Becoming The Predator In Prey Wasn't Easy On Dane DiLiegro

"Prey" is such a refreshing take on the "Predator" franchise that really the only connection it seems to have to other films is the eponymous alien and a certain flintlock pistol. Set 300 years ago on the Great Plains, this instalment of the series focuses on a Comanche tribe that runs afoul of a Predator's first hunt on Earth. It also embraces the kind of natural horror and terror that comes from such a simple role reversal like the hunter becoming hunted — something that made the first film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger such an edge-of-your-seat action thriller. 

Director Dan Trachtenberg has described "Prey" as a David vs. Goliath tale, in which Comanche hunter Naru (Amber Midthunder) is forced to adapt to tracking and hunting the hulking Predator, played by the towering 6'9" actor Dane DiLiegro. Naru's exhausting struggle against the alien is analogous in a way to DiLiegro's own experience behind the scenes. With appearances in everything from the Korean-horror series "Sweet Home" to "American Horror Story," the actor is no stranger to being the man inside the monster. But transforming himself into the Predator for "Prey" would prove to be his most physically taxing role yet.

'Balletic svelteness'

DiLiegro initially had no idea he was going to be offered a role in a new "Predator" project — let alone to play the iconic alien hunter itself. But that's exactly what happened when he was invited by Alec Gillis of Amalgamated Dynamics Inc. (ADI) to hear a design pitch. "I walk in, and there's the Predator costume on the table with this gray, 3D printed iteration of what a Predator's head looks like," DiLiegro told Bloody Disgusting. "I'm like, 'This is Predator. This is Predator. Oh my God.'" Which is probably the same reaction anyone who's crossed paths with the terrifying alien has had. 

Except DiLiegro was now being asked to become the creature, with Gillis enlisting him to help imbue some "balletic svelteness" to the Predator. The actor continued:

"They were making a bit of a departure from the traditional Predator. Balletic svelteness, Hmm. Okay. I'm thinking a panther, something feline, smoother, that's very in tune with the forest. Feral was another word thrown around, primal, something very instinctual and very in tune with nature. He could run through trees naturally because he's done it a million times, and he's one with the woods and the forest."

Onscreen that elegance and poise are mirrored in the Predator's prey as well: Naru. When the two finally face off the fight even mimics her previous encounter with the mountain lion, which itself illustrates the kind of feral intuitiveness that Gillis and DiLiegro wanted to depict with the alien.

Predator suit or giant sweaty weight?

DiLiegro might make the Predator's movements look "balletic" in the film, but inside his costume, he could barely see three feet in front of him. "We had to lay sticks on the ground for me to follow along," DiLiegro revealed. His only real option for visibility was two holes in the suit's neck that he had to bend his head down to see out of — not an easy feat given the large headpiece he also needed to wear.

His foam-latex costume, which he could at least put on without enduring hours in a chair, also had a bad habit of sponging up all of his sweat. "I'd go down to crouch, and sweat would shoot out of my knees," DiLiegro said. "You can see in some of the production stills, if I'm swinging during a fight scene, you can see the sweat just shooting out of my sleeve of this character." So after every particularly intense day of shooting action sequences, he also had to contend with the fact that his costume had turned into a giant, heavy, damp sponge. Luckily for DiLiegro, he was used to the sort of physical exhaustion needed for his creature work and underwent intense training before production on "Prey" began.

Creating a lean and mean Predator

Unlike previous films DiLiegro has done creature work in, his role as the Predator in "Prey" required him not only put on muscle but also to be extremely agile. In order to channel the kind of balletic-svelteness Gillis wanted, he lost 25 pounds for the part. "They wanted a lean, dynamic, more animal Predator," the actor explained. "You know you look at a feral cat; feral cats are not very plump. Traditionally I'm bigger, more muscular. I had to get away from that."

In order to get lean DiLiegro did parkour training for two months (which he says wasn't easy for someone his height to accomplish) as well as martial arts. This also aided him in nailing down the way a large creature like the Predator is able to move silently through its surroundings and brutally slaughter its prey. Throughout the film the alien kills its way up the food chain on Earth, defeating everything from quick predators like a wolf to much larger and deadlier ones like a grizzly bear — that is, until it's outsmarted by Naru.

Another major area of focus during preparation was DiLiegro's neck, which needed to be able to carry the weight of the 13-pound mechanical Predator head/mask he wore atop his costume. DiLiegro worked with a company called Iron Neck to ensure he'd be able to perform all the Predator's movements while also lugging around the huge contraption. If anything, the actor's experience is a reminder that achieving the kind of seamless practical effects seen in "Prey" often requires the performer inside the suit to endure serious discomfort.