Aaron: So personally speaking, for me in particular, the ‘could have beens’ of films are one of the things that I just absolutely love learning about. It fascinates me so much. So, on that vein, one of the things I’d really like to ask you about is the other potential casting choices that could have been made for Predator 2. One of the more interesting ones for me in particular is this mention of John Lithgow potentially being in the running for Peter Keyes. Do you remember much about meeting with him and what would it have been like?
I worked with him years later. I mean he would have been great because he’s such a giant towering presence but I don’t remember that at all. Maybe they’d talked to him before I came on or something but it was all very rushed. It was like an accelerated production from beginning to end. From when they finally went go and we were off and running with very little production. Very little prep really for a film like that because Stan Winston had done a lot of work beforehand which is a huge thing and all the robotics guys had tested everything. But no, John Lithgow would have been great but there’s something about Gary in that film where he’s just so full of energy. He’s so specific. He does exactly what you are asking to do and he does it with this unbridled love of acting.
Aaron: Were there any other potential casting choices that stick out in your head for anybody?
No, I think Maria was a really obvious choice. She was quite a big star at that point. Bill obviously had been in Aliens by then right. I think he was really well known and perfect for it because he’s such a fun guy as well as a such a great actor, I think. Once Danny was on and one of the reasons, I was pleased about Danny too, I think sometimes in films if you get an actor like that, they’re a magnet for other good actors. People go “Oh we want to work with Danny Glover”. So, there was no problem getting other actors on it and stuff. Because we placed it in a sort of Latino future, we were already going for Latino actors a lot for guys around him. It wasn’t like people were coming in and reading the script. we went for people.
Aaron: Speaking of Bill then, it’s been four years since he passed and we all still really miss him. He’s made such a big impact on, specifically the films we love, as well the ones that we’re here to talk about on the website as well as so many others and so the story goes, that you just went “Bill, do you want this role? You loved doing Aliens, do you want to come and be on this thing?” So, what was your experience working with him. Is there any particular sort of like days that stand out where he just like knocked your socks off or anything like that?
I think he wanted to do it actually because he liked the character. His character was a real goofball but you can’t just do comedy relief. If you’re gonna have someone playing a cop, they can’t just be there for jokes, they gotta be good at their jobs. Bill’s a very tough guy. He’s very athletic, very strong guy so he’s willing to play and have fun but he also really was committed to his stuff. It’s very difficult for you to ask me to remember days on set 30 years ago now but he was up for anything. I don’t think he and Gary Busey had any scenes together because that would have been an explosion, I think.
If that had happened because those two energies together in one room… they’re both really high energy people and it would have been a real energy off between the two of those guys but Bill was up for anything. He’d make a fool of himself. you wouldn’t want to get into a fight with Bill. It’s like difference between Sean Connery and Roger Moore. Sean Connery can make a joke but you don’t want to get in a fight with him. I know actually because he’s yelled at me on set but Roger Moore, you’d probably share a joint with Roger. Bill was like possibly a real formidable physical presence as well as having all the other stuff to go along with it. So that’s what made his character so popular in the film, I think.
AJ: It’s well known that the classification board had originally wanted to give Predator 2 an NC17 rating and to prevent that, you had to make many cuts to bring it down to an R. It always sounded like these were smaller cuts made around gore rather than any significant changes. We were curious if there were any substantial impacting cuts that you can recall, even impressive gore that you wish fans could have seen.
I’d love to be able to come with some stuff again but actually it was really frame by frame cutting. I think we had to go back 17 times with the film and a part of it was political. I think they were trying to make a statement with Joel’s films because he was making all these big violent action films and I’d already had a run in with them on Nightmare on Elm Street as well. They also had a hard on a little bit for Bob Shaye in the Nightmare films and it was just this period of time.
Because I’d had a run in with them and Joel constantly, they wanted to make a bit of an example. At one point it was thought “Well maybe we should just go with the NC17. Maybe that would be huge. The first time anyone had done it.” But there’s all the repercussions like not being advertised in newspapers and this is obviously before the internet. So it was really a choice that the studio wasn’t willing to make. In the end, actually, it was more to do with political conversations I think as well as tiny cuts and some of the nudity in the Jamaican scene with Teri Weigel and hanging shots too long. It was really that kind of boring stuff that you could cut out.
They didn’t cause us to cut any scenes out of the film. It was just sort of trying to whiz by things. Of course this was a time when it wasn’t easy to freeze frame things like it is now. Now you can go through every frame and see every disgusting bit. I’m actually shockingly not a big gore fan. I’m kind of queasy and so I just thought it was all fun. I thought at the same time I think if there’s violence in films, I think it should have an impact. I don’t think it should ever be violent porn. I think it should be frightening. That’s the point of it right.
It was like scenes like King Willie being killed and all that kind of stuff. You had to go into every single thing and to make them feel good about themselves but no, there was no time. We had no time to edit this thing and because in those days, we were still editing on film. I had a desk the size of this room because some of it was in 70mm, some was 35mm. So Mark Goldblatt and I, when we were sitting in the edit room, we’re going if we’re going to make an edit. We just look at each other and go okay come back later because you’d have to cut all these different things and you have literally to climb across the steam bag to get to that bit and cut that bit. It was all done on film and if you changed the visual effect, the repercussions of time and money were huge and we just said to sort of go with our gut.
AJ: Well, speaking of that small window and I actually remember as a young teenager reading those magazines and like “Oh my god Stephen Hopkins, he had no time on Nightmare on Elm Street 5 and now he had no time in Predator 2. Is he gonna think that this is like the way Hollywood goes.” I mean with principal photography beginning February 20th 1990 and with that final release date being moved up to November 21st and that ridiculous small window you had to complete the film, do you look back and marvel at the accomplishment Predator 2 is with such a small period of time to make it?
Yeah, I did a good job of shooting the right shots but a lot of other people – Mark Goldblatt obviously is a master of his craft. You look at all the great films he’s done but Joel Hynek who did all the visual effects stuff. A lot of it was brand new and it was all on film so there were no quick turnarounds on things. So, we were editing and doing the visual effects as we went and that’s the only way it could happen. It kind of suited me then because when you’re 28, you don’t need to sleep right. you’re like on it.
My hair’s flying in the wind and we’re just like zooming along and Alan Silvestri had done… we’d taken a lot of the score from the first film. It was all re-recorded beautifully back up at Skywalker Ranch afterwards with this huge orchestra. It’s one of the highlights of my career I think working with him on that first one but everyone knew what they were doing. Stan knew what he was doing. Everything was properly prepared from that point of view and I didn’t really change actually.
I very rarely have done a film where the post was this generous gorgeous thing. Now it gets worse and worse on electronic posts because now, they think “Oh look electronic, you just do it”. There’s a different way of thinking in those days but it was that kind of film, I think. It was shot with a velocity. The film has a huge amount of velocity. It doesn’t hang around very much. It’s a train. It’s a fast train and we all knew it before we started. I always thought the thanksgiving release was a strange choice but yeah what do I know.
I haven’t worked in Hollywood before so they know what they’re doing. I guess it was a counter programming experiment and I’m not sure if it worked. I know it opened really well the first weekend but I think everyone was so disappointed by the Arnold thing. Yeah, probably if we had a couple more months, we could have finessed it better. It really wouldn’t have changed the film I don’t think that much, the nature of it.
AJ: Yeah, I remember that being a big criticism that Arnold wasn’t coming back. It was like a Terminator film without Arnold or an Alien film without Sigourney Weaver. At that point it was still considered Arnold’s franchise and I think during the time of Predator 2‘s release, he was the biggest box office star in the world. That was between Total Recall and Kindergarten Cop and then Terminator 2 that followed it. So that must have been rough, you already had the chips against you.
Yeah, I didn’t know. I had no idea but yeah, I didn’t realize he was such a huge star until afterwards. There’s been Terminator films with Arnold in which have been sh*t too and there have been a couple of Alien films that just didn’t work with Sigourney. This was the day when film posters were an actor’s giant face. It was the era of that in those days and that’s not the case anymore.
Now if there was a Predator, it might not have the active space on it. It’s more of a brand thing but if it had been Predator 2 with Arnold in it, it wouldn’t have “He’s in town for a few days to kill” with him waiting on the thing. It would have been Arnold and that made all the difference. I think it would have been impossible for him to do it. I think the schedule with the Terminator film and then that film was a film that took a very long time to make. Jim is very meticulous in his prep and everything so he was just not willing to get caught up in in our schedule, I think.
Aaron: That was probably him being burnt over the first one to be honest because didn’t he get pulled back off the original for Conan? James wanted to do Terminator with Arnold but he got pulled off to do one of the Conan’s.
AJ: James Cameron found that it was a benefit because it gave him more time to prep for his Terminator shoot.
The first Terminator film is a great example of a guerrilla style of shooting on science fiction. With Predator 2, I went a bit crazy but those science fiction films where you feel like they really happen. They’re grounded and stuff and that world exists. That’s always more fascinating to me than the the completely… Lost in Space is an example of not a grounded film. There’s no reality to it at all whereas this was as I said, we shot it. We decided to shoot it like a dusty western in L.A. and it was more like a western and a thriller than a science fiction film or a horror movie, I think.