Following in the footsteps of Kevin Peter Hall is a big task and it takes a very big man to be able to do it. I recently got a chance to speak with basketball star turned actor, Ian Whyte, the man behind the Predator’s mask in 2004’s Alien vs Predator and the upcoming sequel.
AvPGalaxy – Thanks for the interview Mr Whyte, I’m glad you could take some time to answer some questions. First off, can you tell us a little about your role in the Alien vs. Predator films?
Ian Whyte – Well; in a nutshell, the Predator is the ruthless, merciless giant killer warrior from the Movies of the same name. Originally designed by Stan Winston and portrayed by Kevin Peter Hall, in AVP the design was taken over by Tom Woodruff Jr and Alec Gillis and I have the pleasure of portraying the character.
AvPGalaxy – You used to be a professional basketball player. What made you decide to want to become an actor?
Ian Whyte – Boredom forced me to quit playing basketball, after a 9 year career playing for clubs all over Europe I needed a fresh challenge. Basketball in England is not at all like it is in the NBA. It wasn’t a particularly big decision to retire; there wasn’t anything keeping me in the game other than the fact that I couldn’t think of anything else to do at the time, but I just woke up one morning and decided that I didn’t want to do it any more. I didn’t really make a conscious decision to actually become an actor either. It wasn’t until after AVP had been shot and I began to receive offers of other roles that the notion of doing more performance work actually crossed my mind.
AvPGalaxy – Did you want to become a suit actor specifically?
Ian Whyte – To be brutally honest, opportunities for seven foot tall actors are rare occurrences. Even opportunities to play such iconic movie monsters as the Predator are few and far between, so I consider myself very lucky indeed to have had the opportunity twice. I would relish a chance to play a character without a mask, but I’m not holding my breath for the chance. Besides, I really enjoy playing such a diabolical and iconic creature as the Predator, wearing a mask is a real luxury as far as performance goes, you can really let go of reality.
AvPGalaxy – Had you seen any Alien or Predator films prior to doing Alien vs. Predator 1?
Ian Whyte – Yes absolutely; I have always been a fan of science fiction and fantasy, particularly literature. I really love the genre of SCi Fi horror, seeing what can happen to human beings when we cease to become the dominant species is a terrifying concept.
AvPGalaxy – How did you end up playing Scar in the first AVP?
Ian Whyte – I attended a casting in London after being approached by a casting director. It was the hottest day of the year and in a studio near Kings Cross I was asked to don a wetsuit, a balaclava and a rough mock up of the Predator head with big thick ropes for dreads and I was told to start running. About an hour later I was finally allowed to stop and the footage was sent across town to Paul Anderson. The following day, I met Paul for approximately 30 seconds; long enough for him to say “Hmmm, Ok, thank you!” and I departed. A week later I flew to Prague to meet Tom and Alec from ADI, who had the final say on who to cast and a week after that I received the good news.
AvPGalaxy – What was it like working with Paul Anderson? And how different was it working with the Strause brothers on AvP2?
Ian Whyte – Prior to AVP I had never worked with any director before, so I really had no frame of reference. Although I was aware of some of his more high profile work, I didn’t really research any it prior to doing AVP; I thought it was more important to research the original Predator films. Everyone who offered an opinion on him said that he was perfectly easygoing and reasonable to work with and being honest, I must say that I found him to be nothing but that. He was totally professional, very calm and very single minded in getting exactly the shot that he wanted. After all, AVP was his baby, he wrote it to direct himself, it was his vision and it had his personality stamped all over it. Greg and Colin were equally professional in their approach to direction and were equally focussed. Despite their experience in visual effects, we shot every piece of action for real and the brothers were almost genius in realizing their vision for the film. Every single shot right down to the smallest insert had been meticulously planned and scrutinized in pre production, they are self confessed fans of the Alien and Predator films themselves and they were also single minded in their focus on exactly the film that they wanted to make.
AvPGalaxy – How many stunts did you do in the first film? Have you done any in the second one?
Ian Whyte – With this sort of performance stunts are a bit of a grey area. The role demands a great deal of action performance which often crosses over into stunt performance. On AVP I was a little frustrated at what I was allowed and not allowed to do, since then I have tried to maintain some sort of control over what stunts I do myself and what has to be done by a stunt double, but producers are not very accommodating when it comes to letting a lead performer perform dangerous stunts. The entire movie could be in jeopardy if anything were to go wrong, so it all really comes down to the relationship that you build with the stunt coordinator and your double and making sure that they understand what the performance requires. In AVP I had a stunt man who performed the death defying stuff, including a great deal of the Celtic fight scene, but I did most of the other action myself. In AVP2, the intensity with which the fight scenes were choreographed meant that it had to be a total team effort from beginning to end and I’m glad to say that I had an exceptionally good stunt double who I had complete trust in.
AvPGalaxy – Are there any particular scenes that you enjoyed working on the most?
Ian Whyte – To be honest no! Not because I didn’t get any enjoyment out of it, don’t get me wrong. The locations and set design were inspired and British Columbia in the autumn is absolutely beautiful, but this movie was so intense from beginning to end, so hard, so demanding, so bloody, yet so exciting and rewarding; I couldn’t possibly choose one scene over another. Upon movie wrap I said to the brothers: “If the difficulty in making a film is any indication as to how the finished piece is going to look, then this is going to be one hell of a film, because I’m exhausted!”
AvPGalaxy – What is it about the Predator that appeals to you?
Ian Whyte – The main thing that I love about the Predator is that he’s a bad guy and everyone always remembers the bad guy.
AvPGalaxy – For your role as Scar, did you go back and watch Kevin Peter Hall’s performance in the original Predator movies so you would be able to mimic the Predator moves?
Ian Whyte – Yes, absolutely. There was only one frame of reference for me and that was Kevin Peter Hall’s performance in the original films. I was aware of the necessity to maintain continuity between his performance and my own and I was also very aware that I would be judged by the original portrayal of the character. However, as all fans of the genre are aware, the Predator dies at the end of every film, therefore any subsequent Predator is going to be a completely different character even though they are the same species. I went through the original films frame by frame and tried to extrapolate little nuances of his performance to maintain some continuity of Predator style body language. The entire character of the Predator is governed by the necessity to convey emotion through body language because it’s only when the mask comes off that we can truly see the malevolence within those deep set eyes..
AvPGalaxy – Being a suit actor is a lot different from being a normal actor. The character you’re playing has to be conveyed through your own body movements. How did you create a difference between the Predator you played in AvP1 and the Predator in AvP2?
Ian Whyte – Apart from not been classically trained, I think that the main difference between “normal” acting and suit performance is the scale involved and the subsequent level of stamina and endurance required to deliver the performance through the suit. The emotions are still going on under the mask all the time. In AVP I had to play several different characters and although they looked similar and were easily recognisable as Predators, I tried to play them all with subtle differences. Scar was of course the hero; I tried to play him with a more regal air in human terms, smarter and highly skilled as a warrior. Celtic was the alpha male; he got stuck in to the aliens without any hesitation and the lesser character who was known as “choppers” on account of the huge scimitar blades on his wrists was a bit like the hired muscle and consequently the first to die. The Predator in AVP2 is completely different again, both physically and with regard to the concept of the character. I wanted to play him with supreme confidence, unmatched skill at arms, with the wizened, grizzled, experienced attitude of a veteran warrior.
AvPGalaxy – Which of the two films has been your favourite to work on and why?
Ian Whyte – AVP was a joy to work on because I had never, ever done anything quite like that before. It was a big budget film, with a high profile and it was great to be in a city like Prague for six months. AVP2 has been a real achievement by everyone who worked on it. It was a pleasure to work with old friends again and a pleasure to make some new ones, but if you are putting a gun to my head and asking me to choose, then I would have to say AVP2. AVP was a great film and was hugely successful, but as far as the concept of battles between Aliens and Predators goes; you ain’t seen nothing yet!
AvPGalaxy – What’s that suit like? How do you manage to stay in that thing for so long?
Ian Whyte – It’s a case of resigning yourself to the fact that it is going to be marginally difficult most of the time and almost impossible for the rest of the time. You don’t get the option to say “Oh; I don’t feel like doing this right now because I’m hot, tired and uncomfortable” that’s the business of suit performance. After a long night on location in the freezing cold rain with dawn’s early light about to break, you have to reach down within yourself as far as is necessary in order to find the motivation to deliver the performance. “No art without pain and suffering!” that was the creatures department motto.
AvPGalaxy – Were there many changes to the suit for the second film that might have made it easier for you to wear? I mean, the first suit did look rather bulky.
Ian Whyte – Absolutely! Apart from little design stylisations to make the character unique, the new costume is entirely reminiscent of the original; it was very tight fitting and was designed to make the Predator more svelte, lithe and athletic in appearance.
AvPGalaxy – Do you have any other projects beside AvP2 that we’ll be seeing you in soon?
Ian Whyte – I’d love to tell you, I really would!
AvPGalaxy – Once again, thanks for the interview. Any last words?
Ian Whyte – No pressure on Greg and Colin at all, but this movie really is going to be off the charts.