Famed action hero Jean-Claude Van Damme was supposed to play the Predator in the original Arnold Schwarzenegger action classic, but was reportedly fired because he wanted the Predator to kickbox. This at least is the version of events as recounted in a new oral history of Predator that celebrates the film’s 30th anniversary (ahead of Shane Black’s “wickedly humorous” upcoming non-sequel reboot The Predator).
Another version of the story told by director John McTiernan claims Van Damme lost out on the Predator role because his agent screwed up. All anyone knows for sure is that Van Damme was supposed to be inside the alien costume instead of Kevin Peter Hall, but lost out on the chance to go toe-to-toe with Schwarzenegger in one of cinema’s great action climaxes.
In the oral history of Predator presented by THR, visual effects supervisor Joel Hyneck gives his version of what went down. It begins with Van Damme being dressed down by legendary producer Joel Silver for trying to slip his signature kickboxing moves into the film. Call it a case of extreme creative differences:
“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.”
Elsewhere in the oral history, it’s claimed that Van Damme only got the part because of how he moved, so it’s interesting that he ultimately lost the role for trying to bring his distinctive physicality into the film. After his failure to turn Predator into a kickboxer, Van Damme would go on to establish himself as an action star in his own right, often in roles that did allow him to flash his kickboxing moves (and ability to do the splits).
As funny as it might have been to see the Predator kickboxing his way around the jungle and picking off famous action heroes one-by-one, it’s probably a good thing Van Damme was let go from the movie. The performance given by Kevin Peter Hall inside the Predator costume is one of the great unsung action movie acting jobs ever, dependent as it is on almost pure physicality with a nod to the amazing make-up effects work, and is central to Predator‘s success as an action film.
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