remembers Van Damme as being desperate for attention, characterizing him as a “nobody” who used to “constantly come into my office, jumping in the air, showing me his moves, begging me for work.” She says Van Damme was “complaining the whole time and they fired him.”
In actor Bill Duke’s recollection, Van Damme was fired for repeatedly passing out in the Predator costume due to dehydration. Richard Chaves, who played Poncho, has a different take, saying that when Fox executives ended up hating the original Predator suit they nixed both that and Van Damme. He does add, however, that Van Damme really “wanted his face to be seen.”
The best story, however, goes to visual effects supervisor Joel Hynek.
Joel Hynek: I was in Joel Silver’s trailer, and he had called for Jean-Claude to come see him. And he comes in the trailer and Joel starts saying, “You gotta stop kickboxing!” — because [Jean-Claude] wanted to kickbox — and he was telling him, “Look, the Predator is not a kickboxer.” And Van Damme was like (Van Damme voice), “I must do that; that’s how I see the Predator.” And Joel said, “Well, you’re fired. Get out of here.” And Van Damme says, “Kiss my balls!” and walks out, and that was the end of that.
What’s real, what’s false, and what’s exaggeration remains unclear. The truth of the situation is probably somewhere in between. And we really, really hope it involved Jean-Claude Van Damme telling a producer to kiss his balls.
Check out the whole illuminating article for much more.