The Strange Case of Jean Claude Van Damme and The Predator (case dated 1987)
Here’s a classic movie urban legend. Popularly it goes something like this: “Did you know Jean Claude Van Damme was the Predator? Apparently he filmed some scenes in the costume, you can see them in the movie, he then quit because he was unhappy about being cast as a stunt man“. There’s some half truths to this bit’o popular trivia and Deadly Movies has been combing the movie underworld for the truth.
First off here’s the simple known truths; Van Damme was hired as The Predator and he did quit early in production, it’s what happened in the middle that creates the Chinese whispers. Van Damme joined the Predator production just before principle photography was set to start, various sources indicate that he was present on set in the jungles of Pelenque Mexico where the vast majority of the film was shot. Now here’s the thing, preliminary shooting stopped early on for a few reasons: The income stream ran dry, there was a holdup with Arnie’s availability, and McTiernan hated the Predator suit. The suit it would seem is central to this case.
The Early Predator Suit 1
The Predator as we know it is in fact not the Predator that they began shooting with. Predator suit 1 was a strange spindly tall creature with a kind of exoskeleton topped with a sheep skull and large yellow eyes. McTiernan hated it and bought in Stan Winston, whilst the production was on hold, to redesign the costume. What Winston delivered would go on to be one of cinema’s most recognisable creatures. What does this have to do with Van Damme? Well it’s during the suit 1 phase of filming that his Predator career would begin and end. For the ‘invisible cloaking’ effect the Predator costume would be replaced by an exact copy, identical
in size, but with all recognisable colour and detail replaced with red foam. The colour red would then be removed in post and replaced with the invisible effect.
The red Predator Suit 1. JCVD inside?
McTiernan would shoot two scenes on location using the red suit 1. Images from this phase of filming, along with quotes from producer Joel Silver and actor Jesse Ventura would suggest that it was Van Damme who was in the red suit during these initial location effect shots. Now Van Damme’s account of leaving the production so early on focuses on the crew’s lackluster approach to stunt safety. After refusing to carry out the stunt Van Damme insists “another actor was bought in to do the stunt and busted his ankle, after which the costume was redesigned…, So i was hired then i was cancelled“. This scenario was rubbished by Silver and popular belief seems to go along with Ventura’s assertion that Van Damme was released due to constant complaints about the suit, the temperature, and even the possibility of a deliberate attack on another stunt actor (see Ventura’s book ‘I Ain’t Got Time to Bleed’).
McTiernan checking out the suit, who’s that in the background?
Whatever the reason this much is clear; Van Damme certainly appeared in at least the red foam version of suit 1. The behind the scenes footage on the Special Edition DVD does show footage of the red suit 1, and there may even be a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot of Van Damme in the suit without the head on. One thing however is certain, Van Damme’s Predator was only ever the suit 1 version. By the time production restarted Stan Winston was on board, Van Damme was gone, suit 2 was in place, and inside it was Kevin Peter Hall. Hall would deliver the definitive Predator performance and, as great as it would be, I’m afraid there is no Van Damme in the final cut of 1987s brilliant Predator.
Bigfoot or JCVD?
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