AJ: There was a rumor circulating for years afterwards that the Gary Busey role, the character Peter Keyes was always intended for Arnold to play. So, as you mentioned, you had planned for Danny Glover and Arnold Schwarzenegger together to star in Predator 2 at one point. Can you recall if that governmental Keyes role was…?
No, Arnold was going to play the same character as he did from the first film. He was going to play the guy who’d been through that madness and had left like the gunslinger. I think Keyes pulled it back in but the Keyes wasn’t such a big character in the original script because Arnold didn’t do it. He became a much bigger character, a government character.
Aaron: So, would he have been there sort of like tracking the Predator to kill it down kind of thing?
He would have been the guy who wouldn’t have been telling the cops what was going on but trying to use the police force to get him into a position to deal with the creature. The government would have wanted him to be on their side but I think he was going to be fighting for his own agenda. He wanted revenge and he wanted to know what was going on. He was going to use the government and eventually ally himself with Harrigan and go head-to-head with the creature.
Aaron: So, kind of like a three-way kind of situation – the cops are dealing with it, Dutch is there with his own agenda trying to deal with it. The government’s doing what they would do in the finished film of picking it up for the technology. So that was like a 60-page thing?
Joel and Larry obviously had both done independently 48 Hours and Lethal Weapons. So it was very much in that wheelhouse where there was two cops who didn’t really know each other and had to go head-to-head, had to fight together against something.
AJ: So once Arnold was out, you came up with a great casting choice of Danny Glover. Danny Glover reported to say that one of the many reasons he jumped at the chance to play Mike Harrigan in Predator 2 was the opportunity to break through racial boundaries and as Danny Glover put it, “When’s the last time you saw a black man fighting a supernatural being?” So, was it difficult in 1989, 1990 for you to get the studio to agree on casting Danny Glover and such a hugely diverse supporting cast?
I think they were concerned on the international markets that they were worried about stuff like that obviously. Hopefully it doesn’t matter anymore. Mind you I think it does in certain markets. There’s still a racism involved but luckily Danny had done the Lethal Weapon films which were huge. I think that helped us break a mold and because we set it into this Latino future, we were allowed to have María Conchita Alonso and Ruben Blades. Really diversify like that and it wasn’t a conscious anti-racism choice because I’m blind to that kind of thing, I hope.
I hope I am as much as possible so I just wanted the best people for the part. Joel really fought it and Fox weren’t sure. They were kept on trying to figure out whether… but Danny also wasn’t… it wasn’t just a racial thing, I think. He hadn’t stood out. He hadn’t been the lead in one of these films before and later in my career… I’d done movies like Blown Away and things like that. Where I cast actors who weren’t really action stars a lot of the time because always, I liked to blend that kind of intelligent actor with action because I was brought up with the great 60’s and 70’s thrillers and action movies like Gene Hackman.
These are not sort of studly, go to the gym, kind of guys. They’re just really tough rough guys and I always liked that in my thrillers and kind of saw this as more of a thriller in a way I think than a horror film. It was more like that. It was more probably like French Connection than it was like a normal horror movie, I think.
Aaron: That’s one of the interesting things about Predator as a concept though. I think it’s really flexible in what you do with it so you can take it and put it in different genres and sort of see what the result is. You’ve got that with Predator 2 being so different from the way the first one’s handled and then the third one and then the batsh*t crazy fourth one. Just to go back a little in the timeline and that’s in terms of your early collaboration with the Thomas brothers.
Now the great thing about those guys is they were there for one and two and they said they treated the second one as the Predator bible. So, in August of 89, you began developing Predator 2 with the Thomas brothers before that first draft was even completed. I mean you said you got a 60-page thing with Arnie and you personally contribute story sequences like the opening street shootout, the subway train sequence. You apparently drew more than 400 storyboards for the film. People like to go on about Ridley Scott on Alien but you were here cranking them out for Predator 2 as well!
There are 1100 pages of them and the ones that were in the ultraviolet sequence were in black with color on them. I mean they’re all very literal. I don’t think I injected many of my own sequences. I think everything in here was from the Thomas Brothers. I think I hopefully made them bigger and better, or at least better or something. There were financial constraints which sometimes pushed us into different areas so things would change. But I think all the sequences were in the original draft of it. I don’t think I was smart enough to add a whole bunch of stuff into it.
Aaron: What was it like working with those guys though? I mean especially from such an early process? I mean I don’t think that tends to be terribly typical of working all the way through that creative process with the writers is it? You come aboard sort of towards the end maybe do a rewrite or two but what was it like working with those guys?
Well, they knew exactly what they wanted and they’ve been working on it for a while I think so they’re delightful guys. I don’t think I’ve seen them since we did it. I think years later I came across them once for something. Yeah, they are very quiet in the background kind of like a couple of cowboys. They’re very gently spoken but they’re very clear about what they saw. They knew what Joel liked and they knew what worked from the first film. It wasn’t supposed to be I don’t think quite as hyperbolic as maybe I helped it become.
I think it was to be more of a menacing sort of thriller in a city and I got carried away with all the new toys I’ve never had before. Of course we could do things in those days that you can’t really do often in films now. You can’t land helicopters in the middle of L.A. anymore or blow-up streets. The first week was that opening shootout and it was just mayhem. I don’t know how we got away with it. I’ve got to say the Thomas brothers were doing great stuff, Stan Winston… I worked a lot more with Stan than I did with them I think, coming up with new gags.
They had a million ideas and we just narrowed them down to the ones that we thought we could do well and that fitted into the story. So it just wasn’t stuff happening all over the place. I got very involved in the sequence in the slaughterhouse. We came up with the ideas of having the dust in the air and all the different cameras on the shoulders and all that kind of stuff which was very complicated to shoot. I wanted the Predator to feel like a larger-than-life real creature that had its own mystery and stuff. So I concentrated on him a lot and then we just went to town making all the characters. How about those Jamaican guys? They were so bonkers.
AJ: Didn’t you get those guys just off the street? like a lot of them weren’t actors? I mean Calvin Lockhart was, I think, a Shakespearean actor but something like Gold Tooth and stuff, weren’t they like bouncers?
They’re all stunt guys because there wasn’t a lot of chatting going but they had to have a physical presence and then they all had to die fantastically horribly.
AJ: Did Joel Silver… he tends to have this reputation of being a hands-on producer. I know I think Predator 2 and Die Hard 2 were sort of parallel. Was he spending most of his time with your production or was he over on the Die Hard 2 set most of the time?
He was on the Die Hard 2 set because I think it was a very troubled production. I heard all the stories. I’m sure they went for snow and they didn’t have snow and they kept on moving around. It went think quite heavily over budget but when I needed him, he was always there. He’d come in and abuse somebody and make things happen and fight for things. He was a big fighter but actually I mean this is all history so it’s nothing new. During the making of the film, he was thrown off the Fox lot actually and he wasn’t allowed to be there anymore. He was finally allowed to come back in for some of the sound mix but he really went up against the Fox studio and they chucked him off the lot for a while.
I think if you look at history books, it’s all there. I think Die Hard 2 turned into a huge production issue for the studio and they didn’t have any luck on the film. They were moving to Denver to get snow and there was no snow so they’d moved to Boston. Really big huge budget moves for everything. I think he just got to a point of fighting with them so much that they just said look it got really heavy. Our film was actually quietly being made in the background while Die Hard 2 was going sort of through the roof.
I’m not telling anything that people don’t know, I think. He ended up at Warner Bros after that. He never made another movie for Fox. We got looked at more because of it in case we were doing something outrageous. In fact, our production man got fired and they put someone new in. Had to deal with a lot of suddenly being under the microscope in case we were running a mock but we didn’t have the kind of budget of Die Hard 2. It was huge.
Aaron: In in terms of like your experience on the set as a director, it was your first real big studio kind of thing. Did you find it an easy experience because I see a lot of parallels between you and like David Fincher and his first big film was notoriously awkward. So, from your perspective as it being your first big director gig, how was that experience getting through? Were you not fighting with the studio? You’re just getting on and even though you were doing your crazy 28-year-old running around the streets kind of thing, it was a smooth process?
I was so excited I didn’t really notice a lot of that stuff. There wasn’t a lot of studio politics. They said this is what you got, make it, make it. We already had the wonderful Alan Silvestri involved so we knew he was going to do a great job and there was already an audience for it they thought. So, there were some moments where they wouldn’t let me do stuff so I would have to fight stuff. I always fought too much probably in my career, made enemies here and there and get too carried away.
It was actually just mainly a pleasurable experience I think because Danny was terrific, Gary was just a riot on set. Maria and Bill Paxton obviously was just everyone’s favorite because he’s such a delightful great guy and Ruben Blades was just a really cool bloke too. That interview thing was amazing because we’re shooting this… we had two nights doing this big sequence to do with them finding the dead bodies in the stuff and we had had cranes on top of cranes on top of cranes doing these complicated shots and the sun was going up. I’m going to Josh McLaglen, the AD, “Where is Ruben?” and he says “He’s outside”.
Because they’re getting interviews all the time right and so the sun’s coming up. I’m about to lose the whole thing and see him there and he’s a great guy. I had no idea it was live so just apparently cursed on the Good Morning America‘s last ever live interview apparently because of it and had no idea and we shot it, we got it and it was great. I went to bed and woke up with like 50 messages on my antique answering machine the next evening before going to work. I found out I caused such a lot of trouble and I got death threats. Then after shooting the following night we went on to Good Morning America the following morning.
Ruben and I, we were thinking of playing some gags and having a fight during the interview but in the end, we could hear Joan Lunden in New York and everyone talking. They didn’t realize we could hear them talking and they weren’t looking for trouble. So, we could hear what they wanted and we just smiled and I apologized because obviously I had no idea.