Olivia Munn Predator Interview

The Predator franchise has been all about tough guys and tough aliens. Big heroes and bigger guns. But Olivia Munn’s role in Shane Black’s upcoming sequel is something different. For starters, she’s a scientist, not a soldier. And she’s also a woman playing a key role in a series that has traditionally leaned toward the hyper-masculine.

We visited the Vancouver set of The Predator last year and Munn talked all about her experience on the film, including how she created some of her own character’s backstory.

Note: This interview was conducted in a press conference format with other assembled journalists.

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Can you give us a base level of who your character is and how she fits into the story?

I play Doctor Casey Brackett. And this movie starts with two different stories in the beginning. There’s Boyd [Holbrook] and Keegan[-Michael Key] and Augusto [Aguilera] and Trevante [Rhodes] and Thomas Jane, and they are soldiers and [they] encounter the Predator. And then on the other side, this other storyline’s going on: my character has been on a list from the CIA because she is an evolutionary biologist. And because of her expertise and the things that she has been able to accomplish in her career, she is one of the top people when it comes to evolutionary biology. So she was on a list from the CIA in case there was ever a connection with higher life forms. So at this point, she gets called in and into the labs and gets to see what’s going on and try to offer her help. And then… things happen. And then two stories merge into one.

I see you’re armed though.

Yes, I’m armed. My character’s a scientist.

And they all have sidearms.

Yeah, well, I think when you’re running for your lives and you’re going up against aliens, and aliens that look like the Predator, you get armed. You strap up. When I first got here, we did a boot camp for weeks of just gun training, and it was so much fun. 

In regards to your character, we’ve been talking to people all day and there’s this sense of camaraderie. “I’m with this group, we’re this military group and we’ve come together and we’re going to fight this thing.” Do you feel like your character, or you as an actress portraying this character have a sense of isolation from the rest of this crew? How do you jump in to that mix with them?

Well, especially looking at it as a character, I think sometimes the fun things that maybe an actor might do, is think, “Oh, it would be so fun to feel like the outsider.” But I always look at is as, “What’s the most realistic thing?” 

There’s a lot of crazy stuff happening. You’ve got aliens and we’re running for our lives. And our characters are absorbing it in the moment of what’s happening as we’re running for our lives, and the same time for my character too as an evolutionary biologist, her whole life has been about, “Is there higher life?” And now she’s seeing it. But as soon as [the two groups] band together, they’re in it together. That’s the only way to survive. Shane is so great because he was an actor. So that really adds more than people really understand to an actor’s ability to create something onscreen and to create a role that is more memorable. There is that camaraderie, and everybody just gets to be who they are and we all get to add, we all have something to add to, basically surviving and capturing the alien.

We’ve heard from every other actor about how they were able to create some of the personal backstory to their character. Were you able to develop your own character’s backstory? For example, how she would, what her opinion would be on seeing a predator, seeing an alien. Actually trying to communicate with them.

There’s a scene that we do where my character – it’s a small scene, it’s less than a quarter page – and it’s just her seeing pictures for the first time. And we didn’t discuss it or anything…that scene is a very emotional experience. This is like seeing God to her. This is what she’s studying, how creatures change and evolve and how it’s not scary and it is a very beautiful thing to be able to see. And so that was a big thing for me that I wanted her to…that her whole life, this is something that she’s been wanting to know about. Got herself onto the list for the CIA. Worked really hard to get to the top so that she’d be discovered by people at the CIA so that if anything ever happened, she’d be called on and that’s basically everything that she’s ever wanted is happening right when this movie picks up.

So, considering that’s kind of her whole life’s purpose and as you said, she’s “seeing God.” How does she respond when they’re incredibly hostile and trying to kill her?

[Laughs] Well, there’s an element of … Well…I’m an animal lover, so is Shane, and so we were able to tap into that a lot with this character. And if you ever see a dog that’s growling at you and it’s just like a stray dog, the thought is to run away. But then they start to chase you. And also I think that when you see [something like that], I don’t automatically go, “Oh my god, this dog’s going to kill me.” For me, as somebody who loves animals and loves dogs, I’m like, “Where is it’s owner? What’s going on?” And you’re trying to understand it more. So there is an element of realizing when you’re in danger. Realizing when they’re coming, but at the same time she’s trying to assess and she doesn’t just jump to conclusions. Just because it doesn’t look like them and it’s not speaking their same language doesn’t mean that you shoot it right away. That’s a lesson for everyone in life. [Laughs]

Well, as an evolutionary biologist in the film, is there a chance we’ll see the predators evolve or explore more of their biological history?

That’s a very good question. If you make her leave [gestures to publicist], I’ll tell you.

Was evolutionary biology something that you’ve researched and kind of looked into?

My younger brother is getting his Ph.D. in physics right now. So there were things that I would, of course, before you get to the script, Fred [Dekker] and Shane, they’ve already vetted it out with scientists and biologists. But then I would just take another level, and just talk to my brother about it and make sure that what we’re saying it the right … Because any time you’re playing a character that has to be very knowledgeable it’s really important to not just recite the lines but to know it. Same thing like when I was on The Newsroom learning about the economy, I really had to learn it. So this one I’ve had to really understand just the science of what basically makes up simply protein and hydrogen and make up just life and having to start from there and then moving on. And it’s fascinating.

Can you talk a little bit about the first time you saw the original Predator and what kind of effect it had on you?

The first time I watched original Predator was last fall after I signed on for this movie. [Laughs] I loved it and there’s a reason why it was a classic. I loved how it just makes me nostalgic for that period of time when you could be cheesy, but it wasn’t cheesy. By the way, we all love the original so much that, it’s funny, that we’d have to remind ourselves, “Hey wait, pull it back.” Because now you’re looking like you’re doing a spoof of your own movie. 

So you’re kind of jumping into the action realm here with Ride Along and then with X-Men and now this. What attracts you to these types of roles?

Well, I really didn’t realize how much I loved doing it until I actually was training for X-Men. When I signed on for X-Men, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it and I was talking to Simon Kinberg, and he was like, “This is the introduction of the character, so it’s going to be a smaller part and for this movie … ” And I said, “Well, that’s cool as long as you could just have a fight scene.” And to me, I grew up loving her so I know that they really didn’t do her justice the first time that she was introduced. And I’d watched it and I was like, “This is stupid.” The first time I saw it, I thought, “You have to give her more.”

And so I trained…The fight scene that we did, that was only less than a quarter of actually what we filmed… But working on it, it was… I sort of didn’t realize that I would have to do so much training for it until I got there and I realized that my stunt double, who’s very athletic and talented, had never been a stunt double before. And so then, since I have a background in martial arts and gymnastics and stuff, and I cared so much about the fight scene for the character, I started training every day…But once I did that, I was hooked. I just did all the fight scenes myself and it was so rewarding and so fun. This one I loved that she was a scientist and I just loved the world and I’m fascinated with the possibility of alien life and stuff like that.

So how did you feel, you sign on for the movie, and then you go back and watch the original Predator which has some indelicate treatments of race. There aren’t really women in there other than victims. What was your thought then and then the reality when you came to work with Shane?

That’s just the [way] movies [were] at that time. You enjoy it for what it is. And I think that’s…we get almost too PC when it comes to race jokes or inappropriate jokes, and I think that it doesn’t become life anymore on camera. And that’s what I love about Shane – there are inappropriate jokes and he’s like, “Say this thing that …. Well, you can’t say that, because she’s a woman…” And you lose the life from it. And so, I think that we’ve [become] too PC as a society, [so much so] that we’ve almost gone the other way…that everyone’s afraid to say anything. 

We’re you able to do any improv on the set?

On this movie, yeah. That’s what’s so great about Shane – he’s an actor’s director, [and] he’s also a writer. So a lot of times, writers can be so married to the script, and then sometimes the director looks at the script as a Bible. But then you end up losing a lot of life….that you wouldn’t normally capture on camera. And so [with] this movie there’s been so much collaboration and just in-the-moment, everybody coming up with stuff, and thinking of stuff, and being really present.

That helps really make the movie feel really fun and fresh and alive. And Shane is really – I’m not a theatrically trained actor, so I don’t mind line-readings. I love it because it allows you to have an essence of what [the director is] wanting. You can get the tone of what he wants and then you can go play with it. He’s one of my favorite directors, if not my favorite director so far, just because he’s so thoughtful for the actors and the actor’s experience and that the audience will care about the characters and he allows us to do things that make us more real.

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The Predator opens on September 14, 2018.

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