Predator's Cast Wasn't Faking Their Military Bona Fides

In 1987's action-horror flick "Predator," Major Alan "Dutch" Schaefer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) leads a team of military commandos on a rescue mission in a Central America jungle, where they become the prey of a technologically advanced alien. The trained combatants don't run into hiding — they wouldn't have gotten very far anyway — but instead, they organize their own hunting expedition in pursuit of the creature. For much of the movie, they shoot what seems like unlimited rounds of ammo with their machine guns; however, there are also moments of intense silence in which the men strategize and coordinate among one another using hand signals. 

Because "Predator" is a movie, the actors could have just made up visual communication cues and probably no one would have noticed — but they didn't. In fact, the movie generally was very accurate in its depiction of military activity. The cast even went through an intense training regimen in preparation for the roles — and this strive toward authenticity all started with a vision from the film's casting director, Jackie Burch.

'I wanna get all Vietnam Vets'

Hollywood casting director Jackie Burch worked on many big movies in the 1980s, including "Psycho II," "The Breakfast Club," and "Die Hard." She knows exactly how to assemble a special cast that's guaranteed to turn an ordinary script into an extraordinary film. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Burch explained her plan for casting the lead actors for "Predator": 

"I remember when I first read the script that I thought, 'I wanna get all Vietnam vets in this movie — that could act.'" 

Burch soon discovered Jesse "The Body" Ventura, an aging wrestling legend recently forced into retirement due to blood clots forming in his lungs; Ventura, an ex-Navy Seal who served six years in Vietnam, said the blood clots were caused by exposure to Agent Orange during the war. He was now looking to transition into acting (he would later transition into politics and become the Governor of Minnesota). Burch granted him his first movie role; she cast him as the tobacco spitting Blain Cooper. She found another Vietnam vet in Richard Chaves, whom she cast as the explosives expert Jorge "Poncho" Ramírez. Even Schwarzenegger had military experience: He served in the Austrian Nation Army when he was 18 as required by law, but went AWOL to compete in a bodybuilding contest. 

Not all the actors had military experience, however. Bill Duke and Carl Weathers weren't veterans, but Burch loved their performances in "Commando" and the "Rocky" movies, respectively,  and cast them as Sergeant Mac Eliot and CIA operative Al Dillon. Sonny Landham, who plays Billy Sole, was cast because he had a connection to the film's producer, Joel Silver. 

'We had to learn how to move silently through the jungle and communicate with hand signals'

Adding to the authenticity in "Predator," the cast — veteran or no — underwent intense training in preparation for the roles. According to Total Film, the main cast spent a month and a half in Los Angeles for physical prep. They then trained in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Schwarzenegger recalled that the cast would awake at 6 a.m. each morning, eat breakfast, and then run up to five miles (Schwarzenegger also told a hilarious tale about the time he pooped his pants while working out before filming). From there, they learned how to climb trees, handle weapons and rappel down ropes for six hours. 

"We had to learn how to move silently through the jungle and communicate with hand signals," Schwarzenegger said. "Then we went back to the weights room in the hotel and trained for two hours, and then [director John McTiernan] called us and said, 'OK, now we rehearse!'" 

"Predator" is considered one of the best '80s action movies, and one of its strengths is that it took the military aspect of the film seriously, which is no surprise considering that main cast included actors who served in the military. Thank you, Jackie Burch!