Robert Rodriguez and Nimród Antal directing Predators

On July 1st, I got a chance to participate in a roundtable interview with writer/producer Robert Rodriguez and director Nimród Antal about their upcoming Predator sequel Predators.

I’m really excited about this film, and hope people get a chance to see it in theaters. I feel like I haven’t really seen a lot of marketing for the film, and most of my friends didn’t even know its being released this Friday (although I’ve been told they are doing a heavy push of television advertisements during sports programing. Predators is a return to form for the series, which in recent years has suffered a not-so-good sequel, and two crappy Alien vs. Predator films. It’s not a great movie, but has a kick-ass opening 30 minutes and is definitely better than I think most will be expecting (to be fair, I wasn’t expecting anything at all).

You can read the transcript from the roundtable/press conference interview after the jump.

Question: I thought I’d start things off with a question for the both of you. It’s been 20 something years now since the first “Predator” movie. After all this time, why does the character endure? Why has this world endured for so long?

Nimrod : Yeah. I don’t know if we could answer that. And if I would be able to I wouldn’t tell you. [Laughter] Because that’s the magic, I think. I think the original film did something very special where you had McTiernan and you had Silvestri. And all these talented actors and all these people coming together to the great concept that the brothers put down. So I think that there was something there. That we were in the presence of greatness and we didn’t know it. And he’s now forever a member of the monster rogue galleries. We talk about vampires or werewolves–and Predators.

Robert : Yeah. I think there’s something just very unique about that movie. For one, just look at the movie itself. And something that inspired me to do mixed genre pictures later, was that I remember going to see it with my older brother, who was a bodybuilder, and who saw every Arnold Schwarzenegger movie that came out. And went to see that one thinking it was a “Commando” type film and then it starts turning. I remember the audience reaction in the theatre. They were kind of confused when it turned into sci-fi, and horror. And Arnold didn’t really win at the end. And sort of the alien blows up…the Predator blows himself up and flies off at the end like he’s going to the Looney bin, With the helicopter…. And everyone’s like, “Wow, what was that movie?” And it just caught on, and caught on, and it kept growing in popularity. Then the movie itself was very unique. But one thing I noticed when they first brought me back to this project for “Predators” is I went to go ask my artists in my studio last year if we should do this movie. And I walked into their offices and they all had busts, and dolls, and statues of Predator in their office. So I knew that the character itself was just a very enduring character. They still loved that character. And I tried to pinpoint what it was. I think it might be the fact that it’s somewhat humanoid. You can identify with it. And the fact that it was a guy in a suit made it feel almost more human. And people like bad guys, and they like to consider themselves the antihero. So I think that’s what that represented. And I think one of the reasons why we didn’t go CG with the Predator at all was to keep that identification with the audience. I think that’s what made it one of the great monsters, movie creatures, and enduring creatures in movie history.

Question: I had heard that there might be a chance that you would ask Arnold to do a cameo as Dutch at the end of the movie. Did you ever approach him? Did he consider it?

Robert : Early on since I’d worked with Arnold on the original script back in the day, I spoke with him about it, that was one of the questions I had myself. The world had changed since the last time I ever worked on this, which was ’95. In my script he was [laughs] the entire film. And now he’s governor so it was like, [laughter] “OK, I know we can’t get him for the lead, and I don’t think we can get him for a cameo.” We did entertain the idea of where could we place him. But as we started putting the script together, it just really felt like we were making our own film. And we thought, “Let’s not even bother him with him showing up and doing something …” we had such an erratic schedule we never would have been able to pinpoint like you would need to for somebody in his position. So it was going to be sort of a non starter. So we thought, “Let’s just make a really great movie. And if it’s received well, if we want a sequel, then maybe in the sequel we could ask him for the cameo.”

Question: The movie feels really primal. What specific things did you do to capture the primal nature of the Predator?

Nimrod : Well I think, and this kind of also answers, I think, the earlier question regarding the Predator. He’s the hunter– something that we’ve lost touch with. Our society now hunts for sport, which is almost disgusting compared to eating, feeding yourself, clothing yourself, and what hunting was originally supposed to be. I think in our earlier conversations with Robert, we…there was…a lot of things that we wanted to incorporate. And one was bringing back old school hunting techniques. Driving, flushing. We also wanted to bring back the jungle and make sure that that was a character in itself and something that would be threatening. So everything from lighting, working with Gyula Pados, our Director of Photography, who also…we sat down early on…Robert had a big concern about the jungles looking lush. And that was the last thing we wanted. We didn’t want this place where you’re going to want to get a margarita and [laughter] hang back. We wanted a threatening location where just a simple image would feel threatening. So we tried to do that as well. We would always start from the original film. That was always our intention, was to make something that the fans would appreciate again, but something that’d be able to stand on its own. Taking the original film into consideration and what they achieved, that was something that we tried to mirror as much as we could without aping it; without monkeying off of it and just redoing it. Did that make any sense? Does that…?

Robert : Also I…observing Nimrod, how he directs, he seems like a very soft-spoken person. But he’s actually [laughs] really commanding on the set and is able to get people to move and remember what they’re supposed to do. I’d walk on the set, and you’ll have to imitate yourself and say “Shock and awe.” [Laughter] The way I would hear when would walk on the set: “Shock and awe, everybody! Shock and awe!” You’re like, “Oh he’s got a booming voice!” And everybody, no matter what the scene was, they would remember where they’re supposed to be. That’s just the hardest thing to capture, really, is just that continuity of… You know, this movie’s going to be strung together to last 95 minutes, but you’re shooting it over three or four months. So you need to have a director who’s really making sure everyone at every moment is in character and is in the character of the picture, which is supposed to be hard-driving, really fast, and intense, and never wavering from that. And Nimrod was really able that together and keep everybody really focused on that.

Nimrod : It’s all the drugs that I was doing while we were filming.

[Laughter]

Robert : [Laughs] He just really kept that in mind. I was really impressed about that.

Question: Adrien has said that he really had to fight for this movie; that had to prove to you that he could be an action star. And I wondered how much that was true, or–?

Robert : Or how much of it was color and all of that… I was very receptive, and Nimrod as well, to the idea of that. Because it seems on paper like an odd choice, but it really wasn’t. We went to him originally for another part that is actually not even in the movie now. It was in an early version of the script. I sent him an early script and he wrote back and said, “I don’t really want to play these kind of parts anymore. I want to play something like the lead.” And I thought, “Really? That’s a pretty out there choice.” And he said, “I’m going to send you a picture of….” We were just emailing back and forth —”…of this prison movie I just did with Forrest Whittaker. And this is what I look like now. I kind of beefed up for the movie a little bit, but I could go further than that.” So I checked it out. I was very impressed. I showed it to Nimrod and he said, “I don’t know. What do you think? Should we do it, bro? He’s an Oscar-winning actor.” [Laughter] Any time you have an Oscar-winning actor wanting to be in a Predator movie you’d probably go that route. And it’s fairly easy for us as filmmakers to make that choice, because we’re looking at a list of actors up for the role and it’s just guys who you’ve seen and just do it too many times. They’re already doing that same role in three other movies that year. So we are looking for something fresh and different. And really it felt like we needed that for this. Very much like when I cast Antonio in “Desperado” or George Clooney in “Dusk ‘Til Dawn.” They hadn’t done action either, you’re just going for really great actors and somebody that will feel surprising, and new, and fresh, and like you just discovered them. Yet it’s only because he’s transformed himself so much. He’s actually got the experience, and an Oscar, and has been around so long that he’s got the acting chops to be completely impressive. So you’ve got the best of both worlds —someone who’s really new and yet someone who’s not. And his passion was also refreshing; to see someone of his caliber really want something as bad as he did.

Nimrod : Yeah. That was amazing.

Robert : What I can’t stand is when you have these comfortable actors who have some success and they’re just, “I don’t know, I don’t know.” And this guy came in saying, “I want this. Please give this to me. I’ll fight for it. I’ll prove you guys wrong if you have any doubt.”

Nimrod : Yeah.

Robert : That was bitchin’. That was awesome.

Nimrod : Yeah. That was cool. That’s the main thing we talked about, too, was just the passion he had for the role, that he had something to prove, where the guys who would’ve already done these kinds of parts go, “Oh look. This is what I do and this is how I do it.” This was a lot more exciting and a lot more of an adventure for us. And we’re very pleased.

Robert : And it was our job to make him look tough. And that was the other thing. We knew we could do it. It’s our job. If we want to turn a man into a woman, we could do that. [Laughter] If we want to turn a woman into a man, we could do that! And we knew that Adrien’s…The perception of Adrien, especially films like “The Pianist” and everything, put him in a certain box in people’s minds. And we knew that we could turn him into whatever we needed him to be.

Question: I thought it was great that you were able to integrate a lot of the elements from the original, such as the infrared, and the voice…

Nimrod : Yeah, there’s some music elements as well.

Question: And I’m just wondering, were those things all there in the script or did you, afterwards, once you got the script, was it a matter of going in and adding? Like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we added this in here now?” And I have one other question afterwards . Go ahead.

Nimrod : [Yes. Yes. OK. I think first and foremost we were really lucky. I was really lucky with Robert, because there was never much of a discrepancy between his opinion and my opinion as to where this thing had to go, and…for some reason I’m blanking. My short-term memory seems to have just gone out the window. I was about to answer something, and then it just went out…

Robert Rodriquez: Was that the infrared?

Nimrod: The infrared. So, we knew early on that we wanted to incorporate elements that were going to give the original fans a smile here. We wanted to throw in as many nods as we could, but we also wanted to be really careful about the balance of that and not have it just be a parody of or a redo of. We wanted the film to stand on its own. I think on the screenplay, there may have been even one or two more nods to the original film, but…

Robert: Yeah.

Nimrod: ….I think it was…Robert was like, “Let’s not try to”…we have to make it stand on its own, and that’s what we wanted to accomplish first and foremost, and the nods were just a secondary thing.

Robert: There’s only one I think that we added early on in the film, a Predator vision, only because we remembered not everyone who’s going to see this movie has seen any of the other ones, so you got to kind of set the rules. So, the mimicking of the voice and the…it seems redundant to someone who’s seen “Predator,” but we just kind of had to do that early on just so people would know that that’s what they’re capable of.

Nimrod: I think we found that balance where…

Robert: The balance was otherwise pretty much there. We had decided beforehand.

Question: Just my follow-up to that, I just want to ask you, I know you mentioned a thing about Arnold, but did you also possibly approach Jessie Ventura about a cameo?

Nimrod: Jessie… Well, he’s dead.

Robert: He died in the original [laughs].

Nimrod : Yeah, he’s dead. We put out like a mutant head or something on a stick, but…

Robert: I got an email from him during the production.

Nimrod: He’s alive?

[laughter]

Robert: It was just a blanket email he sent out to everybody. “I lost my phone. I lost all my contacts. Can you…” “We should bring him…oh, wait, he died in the original [laughs].” Yeah, you couldn’t bring any of these guys back. I would have loved to.

Question: Earlier on we heard from Robert about his first experience seeing the original. Could you tell us about yours?

Nimrod: Yes, fourteen years old, Avco on Wilshire…

[laughter]

Nimrod: Guido Martini, John McMann, Shawn Endler, and Chris Ulrich, and I.

Question: And you walked out going…

Nimrod: And I walked out and went, “Whoa.” And actually, the day that my agent called and said, “Robert Rodriguez just decided that you’re going to be directing this movie,” I was reunited with those guys after 15 years, and I was in a restaurant with them the moment I found out. That’s a true story.

Question: Why were you back together?

Nimrod: Well, one of them just got a nasty divorce in Vancouver and went crazy and rode his bicycle from Canada to L.A. Another one was just coming back…

Robert: That’s Guido.

Nimrod: But, he didn’t get a divorce in the end. They’re still together, so that worked out. So if you’re having marital problems, ride your bike. That’s the thing.

[laughter]

Nimrod: No, we just all…we hadn’t seen each other for years, and we all…we were the St. Paul’s The Apostle, which was where we all went to junior high school together, and we were all together again after many, many years.

Question: And then as a second question for Robert or both of you, when you’re figuring out the motley crew of characters who will be your predators, who do you include…were there other people who maybe you cut out, that you thought, “Oh, we can’t go that way.” Like, when you were deciding who would be the most viscous killers to bring together for a posse.

Nimrod: I mean, as far as the cast goes, too, I think it was always something that it would build…one would build off of the other. I think…we’d locked down one guy. I know that at one point the Hanzo character was supposed to be a…

Robert: Do you mean the characters, or did you mean the actors?

Question: I mean the characters.

Nimrod: Yeah, I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

Robert: We didn’t have any other characters. I’m trying to remember. Was there a character we dropped? I think there was one or two others.

Nimrod: Well, there was one other inmate I think that…

Robert: That’s right. That’s right.

Nimrod: There was an earlier draft where I think that there were two prison inmates that were thrown in together. And in our earlier conversations, I think we figured out that it’s probably best just to have one from each region, one from each zone, from each country, from each continent, however it plays out.

Robert: So you end up just going…throughout the movie he’s just going to be standing there most of the time waiting to throw a line in to pitch in, because you have two of the same character basically stealing each other’s moments. But other than that, it was pretty much…

Nimrod: And I wanted to cut out Izzy. I wanted to cut her out, and it wasn’t…it was just purely I didn’t want to have a prop running around going, “Ahhh!” I knew that if we were really going to put a girl in there, she’d have to really sell it. My first concern was, I didn’t…there aren’t very many theaters of war, there aren’t that many countries which allow women into combat, and we were talking about hardened people who have seen a lot of nasty things, so I was a little bit concerned with that, and I didn’t…I was worried, and Robert actually was like, “Dude, we…” I was like, “How many great girls have there been?” And then he started naming them off. He’s like, “Well, Ripley, Sarah Connor, Nikita…” and then I was like, “Oh, I guess you’re right. I guess there have been a few good ones.” It took me a bit to get my head around that, to accept that. And then we cast Alice Braga, and she’s probably one of the toughest of the bunch, man. She’s just…And as a character and as a person, she was just awesome.

Robert: We really got lucky. It was nice to push for that and see…push ourselves to try and make that happen, because that’s the heart of the movie now. We’re really happy with it.

Nimrod: It would have been a huge mistake if I would have won that battle.

Robert: I remember one point you came up and went…because it just wasn’t…on paper it wasn’t really working, and it’s combination of getting it to work on paper, but also getting the right actor. We didn’t have the actor yet, and you go, “I’m still not sure about this part. What if we made her an alien at the end?”

[laughter]

Nimrod: I still think that’s a good idea.

Robert: That’s not a bad idea, but…

Nimrod: I think she should have been an alien.

Robert: She didn’t have to…in case she wasn’t coming off, it was like, “Oh, because she was an alien, that’s why.” I said, “Let’s still keep trying,” and then we found Alice, and then we were both relieved. So, yeah.

Nimrod: The alien idea would have worked. I’m sorry, go on.

Predators

Question: As far as Control, what was the difference between coming up with such an inventive film in a confined space where the whole thing is in a subway system, and then having this whole world to play with? What did you find more challenging? And as far as in the series, for either of you to answer, I assume we’re supposed to forget about all “Predator 2” and the “Alien Versus “Predator” movie, so where does it…like if you guys get a sequel out of this one, what’s the next title, or what’s left, or does it get confusing?

Nimrod: “Predatorssss.”

[laughter]

Robert: The first question about control in a confined space and the limitations?

Nimrod: Well, Control was. I mean literally, clearly being in the jungle was very different from being in the Budapest subway system. But also, figuratively, the freedom that I enjoyed in control was something that I’ve never been able to really replicate here in the United States just given the system. But this was first film I’ve ever made where…and I think it was because a filmmaker was producing it, I was allowed more freedom and more…I was given more love and more respect as a filmmaker than I’ve ever been given in the American film system. So, control was a gift, but “Predators” is the first American film that I’m like, “Yes!” I’m really…” And it also plays into the fact that I grew up with the “Predator” poster on my wall, and I love…yes, I have action figures, and I am a geek, so that was a big deal for me.

Robert: And as far as the “Predator” title, I didn’t reference any of the other later pictures, only because when I originally wrote this, those didn’t exist. I was writing this always as a sequel. In fact, “Predator 2” had come out, but they didn’t want to go that direction, they wanted to get Arnold back. So when I wrote “Predators,” it was to forget that even “Predator 2” was made. This is going to be “Aliens” was to “Alien,” that’s what “Predators” is to “Predator,” so I’ll just tie those two together, so all you would ever have to do is watch “Predator” and “Predators,” and you would have a little complete thing. So, yeah, what would the third one be if there was a third one? It would be “Predator 3,” I guess.

[laughter]

Robert: No, “Predators 2.”

[laughter]

Robert: I don’t know. “Predators” with a subtitle.

Question:  I have two questions for Robert. I noticed that from the press notes you mentioned that you wrote this without considering the budget constraints, as well as the logistics. And it wasn’t until you had to be more hands on that you had to figure out how to do it. So, how did you figure out how to make this film, and did you have to compromise anything?

Robert: Oh, completely. When I first wrote it, it was just a writing assignment. And you figure as a writer, since I’m not directing it, I’m not producing it, I should just give them as many ideas as possible, and then they can figure out what they want to do and what they can’t. A lot of it was impossible because this was only in ’95. The CG wasn’t that prevalent. A lot of it would have been impossible to do, but I figured, give them a lot of imagination and creativity to work with, and then they can pick and choose whatever. One-fifth of that would actually work, because it was just humongous and ridiculously big. And again, I didn’t feel like I had to worry about it until they brought it back to me and said, “We love this script! Will you go make it?” And I was like, “Well, I don’t know how we can make it like that”. Even with today’s technology, we had to cut out a tremendous amount of it. And that’s what I loved about Nimrod’s approach to it was he knew how to come in and go, “OK, I like this part of it,” and he made that the movie, and made it about the chase and about the hunt, and kept it very intense. We took out Arnold. We kept the idea of the planet, the crucified predator, the hierarchy of the different clans, some of the other alien creatures that are being hunted. But other than that, it was a new story, and Nimrod worked really close with the writers to come up with this.

Question: And this last question is for either of you. Whose idea was it to humanize the predator? And as it relates to this, I am speaking about the one that is hanging from the post, because…

Nimrod: That was in Robert’s original draft, that crucified predator. And that was the one thing I remember reading in the script and immediately just latching onto, because you are going to…we’ve build up this character so much now, we’re going to build up this film, and all of a sudden you are expecting the predator to explode out, laser cannons flaring, and spines being torn out. And the first time you see him, he’s defeated. And we almost completely demystify the character off the bat and humanize him a little bit. So that was all in the original draft and was something I loved off the bat.

Robert: I so wanted to be there for the shooting of it when they first go and…I saw it so many different ways when I first wrote it of how they would approach him, and how they would come up to it, and how it would growl. And I wasn’t there that day. So then I was like, “Oh, man! I wonder how they did it.” And he did it so much better than I had planned. So that was very exciting for me to see something that I envisioned 15 years ago, done by somebody else, in a really, really great way. And I’m really proud of how that came together.

Question: Last questions. Two good ones. Is there something, Robert, that you enjoy killing Trejo early in movies? Like it seems to always happen quick. And two, did you guys have any pressure to turn this into 3D?

Robert: You asked have I killed Danny Trejo…Have I killed him early in every movie?

Question: It seems to be..

[crosstalk]

Robert: Yeah, that’s true. He died pretty quick. This one…well, because he’s doing Machete, which, of course, Machete never dies. “Machete don’t die.” And that’s what he told me when I said, “Hey, how about Danny?” “Machete don’t die.” But we thought it would be really fun in a pop way. Remember, it’s like a Jesse Ventura type casting to have Danny playing a variation on a Machete type character, or all the characters. He always plays some piece of cutlery—Razor Charlie in “From Dusk Till Dawn”, Navajas in “Desperado”. In this one he is Cuchillo, butter knife. [laughter] But I thought, again, just to make a note, Danny Trejo dies that early and that means they are all screwed. So it kind of pretty much set what the stakes were in the film to do them.

Nimrod: With Danny, casting with the film was hilarious, too, because Robert had a thing in the script where he said, “A guy who looks like Danny Trejo.”

Robert: No, the writers…

Nimrod: Oh, the writers did that?

Robert: No, they put “A Danny Trejo type.” And that’s what I got upset about. I was like, “You can’t just give a part to Danny, because there is no other Danny Trejo!”

Nimrod: So then Brian Bettwy, our AD, gets a phone call from Danny…Brian Bettwy, who’s done all of Robert’s films. And Danny calls Brian and goes, “Hey Brian, I’ve seen the script. It says a guy who looks like Danny Trejo. I look just like Danny Trejo.”

[laughter]

Publicist: Thank you everyone. We’ve got to break. Sorry.

Robert: Thanks!

Question: Thank you. And Laurence was a genius, too.

Robert: Oh, yeah. He’s a rockstar. Laurence Fishburne is a rockstar.

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