one of the most interesting threads to emerge from the hollywood reporter‘s 2017 predator oral history was the differing accounts from cast and crew about how and why, exactly, jean-claude van damme — who was originally signed to play the alien trophy hunter — dropped out of the project.
While all six (!!) conflicting accounts of jcvd’s ouster shared some critical elements (actor unhappy with his lanky costume, clashes with notoriously dyspeptic producer joel silver), some were literally mutually exclusive. . actor bill duke, who played mac; Second Unit Director/Stunt Coordinator Craig Baxley; and visual effects supervisor Joel Hynek each provided their own eyewitness account of the alleged moment that Silver sent van Damme home.
At the time, thr repeatedly contacted van damme’s representatives to try to get his side of the story, but they were told he was busy filming abroad. however, a few weeks ago, the same man visited thr offices to film an episode on heat vision loss, and host patrick shanley managed to ask a question about… the whole situation.
A little background: When Van Damme was cast in Predator, which was released in theaters in June 1987, he was still virtually unknown. His only major credit was as the Russian villain, a sort of Ivan Drago, but with spinning kicks, in the 1986 martial arts film No Retreat, No Surrender.
A Little More: As originally conceived, the Predator was not the towering, now-iconic oddball with jaws that appeared in the finished film (designed by four-time Oscar winner Stan Winston and played by seven-time Oscar winner Stan Winston). feet three inches kevin peter lounge). the initial design was more in line with the xenomorph from the alien movies, an upright digitigrade with a fibrous exoskeleton, but with the head of an insect. He was supposed to be agile and stealthy, stalking Arnold Schwarzenegger and others from his perch high in the jungle canopy, and casting director Jackie Burch thought she had the perfect guy.
“jean-claude van damme was someone who used to constantly come into my office, jumping in the air, showing me his moves, begging me for a job,” he told thr in 2017. “so i finally told joel, ‘i would be great as a predator because nobody moves like him’. I mean he really is amazing.”
In his new interview, van damme recalls going to fox to meet with director john mctiernan.
“They made me run around the studio and I jumped like a dancer,” says van damme. “[They said], ‘This guy can jump really high.’ (Laughter.) ‘Yes. he’s inside.’”
That, it seems, was jcvd’s high point in his ordeal as a predator.
van damme left the meeting under the impression that for his upcoming role opposite the world’s biggest action star, the costume and makeup requirements would be minimal.
“They said I’d wear a tight leotard with half [human], half animal makeup on my face,” Van Damme told Starlog magazine in 1989.
so he was surprised when he showed up at the boss film offices to get a full body cast for the thick rubber suit that the effects house was sending to the puerto vallarta film set.
“I like to breathe, and they’re going to do my head and everything,” van damme recalls. “They put me in my mouth like a tube [to breathe]. I was covered in that plaster for at least 20 minutes. it was boiling. my friend told me, ‘if you can’t breathe, just [move] your finger and I’ll take those things off’ and I did. I started to panic. and they say, ‘no! five more minutes!’”
van damme managed to get the casting done without incident, but confirms that he, like almost everyone else in the cast and crew, and fox once mctiernan sent them the first footage, thought the predator’s original design looked silly as hell. . but for van damme it was also a headache to use.
“my head was on the neck. my hands were on my forearms, and there were wires [attached to my fingers to move the creature’s head and jaws]. my feet were on his calves, so I was on [stilts]. it was a disgusting outfit,” she says.
and because his vision and breathing were restricted, it was nearly impossible for him to do what got him hired in the first place: move like jean-claude van damme.
It was also a security issue. it was required to move, in a way that would convince audiences that the predator possessed superhuman levels of agility and stealth, on stilts, on rough terrain, in a jungle. also the suit was rubber and it was 100 degrees and humid. in a jungle.
It was these less-than-ideal conditions that, according to van damme, ultimately led to his dismissal. At one point, she says, Silver asked her to do a jump she thought was too dangerous: “When Joel asked me to jump, I knew it was going to be bad. I said, ‘this is impossible, joel.’ I think we’re going to have a problem.’”
van damme refused and, according to him, “something bad happened to the guy who did my stunt. crack [makes a cracking motion]. and then they stopped the movie and made a new, safer outfit.”
but like the others you spoke to for oral history, van damme’s memories might have succumbed in part to the erosive effects of decades and, also, perhaps untreated contemporary heat stroke?
When asked about stunt injuries on set, second unit director/stunt coordinator Baxley insists in a new interview with thr that “no one was hurt.” Beau Marks, the film’s first assistant director, is more blunt: “Nobody broke their fucking leg.”
marks, one of the few people not involved in jcvd in oral history, continues to support the accounts of richard chaves (poncho), producer john davis, and earlier comments by mctiernan, who has ultimately maintained was a studio decision to scrap the original design, and jcvd was, in a very mundane hollywood way, collateral damage.
“We shot some [images with the original suit], sent them back to the studio, and the decision was made to shoot as much as we could without the creature in the suit, and go back and redesign [the creature],” says Marks. . “And when we came back to redesign it, we turned to Stan Winston. and stan decided that the way to make the suit was to start with the tallest, biggest guy he could find, not someone who was as agile as van damme.”
also offered a fourth, mutually exclusive, eyewitness account of the firing itself, because at this point, why not?
“when I was trying to explain to him what had happened [with the study] and why we wouldn’t need it, he kept saying ‘but I’m the predator!’ I said, ‘well, let’s talk to joel. joel He has a philosophy: Beg at first and then kill the person,” says Marks. “Well, he finished begging real quick. It started as good as anyone could start, and then it ended where he told claude he wanted to take his fucking head, get out, put her on the concrete and get run over by one of those big fucking trucks.head 50-fucking-thousand times.that’s how it ended.”great.
Regardless of the eyewitness account of JCVD’s last day in Mexico, shortly after returning to the United States, Van Damme was cast in Bloodsport, the film that would make him an international superstar. It was released in February 1988, eight months after Predator, and his aborted role as an alien ninja ant became a footnote. Furthermore, he evidently was not the only one who initially had the impression that his face would appear in predator, as he told the a.v. club in 2008: “it’s a very funny story, because when i met [producer] menahem golan,…he heard i was going to play the predator, and he was so excited to sign me up for bloodsport…he didn’t know i was an alien. he will not see my face and my body. he thought I was the kind of alien with a human face and body, where people could recognize me.”
see the van damme oral history section below, or read the whole thing here.
This is where things start to get weird. everyone agrees on the general facts that 1) jean-claude van damme was originally cast as the predator; 2) he didn’t like the red suit either and it clashed with the silver one. But when it comes to why, exactly, he was fired, nearly everyone they spoke to had a different explanation, including three separate first-person accounts of the actual moment he was fired. what follows is every account received from jcvd’s brief stay in puerto vallarta.
burch: jean-claude van damme was someone who used to constantly come into my office, jumping in the air, showing me his moves, begging me to work. he was nobody he had no credit. so i finally said to joel, “he would be great as a predator because nobody moves like him.” I mean he’s really amazing. He even kept his furniture in my garage! and then (laughs) he wasn’t there that long. and I heard that he was complaining all the time and he got fired. and he came back and got his stuff out of my garage. and then the next time I saw him, he was getting $5 million a movie. [the “complained too much” version.]
baxley: joel and i were walking down the hotel hallway together and jean-claude was walking towards us with his assistant. and jean-claude came over and said, “are you joel silver?” and he said yes. and jean said, “well check this out!” And he jumped in the air, I swear to god, he did the splits with his legs straight and his crotch at eye level, and I’m six 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. so they brought jean-claude in and they put his head on, and jean-claude stood up and freaked out, and he took this $20,000 head off and he threw it on the floor and it shattered. and joel said, “what the hell are you doing?” and he told jean-claude, “you will never work in hollywood again! off my set! so that was it. [the “he smashed the creature’s head” version.]
davis: he was the original predator until we realized the predator couldn’t be five foot seven; he actually needed to be taller. [the “he was too short” version. (It’s worth noting that the man who replaced him with the new suit, Kevin Peter Hall, was over two meters tall.)]
chaves: I remember getting a phone call from joel in my room because jean-claude, he and I hit it off right away, and I thought he would have been amazing as [the predator] but he wanted his face to be seen. and I remember [joel saying], “go down and talk to him and convince him that he’s the alien and that he has to put on the suit!” so i went downstairs and spent a couple of hours trying to convince him that, you know, he would be in this costume, “but everyone will know it’s you, jean-claude, because no one can move like [you]! ” I tried my best to convince him, but it didn’t work. and then i guess something happened, and he capitulated, jean-claude, to put on this suit and try. and when they sent out some of the early diaries of jean-claude in this original suit, the people at fox hated him, absolutely hated him, and thought he looked like a rat, and he did! As soon as Joel got that news, he let him go. [the “fox hated the original creature and jcvd was collateral damage” version.]
duke: I think they were going to superimpose all the special effects on the body in post production. but to do that, the actor had to wear a felt suit that covered his entire body, and in temperatures of 90 and 100 degrees, [jean-claude] had passed out twice from dehydration. and joel walked over and said, “jean, i know it’s hot, but we’re wasting time, man. if you faint one more time, we have to fire you.” then jean says, “i’m not doing this on purpose!” joel says, “man, this is production. don’t take it personally. so two weeks go by, and he’s flying on these wires in the trees and everything and he passes out, and joel comes over and says, “you’re fired.” [the “passed out too many times” version.]
hynek: I was in joel silver’s caravan and he had called jean-claude to come see him. and he comes in the trailer and joel starts saying, “you need to stop kickboxing!” — because [jean-claude] wanted kickboxing — and he was telling her, “look, the predator is not a kickboxer.” and van damme was like (van damme voice), “I gotta do that; this is how I see the predator.” and joel said, “well, you’re fired. get out of here.” and van damme says, “kiss my balls!” and it comes out, and that was the end of that [the “creative differences” version.]
here is jcvd’s full interview: