Back in 2007 AvPGalaxy had the opportunity to speak to Ian Whyte whilst he was working on Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem. I recently had the chance to catch up with the basketball player turned actor that played the Predator in two Alien vs. Predator films and took up the mantle as a member of the enigmatic race that has intrigued fans since Alien’s release in 1979 – the Engineers.
AvPGalaxy – Thank you for taking the time to chat with us again, Ian. Alien vs. Predator was your first foray into the world of acting. Prior to that you’d been a professional basketball player. They are drastically different professions. Did you find it difficult to adjust from being on the court to performing inside the Predator suits?
Ian Whyte – Sport, in my opinion, is and has always been a performance art, a highly specific and honed set of performance skills. Knowledge of that skill set automatically includes a desire, a willingness, a discipline, a determination to learn, grow and push forward. To master new skills, to never give up, and to strive for success. It was the sort of rationalisation that spurred me to match opportunity with my own need to find a new direction and focus in my life.
AVP appeared for me at precisely the moment in my life it was supposed to. The discipline and focus that I had employed as a sportsman was absolutely vital to effectively deliver a believable performance in front of the camera. The main difference is consistency of effort. As a sportsman, I generally had the luxury of building up my training for the big game, or big event, put everything on the court for two hours and then rebuild for the next game.
When you are shooting a film, particularly an action film like AVP, every day is “game day” and its game day ALL DAY, not just for a few hours. A better question though is one I have been asked many times: “What’s the difference between what you do and acting.” In my opinion, there is no difference. I didn’t study at drama school. That is the main Difference and in many eyes that is the only difference that matters, but underneath the makeup, underneath the mask, it’s still going on. The emotion is still pouring out. Bruce Lee once said: “Everything I learned about acting I learned from Kung fu.”
I’ll be the first to admit that basketball won’t teach you much about the big wide world, in fact it is a very narrow view indeed. But sport teaches you a great deal about yourself. Becoming an actor focused everything about myself in a new direction. A new illuminated direction where I could reapply myself to further growth. One of my all time hero’s; Oliver Reed once said “My acting school was, and still is, life.” My education was not classical, I am not that sort of actor. it was different. Not inferior, not superior, just different. If you were to train a classically trained actor to be an international class basketball player, I imagine it would take as many years of grim determination and sacrifice as I have committed to my work in front of the camera.
AvPGalaxy – Considering how iconic the role of the Predator is, did you find it daunting playing that creature in your first outing as an actor?
Ian Whyte – Yes, I found it very daunting indeed. I was under no illusion as to how important it was to deliver a worthy performance. I trained very hard for the physical aspects, I studied the previous films frame by frame for hours on end. At one point I even practised the sounds!
AvPGalaxy – You have previously commented that during the casting process for Alien vs. Predator you met with ADI and that they had the final word on your casting. Have you found this to be typical of your work as a creature actor; that the creature effect designers play an important part in creature casting?
Ian Whyte – There is no such thing as a typical casting process. Not for “Creature performance,” or any other sort of role. Every part is different and the casting process is always different. It is always a joy to work with people that I have worked with before, but even then you still have to show the director that you can meet his vision.
AvPGalaxy – You’ve played several different Predator characters, all with different masks, different sets of armour and completely different characters. Which would you say was your favourite Predator?
Ian Whyte – Wolf, no question! I poured my heart and soul into him… not to mention blood, sweat and tears.
AvPGalaxy – Not only have you performed on the Predator side of the franchises, you also starred in Prometheus as one of the Engineers from the Alien franchise. How did you come to be cast as the Last Engineer?
Ian Whyte – I had a call from Conor O’Sullivan who was the prosthetics designer on Game of Thrones at the time. I had worked with him before on Clash of the Titans and several seasons of Game of Thrones and he asked me to do some makeup tests for the Engineer makeup. I think I had done 3 or 4 separate makeup tests, including a 9 hour full torso application before I briefly met Ridley Scott and it wasn’t until after that I was asked to formally audition with the casting director. Ironically, the scene that I auditioned was the one scene in the film that I did not perform ; the self sacrifice scene on top of the waterfall at the beginning.
AvPGalaxy – When you auditioned for the role of the Engineer, was the film still an Alien film or had it already transitioned into Prometheus?
Ian Whyte – No, by the time I was on board it was Prometheus as we know it.
AvPGalaxy – I know you’ve previously said you were a fan of the Alien and Predator films prior to taking on the roles but were you aware of the mystery surrounding the Engineer character you would be playing in Prometheus and did that inform your take on the role?
Ian Whyte – Well, it was very hard to deny that this was more than just a film. Alien is part of cinematic history and the Engineer was an idea in Ridley Scott’s mind before Prometheus came to fruition. I tried to keep a firm grip on that mystery, that aloofness, a sense of regal superiority.
AvPGalaxy – Unlike the Predators, there was little in the way of previous performances to inform your own for the film. What sort of preparation did you do for your role in Prometheus? Did you receive much in the way of direction from Ridley Scott in how to play the Engineer?
Ian Whyte – Recently I read an article in The Guardian by Omid Djalili. He was recounting his scenes with Oliver Reed in Gladiator and he also recounted asking Ridley Scott why he didn’t give him any direction. Ridley simply answered: “If you’re in a Ridley Scott film you don’t need direction.” It wouldn’t suggest that Ridley didn’t give direction, but his direction is very subtle. By the time you get in front of the camera, all the preparation is done.
He doesn’t say “Do this, go here” you just chat… about… anything. Working with Guy Pierce was very similar. During the awakening scene, the camera team requested a pause to technical adjustments. Instead of calling in the stand-ins we just started chatting. 45 minutes later we were still chatting!
AvPGalaxy – Whilst it didn’t appear in the theatrical release of Prometheus, a conversation in the Engineer language between yourself and Michael Fassbender’s character, David, was filmed. How did you prepare for speaking a completely fictional language and what exactly did you the two of you talk about?
Ian Whyte – The alien language was developed by a very learned linguist, Dr Anil Biltoo. Who is not only “the linguist” from Prometheus, he is the head of languages at the SOAS language centre at the University of London. It was derived, or inspired by an early root language about 10000 years old, long before Asian and European languages began to develop independently. Initially I spent a good few hours learning the intrinsic intonations and then went away with a few paragraphs that had been translated into “Alien” to learn verbatim as practice before the actual script.
One of the paragraphs was the tears in rain scene from Blade Runner. A film I am very, very familiar with. But the words “Tannhauser” and “Orion” did not translate into the alien language because they are names. As a result they stood out from the text very conspicuously and gave away the entire meaning of the exercise. As soon as I realised what I was reading, my mind automatically translated it back into English, (and into Rutger Hauer’s voice as well probably) and tears welled up within me, such is the emotive power of that scene. I went back to the producers and said, “look, I appreciate the need for practice, but you’ve got to let me see the script. This is Blade Runner and every time I read it I cry! I need to study it and learn it with relevance to my own character.” It was quite difficult to learn, I disciplined myself to study one line a day.
What did we talk about? David was basically translating for Guy Pierce. In a nutshell “nobody lives for ever!” There was also a sequence at the end of the battle when Elizabeth is escaping down the tunnel where I was shouting after her that she would never reach “paradise.”
AvPGalaxy – One of the more interesting scenes you had in Prometheus was when your Engineer got intimate with the Trilobite. What was it like filming that scene?
Ian Whyte – Intimate?! Ha! That was a brutal scene for sure. There was a great deal of development and rehearsal with the stunt team for that scene. I was dangling from the ceiling on wires, fighting a creature that wasn’t there. We had a life size beast for eye line, but it wasn’t a moving puppet. We almost only got one take. We ran the scene through until I was “violated” by the beast. When it came to laying still as a result of death, I just couldn’t stop writhing about. My lungs were trying desperately to fight their way out of my chest, as a result of the volume of special effects smoke, (which is CO2) being pumped into the set. I eventually sat up and with, (what I thought) was going to be my last breath, lunged for the doorway, (which was as far as I could get still being attached to the rigging wires) and desperately tried to get something that wasn’t CO2 into my lungs. The CO2 volume was reduced after that.
AvPGalaxy – The sequel to Prometheus, Alien: Covenant, will be shooting in the next few months. Can we expect to see you return as another Engineer in it? Or in another role perhaps?
Ian Whyte – No, you can’t! I think it will be highly unlikely. Not least because I became very, very dead at the end of Prometheus.
AvPGalaxy – In 2010 the third Predator film Predators was released but you didn’t appear as a Predator in it. I was curious as to if you were ever approached for the film?
Ian Whyte – Yes, I was approached. I was just finishing up Clash of the Titans as I recall and I remember speaking to the stunt coordinator about it briefly. But KNB were creating the costume effects and they obviously had their own casting brief and their own logistical priorities, seeing as the film was to be shot in Texas and Hawaii.
AvPGalaxy – What sort of physical preparation comes with performing under all that makeup and rubber? I imagine it must be really taxing on you?
Ian Whyte – My physical preparation is always my baseline. If I’m physically prepared, then I know that I am mentally prepared. Experience has taught me that you can’t have one without the other. Experience has also taught me that whatever part I play, I’m likely to get completely battered. You can’t just internalise the character, you have to do it for real. On Prometheus, I had never been so battered so early on in a film shoot. By the very end of AVP-R, I was practically power napping between takes. Not between scenes, between TAKES!
AvPGalaxy – Which would you say was your favourite creature to perform as? The Predator or the Engineer?
Ian Whyte – They are both important to me for very different reasons. AVP was my first film, it was literally a baptism of fire and the iconic nature of the Predator is very special in that respect. The Engineer was an idea in Ridley Scott’s head for 32 years before being realised on screen. It was a joy and a privilege to be tasked with bringing it to life.
AvPGalaxy – I have to ask…did you take home any mementos from your time on the sets of the AvP films?
Ian Whyte – I very gently asked Tom Woodruff Jr if I could keep one of the Predator daggers as a souvenir but all but one of them had been stolen.
AvPGalaxy – How about Prometheus?
Ian Whyte – No. I’m actually terrible at collecting souvenirs anyway and its not really done these days, everything has to be accounted for. I’ve got some black socks from Game of Thrones, but not as souvenirs. Mainly because by the time I get out of makeup the rest of the crew are long gone and I feel really guilty about leaving a pile of stinking, fetid, sweat soaked socks for the costume department to find the next day, so I took them with me.
AvPGalaxy – NECA created an action figure of your character in Prometheus. What is it like having a figure based on you?
Ian Whyte – It’s a fun thing. I have a few Predator figures and few Prometheus figures, but they just sit on a shelf getting dusty, waiting for my son to say “what’s that Daddy?”
AvPGalaxy – Following your appearance in Alien vs. Predator you started to make appear at the various conventions – I’ll actually be seeing you shortly at the London Film and Comic Con. How did you become involved with conventions and what was it like the first time you appeared at one of these events?
Ian Whyte – I really enjoy doing the conventions because I really enjoy talking to fans about movies. Not just my movies, but movies in general. At my first convention I was sandwiched between Tom Woodruff Jr on one side and Burt Reynolds on the other. I’m by no means an autograph collector, but I still have both their autographs on the wall in my office.
AvPGalaxy – Thank you again for taking the time to catch up with us. Before we sign off, is there anything you would like to share with our readers?
Ian Whyte – My pleasure… “Anytime!”