PREDATORS Interview: Director Nimrod Antal and Producer Robert Rodriguez

     July 1, 2010


Earlier today I had the opportunity to see a screening of Nimrod Antal’s Predators, followed by a press conference with Antal and producer Robert Rodriguez. While I can’t say much about the film, just know that I loved it. In our 25-minute press conference, Antal and Rodriguez spoke about:

  • the film’s inception
  • why the Predator is such an enduring character
  • the possibility of cameos and other allusions to the original film
  • how Adrien Brody convinced them he was right for the part
  • their own memories of seeing Predator for the first time
  • when we can expect the next Machete trailer

Hit the jump for a full transcipt of the press conference. Make sure to check back next week to read about our other press conference with stars Adrien Brody and Walton Goggins.  Predators hits theaters July 9th.

predators_movie_poster_international_03(One note: It’s important to know that Rodriguez originally wrote a draft of Predators for Fox in 1995 that is regularly referenced in the interview. Last year Fox found Rodriguez’s old script and approached him to oversee a reboot of the property based on this script.)

Robert, I thought I’d start this off with a question for the both of you. Its been 20 something years now since the first Predator movie. After all this time, why does the character endure? Why does this world endure so well?

Antal: I don’t know if we could answer that. And if I could be able to, I wouldn’t tell you because that’s the magic I think. I think the original film did something very special where you had, McTiernan in it, you had Silver, you had all these talented actors and all these people coming together to the great concept that the [Thomas brothers] put down. I think there was something there, we were in the presence of greatness and we didn’t know it. He’s now forever a member of the monster world gallery. You talk about vampires or werewolves and predators.

Rodriguez: Yeah, I think there’s something very unique about that movie. For one, the movie itself is something that inspired me to do mixed genre pictures later. I remember going to see it with my older brother who was a body builder and we saw every Arnold Schwarzenegger movie that came out and we went to see that one thinking it was a Commando type film and then it starts turning – I remember the audience reaction to the film in the theater, they were kinda confused when it turned sci-fi and horror and Arnold didn’t really win at the end, a Predator blows himself up and flies off looking like he’s going to a looney bin in a helicopter. And they were a little like “wow what was that movie?” And it just caught on and kept growing in popularity. And the movie itself was very unique. One thing I noticed when they first brought me back to this project, for Predators, is – I went to go ask my artists in my studio last year if we should do this movie and I walk into their offices and they all had busts and dolls and statues of the Predator in their office. So I know that the character itself was a very enduring character and they still loved that character and I tried to pinpoint what it was. I think it might be the fact that it’s somewhat humanoid and you can identify with it. And the fact that it’s a guy in a suit made it feel almost more human and people like bad guys and people like to consider themselves the anti-hero so I think that’s what that represented. And I think one of the reasons why we didn’t go CG with the Predator at all was to keep that identification with the audience and I think that’s what made it one of the great movie monsters and great creatures and enduring creatures in movie history.

I had heard that there might be a chance that you would ask Arnold to do a cameo as Dutch at the end of the movie. Did that get anywhere? Did you ever approach him? Did you consider writing a scene like that?

Rodriguez: Early on, since I had worked with Arnold on the original script back in the day and I had spoken with him about it, that was one of the questions I had myself. The world had changed since the last time I worked on this which was ’95. In my script he was the entire film and now he was Governor so I was like “I know we can’t get him for the lead and I don’t even think we can get him for a cameo.” We did entertain the idea of where could we place him but as we started putting the script together it really felt like we were making our own film and we thought lets not even bother with him showing up and doing something in it. We had such an erratic schedule, we never would have been able to pinpoint like you would need to with somebody in his position. So it was gonna be sort of a non-starter so we thought let’s just make a really great movie and if it’s received well and people want a sequel maybe in the sequel we can maybe ask him for a cameo.

Nimrod AntalThe movie feels really primal. What specific things did you do to capture the primal nature of the Predators and…

Antal: Well I think this kind of also answers the earlier question regarding the Predator, he’s the hunter. Something that we’ve lost touch with. Our society now hunts for sport which is almost disgusting compared to eating, feeding yourself, clothing yourself and what hunting was originally supposed to be. Can you repeat the question one more time?

What specific filmmaker things did you do to capture…

Antal: Well I think in our earlier conversations with Robert there was a lot of things that we wanted to incorporate and one was bringing back old school hunting techniques. Driving, fleshing. We also wanted to bring back the jungle and make sure that that was a character in itself and something that would be threatening. Everything from lighting working with Gyula Pados our director of photography who also – we sat down early on and Robert had a big concern about the jungles looking lush and that was like the last thing we wanted. We didn’t want this place where you wanted to get a margarita and hang back. We wanted a threatening location where a simple image would feel threatening. So we tried to do that as well and we would always start from the original film. That was always our intention, to make something that the fans would appreciate again but something that would be able to stand on its own. Taking the original film into consideration and what they achieved, that was something we tried to mirror as much as we could without ape-ing it, without monkey-ing off of it and just redoing it. Does that make any sense?

Rodriguez: Also…observing Nimrod how he directs he seems like a very soft-spoken person but he’s actually really commanding on the set and is able to get people to move and remember what they’re supposed to do. I’d walk on set and you’ll have to imitate yourself and say “shock and awe” the way I would hear on set. “Shock and awe! Everybody shock and awe!” I’d just be like “oh he’s got a moving voice” and everybody no matter what the scene was, they’d remember where they’re supposed to be and that’s just the hardest thing to capture really is just that continuity of this movies gonna be strung together to last 95 minutes but you’re shooting it over three or four months, so you needed to have a director who’s really making sure everyone at every moment is in character and is the character of the picture which is supposed to be hard-driving, really fast and intense and never wavering from that and Nimrod was  really able to pull that together and keep everybody really focused on that…

Antal: It’s all the drugs I was doing while we were doing the film!

Rodriguez: …He just really kept that in mind and I was really impressed by that.

When we were interviewing Adrien on Splice he said that he really had to fight for this movie, that he had to prove to you that he could be an action star and I wonder how much that was true or…

robert_rodriguez_imageRodriguez: …or how much of that was color? I was very receptive to, and Nimrod was as well, to the idea of that because it seems on paper like an odd choice but it really wasn’t. We went to him originally for another part that is actually not even in the movie now but was in an early version of the script. I got it sent to him an early script and he wrote back and said I don’t really wanna play these kinds of parts anymore I wanna play something like the lead. And I thought “Really?! That’s a pretty out there choice!” and then he said “I’m gonna send a picture” – we’re just emailing back and forth – “of this movie, this prison movie I just did with Forest Whitaker. This is what I look like now, I kind of beefed up for the movie a little bit but I could go further than that and I checked it out and it was very impressive and I showed it to Nimrod and he said “alright, what do you think? Should we do it bro? An Oscar winning actor, anytime you have an Oscar winning actor wanting to be in a Predator movie you probably go that route” And it’s fairly easy for us as filmmakers to make that choice because we’re looking at a list of actors up for the role and it’s just guys who you’ve seen it just do it too many times. They’re already doing that stuff, that same role in three other movies that year. So we were looking for something fresh and different and really felt like we needed that for this, very much like when I cast Antonio [Banderas] in Desperado or George Clooney in Dusk Til Dawn. They hadn’t done action either, you’re just going for really great actors and somebody that will feel surprising and new and fresh and like you just discovered them and yet it’s only because he’s transformed himself so much, he’s actually got the experience and an Oscar and has been around so long but he’s got the acting chops to be completely impressive. So you’ve got the best of both worlds, someone who’s really new and yet someone who’s not.

Antal: And his passion was also refreshing. To see someone of his caliber really want something as bad as he did. What I can’t stand is when you have these comfortable actors who have some success and they’re just “I don’t know, I don’t know” and this guy came in saying “I want this. Please give this to me. I’ll fight for it. I’ll prove you guys wrong if you have any doubt.” That was bitching.

Rodriguez: That was cool. That was the main thing we talked about was the passion he had for the role, that he had something to prove where the other guys who had already done these kinds of parts were like “oh look, this is what I do and this is how I do it”. This was a lot more exciting and a lot more of an adventure for us and we’re very pleased.

Antal: And it was our job to make him look tough, you know that was the other thing. We knew we could do it. We knew we could – it’s our job. If we want to turn a man into a woman, we can do that! If we want to turn a woman into a man, we can do that! And we knew that the perception of Adrien, especially form films like The Pianist and everything, put him in a certain box in people’s minds and we knew that we could turn him into whatever we needed him to be.

I thought it was great that you were able to integrate a lot of the elements from the original such as the infrared and the voice…

Antal: Yeah there’s some music elements as well.

Yeah and the music. And I’m just wondering were those things all there in the script or afterwards once you got the script was it a matter of going into and adding like “wouldn’t it be cool if we added this in here now”. And I have another question. I’ll ask you after.

Antal: I think first and foremost we were really lucky with Robert because there was never much of a discrepancy between his opinion and my opinion as to where this thing had to go. And for some reason I’m blanking, my short-term memory seems to have gone out the window. I was about to answer something. And then it went out.

Rodriguez: The infrared…

Antal: The infrared! We knew early on that we wanted to incorporate elements that were going to give the original fans a smile here. We wanted to throw in as many nods as we could but we also wanted to be really careful about the balance of that and not have it just be a parody of or a redo of. We wanted the film to stand on it’s own. I think in the screenplay there may have been even one or two more nods to the original film but I think it was…Robert was like “lets not try to…we have to make this stand on it’s own.” That’s what we wanted to accomplish first and foremost. The nods were just a secondary thing.

Rodriguez: There’s only one that I think we added early on in the film of “Predator vision” only because we remembered not everyone that’s gonna see this movie has seen any of the other ones so you gotta kinda set the rules. So the mimicking of the voice seems redundant to someone who’s seen Predator but we just had to do that really early on just so people would know that’s what they’re capable of.

Antal: But I think we found that balance where…

Rodriguez: The balance was otherwise pretty much there when we had decided before hand.

My follow up to, you mentioned the thing about Arnold. Did you also possibly approach Jesse Ventura about a cameo?

Antal: Jesse Ventura…well he’s dead! We could’ve had a mutant head or something on a stick.

predators_movie_poster_international_001Rodriguez: I talked to Carl Weathers and I got an email from him during the production. It was just a blanket email to everybody – “I lost my phone and I lost all my contacts, can you all…” – And I went “Carl Weathers just called! We should bring him in! Wait, wait he died.” We couldn’t bring any of these guys back. I would’ve loved to with Carl.

Nimrod we heard from Robert about his first experience seeing the original, can you tell us about yours? And then as a second question to Robert or both of you, when you’re figuring out the motley crew of characters that would be your “predators”, who do you include and were there other people that maybe you had to cut out or you thought “oh we can’t go that way” when you’re deciding who would be the most vicious killers to bring together for a posse.

Antal: Yes! Fourteen years old. Avco on Wilshire. Guido Martini, John McMann, Sean Ender, and Chris Alright and I. And I walked out going “Oh! Whoa!” And actually the day my agent called and said “Robert Rodriguez just decided that you’re gonna be directing this movie” I was reunited with those guys after 15 years at a restaurant with them the moment I found out. And that’s a true story.

Why were you back together?

Antal: Well one of them just got a nasty divorce in Vancouver and went crazy and rode his bicycle from Canada to LA. Another one was just coming back…he didn’t get a divorce in the end, they’re still together, so that worked out. So if you’re having marital problems, ride your bike! That’s the thing. We hadn’t seen each other for years and we all, we were the St. Paul’s, the Apostle, which was where we all went to junior high school together and we were all together again after many many years…I mean as far as the cast goes it was always one would build off the other. I think we’d locked down one guy, I know that at one point the Hanzo character was supposed to be…

Rodriguez: Did you mean the characters or did you mean the actors?

I mean the characters.

Rodriguez: Were there any other characters? I’m trying to think, were there any characters we dropped?

Antal: Well there was one other inmate. There was an earlier draft where I think there was two prison inmates that were thrown in together and in our earlier conversations I think we figured out that it’s probably best just to have one from each region, one from each zone, from each country, from each continent, however it plays out.

Rodriguez: And throughout the movie he’s just gonna be standing there the whole time, waiting to throw a line in, a pitch in, because you’d have two of the same character basically stealing each other’s lines. And other than that it was pretty…

Antal: And I wanted to cut out Izzy! I wanted to cut her out and it wasn’t, it was purely I didn’t want to have a prop running around going “Ahhh!” I knew that if we were really gonna put a girl in there she would have to really sell it. My first concern was there aren’t many theaters of war, there aren’t that many countries that allow women into combat and we were talking about hardened people who had seen a lot of nasty things, so I was a little bit concerned with that. I was worried and Robert was actually like “Dude, how many great girls have there been?! And then he started naming them off, he’s like well Ripley, Sarah Connor, Nikita” and I was like “oh I guess you’re right, there’ve been a few good ones” and it took me a bit to get my head around that and accept that. And then we cast Alice Braga and she’s probably one of the toughest of the bunch and as a character and as a person. She was just awesome.

Rodriguez: We really got lucky. It was nice to push for that and to push ourselves to try to make that happen because that’s the heart of the movie now. We’re really really happy with it.

Antal: It would’ve been a huge mistake if I would’ve won that battle.

Rodriguez: At one point you even came up to me and went, because on paper it wasn’t really working and it’s a combination of getting it to work on paper and getting the right actor and we didn’t have the right actor yet and you go “I’m still not sure about this part, what if we made her an alien at the end!”

Antal: I still thank that’s a good idea! I still think she should’ve been an alien!

Rodriguez: You didn’t have to, you know, in case she wasn’t coming off – she was an alien! That’s why! We just kept trying and then we found Alice and we were both relieved….The alien idea would’ve worked.

What I was wondering was, as far as for you Nimrod, I saw Kontroll…and I was just wondering what was the difference in coming up with such an inventive film in a confined space where the whole thing is in a subway system and then having this whole world to play with, what did you find more challenging? And as far as the series, for either of you to answer, I assume we’re supposed to forget all about Predator 2 and the Alien Vs. Predator movies, so where does it, if you guys get a sequel out of this one, what’s the title or what’s left…

Antal: Predators’s. Well you know Kontroll was literally clearly being in the jungle was very different from being in the Budapest subway system but also figuratively the freedom that I enjoyed in control was something I’ve never really been able to replicate here in the United States given the system but it was the first film I’ve ever made where, and I think it was because a filmmaker was producing it, I was allowed more freedom and more, given more love and more respect as a filmmaker then I’ve ever been given in the American film system. Kontroll was a gift but Predators was the first American film where I’m like “yes! I’m really…” And it also plays into the fact that I grew up with the Predator poster on my wall and I love, yes I have action figures and yes I’m a geek so that was a big deal for me.

Rodriguez: And as far as the Predator title I didn’t reference any of the other later pictures only because when I originally wrote this, those didn’t exist. I was writing this always as a sequel, well as a fact Predator 2 had come out but they didn’t want to go that direction, they wanted to get Arnold back, so when I wrote Predators it was to forget that even Predator 2 was made. This is gonna be what Aliens was to Alien, Predators is to Predator. Title those two together so all you’d have to do is watch Predator, Predators and you would have a little complete thing. So yeah what would the third one be if there was a third one? It would be Predator 3? I don’t know. Predators 2. Predators with a subtitle.

For Robert, I noticed from the press notes that you wrote this without considering budget constraints as well as the logistics and it wasn’t until you had to be more hands on that you had to figure out how to do it, so how did you figure out how to make this film and did you have to compromise the movie?

Rodriguez: Oh completely, when I first wrote it it was just a writing assignment and you figure as a writer since I’m not directing it, I’m not producing it, I should just give them as many ideas as possible and then they can figure out what they want to do, what they can. A lot of it was impossible because it was only ’95, CG wasn’t that prevalent, a lot of it would’ve been impossible to do. But I figured, give them a lot of imagination and creativity to work with and they can choose what ever, what fifth of that would actually work because it was just humongous and ridiculously big. And again I didn’t feel like I had to worry about it until they brought it back to me and said, “we love this script! Will you go make it?” And I was like “I don’t know how we can make it like that, even with today’s technology we had to cut out a tremendous amount of it and that’s what I loved about Nimrod’s approach. He knew how to come in and say “I like this part” and he made that the movie and he made it about the chase and about the hunt and kept it very intense. We took out Arnold, we kept the idea of the planet, the crucified Predator, the hierarchy of the different clans, some of the other alien creatures that are being hunted. But other than that it was a new story and Nimrod worked really close with the writers to come up with this.

Whose idea was it to humanize the Predator, in particular as it relates to this film I’m speaking about the one who’s hanging from the post because…

Predators movie posterAntal: That was in Robert’s original draft, that crucified Predator. And that was the one thing I remember reading in the script and immediately latching on to because we’ve built up this character so much and we’re gonna build up this film and all the sudden you’re expecting the Predator to explode out of this…laser cannons flaring and spines being torn out and the first time you see him he’s defeated and we almost completely demystify the character off the bat and humanize him a little. And that was all in the original draft and it was something that I loved off the bat.

Rodriguez: I so wanted to be there for the shooting of it when they first go in because I saw it so many different ways when I first wrote it, how they would approach him and how they would go up to him and how it would growl and I wasn’t there that day so I was like “oh man I wonder how you did it” and he did it so much better than I planned so that was very exciting for me to see, something I envisioned 15 years ago done by somebody else in a really really great way and I’m really proud of that, how that came together.

Robert, do you enjoy killing Danny Trejo early in movies?

Rodriguez: Do I kill him early in every movie? Yeah that’s true. Desperado he died pretty quick. This one, well, he’s doing Machete and of course Machete never dies but…”Machete don’t die.”

Antal: That’s what he told me when I said “Hey how about Danny?” he said, “Machete don’t die.”

Rodriguez: We thought it would be really fun in a pop way, its Jesse Venture type casting to have Danny playing a variation on a Machete like character or all the characters in my movies he always plays some piece of cutlery, Razor Charlie from Dusk Til Dawn, Navajas in Desperado, in this one he’s Cuchillo, butter knife. But I thought he would really make a note, if Danny Trejo dies that early, they’re all screwed so it kind of pretty much set what the stakes were in the film to do that…

Antal: I gotta just, Danny casting in the film was hilarious too because Robert had a thing in the script that said “A guy who looks like Danny Trejo”…

Rodriguez: Oh no the writers did that. They put in “Danny Trejo type”. That’s what I got upset about. You can’t just give a part to Danny, there is no other Danny Trejo.

Antal: So then Brian Betty our AD gets a call from Danny, Brian who’s done all of Robert’s films and Danny calls Brian and goes “hey [Brian], I see it says in the script a guy who looks like Danny Trejo, Brian I look just like Danny Trejo”.

Are you cutting a new trailer for Machete or can you use the original one?

Rodriguez: Oh it’s gonna be attached to Predators.

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