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Part 2: The Making of Predators, Casting the Human Predators

Predators introduces a whole new band of soldiers who take on the alien hunters, and this serves as your introduction to who's playing who.
In the story of Predators, a man plummets through the void at terminal velocity, his parachute deploying only seconds before certain death. Oscar® winner Adrien Brody was cast as ex-military man Royce, the reluctant leader of the humans, who begins the movie with no idea of where he is or the circumstances that brought him there. "In my movies, I always try to 'cast up' and just get the best actors possible," explains Rodriguez. "When I was doing 'Sin City,' a comic book movie, I got Bruce Willis, Benicio Del Toro and Mickey Rourke. It just elevates the material to a point that it can't be ignored or dismissed as 'that's just a comic book movie.' It has much more gravitas. So with this, we have an Oscar-winning actor, Adrien, wanting to be in an action movie and give everything that he's got to pull off the performance and make the world believable. That's a fresh choice. You don't want to constantly be reminded that you're watching a movie. You need actors that ground the film in a reality, because our story is so fantastical. The difference is monumental. You suddenly believe everything everyone is saying and doing."

Inevitable comparisons to Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Dutch" role in "Predator" surfaced almost the moment Brody was cast as the black-ops mercenary Royce. "We had no intentions of replicating Arnold's character [in PREDATORS]," says Antal. "I think we would have been doing the film and the audience a disservice. Royce is an impressive role for Adrien. I think people are going to be very happy with his work in the film."

"You can't compete with Arnold Schwarzenegger, so why are you going to go that direction? It's much better to do something the audience isn't expecting," adds Rodriguez. "Our strategy was to cast the best actors. There wasn't any arm-twisting. You tell people they're going to be in a 'Predator' movie that is going to be something new and different and bold, and they come running."

Physically and emotionally, the actors had to be believable. "Early on, we all knew the most important thing is to have great actors," adds Antal. "When you're making any film, you just have to have someone who brings a certain caliber of performance. I can make anybody look tough. I cannot teach them how to act. Robert and I were just really excited about Adrien because he's a phenomenal actor. He understands the actor's job is to become whatever you need them to become."

"Today's soldiers look like me," comments Brody. "Movies today have changed a bit and are more rooted in reality. Soldiers are not super-human. I think that's part of what attracted me to this. I wanted to create a very flawed and tragic hero for the film. Royce is essentially a loner. In a sense, that's his great strength as a killer and his great weakness as a human being. In this piece, he is effectively asked to make a choice to lead people and care about those people -- things he has convinced himself will get him killed or, at the very least he will be constitutionally incapable of doing. So, we essentially liked the idea of creating a character who had to make a choice that ran counter to his basic and inherent character."

Another celebrated actor, Laurence Fishburne, portrays Noland, a recluse human found surviving on the planet. His hidden cave contains numerous artifacts and weapons. Noland's very existence on the alien planet provides hints of a rich off-world history of the Predators. "Once you've set up this planet, there's a lot that can happen there, and once you've seen characters like Noland, you know there's a lot of potential stories to tell," says Rodriguez.

Screenwriter Michael Finch adds, "Noland is a guy who can give us a whole bit of the history and can perform a very specific function and that function is this: demonstrate to these guys that dying on this planet may not be the worst thing that can happen to you. Living on it might be."

"We could have gone several different ways with casting the Noland character," admits Rodriguez. "Laurence and Nimrod had worked together before [on the 2009 thriller "Armored"], but Laurence's name was actually brought up by the studio because they're such huge fans as well. Laurence was at the top of their list and I said, 'Well, that's easy.' I had already heard all these great stories about Laurence from Nimrod. It felt right. The first time I met Laurence, he was already before the cameras as Noland, and I was just blown away, it was just one of those magic moments. He was having a real blast."

Fishburne responded strongly to the direction the filmmakers were taking with the material. "What's nice about this movie is that it really is a throwback to the old 'Predator,'" comments the actor. "The structure of it is very much the same and the archetypes of the characters are similar. They're different, but they're similar enough that you get a feeling of the old movie. My character is one of those pieces that connect to the old movie. I think the character of Noland is a great sort of wink at the audience.

"Noland lets them in on what's going on and why everybody's here, but it also lets the audience in on the inside joke of the movie. When 'Predator' came out, we had never seen this [creature] before, and it was a really cool boogie man," adds Fishburne. "This is a real return to the tension and the excitement of the first movie. We do have a new breed of Predator in this movie, but they've really taken the time to look at the first film, take the best elements, and try to enhance them, and to honor them in any way we can. I think that's been done really effectively with respect to the script and with the casting of the ensemble and the archetypes that these characters represent."

A character very out of place among the heavy-hitters of death who have been hurtled onto this strange world is Edwin, a doctor with a mysterious past. "You need to have a character that doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the team, so that character can become the eyes of the audience. The audience would not be able to identify with the other characters because they're professional killers," explains Rodriguez.

"The character of Edwin was the last one that was cast, because it was really hard," comments Avellán. "You have to find an actor who can sell that you don't know why he's here on this planet. Topher Grace is that all-American boy. He's a really great choice because audiences don't see him as a threat."

Like many on the PREDATORS team, Grace was a longtime "Predator" fan. "I loved the first movie. When I read this script, every page revealed a new piece of information that was just cooler than the last. Every actor wants to play a character who is playing two or three levels at one time - it's a treat. Then I found out Adrien Brody had been cast. We're going to get an Academy Award®-winning actor? This is too good. So, I was lucky they let me come down and play.

"Everything that I loved about that first film, is in this film," Grace continues. "I like to think of PREDATORS as a proper sequel to the first film. I think Robert Rodriguez and Nimrod Antal are doing this brilliantly - they have all the information you learned in the first 'Predator' film and a similar setting, but they're going further down the road and introducing some new elements and trying some new things. If you liked the first one, this is a better, different, and more delicious meal."

Another central figure among this unholy alliance of killers is the group's sole female, Isabelle, a sniper in the Israeli Defense Force. "I've never played this type of character before," says Alice Braga, who starred opposite Will Smith in "I Am Legend." "Isabelle is really a tough woman, but isn't harsh with everyone. I think she has some things in her life that make her stronger, but at the same time she's soft and is just trying to survive. She's figuring out a lot about herself in this situation."

Isabelle, like her new cohorts, is on a journey to find out why they've been brought together on this massive killing ground. "In my opinion, each character discovers why he or she was chosen," Braga continues. "Isabelle is trying to find out the reason that she's in this place, fighting these monsters. She wonders if they are being punished for past crimes? We were always the ones that are killing people and now we are the ones that are being hunted."

Braga's research led to a kind of "guidebook" for snipers. "I learned that snipers must be precise, methodical, organized, and you cannot have different feelings," relates Braga. "You need to be really specific about what you want, what you do, and what your mission is. She's a tough cookie and in that gang, Isabelle is a really important piece because she knows a lot about wind movement and everything else in the jungle. Her skill is really needed."

Rodriguez was thrilled to have Braga in the movie. "I love really strong females in my movies. I have five sisters! I wanted the female character to have real strength, not just movie strength, where they would just write it as a male character and then change the name. It was important that she be a really believable character. I really pushed for that. It was a challenge to write, but I wanted it to happen for this movie. And I was ecstatic at the possibility of having Alice Braga grace our set, she's such a tremendous talent. When she did her audition, I just looked at Nimrod and said, 'Could we just hire her, please? Do we even need to see anyone else?' She was so terrific, you could feel the movie's quality jump ten notches with that single choice. You could feel what she would bring, that she'd be the real heart of the movie. Nimrod said, 'Absolutely. Let's get her.'"

Walton Goggins was cast as tattoo-covered, feral Walter Stans, a serial killer who thinks of himself as a rock star. "Walt has an energy that allows him to be funny in one moment, terrifying in the next," says Antal. "You're laughing with him and then you're afraid of him. Every time Walt was on camera, all I could see was the crew slowly coming behind the monitors to watch him play. You don't need coffee if you have Walt Goggins."

Antal had cast Goggins, but Rodriguez was at the time unfamiliar with the actor's acclaimed work on "The Shield" and other projects. Additionally, the character as scripted was still a work in progress. "I thought we were going to have to overhaul the character and go in an entirely different direction," Rodriguez remembers. "And it was a predicament because Nimrod had already hired Walt. So, I said let's just fly him down so I can at least say to him face to face, 'Look, I'm sorry, we're just changing the part radically, I'm not happy with it." And Walt was an incredible collaborator and talent. He was my kind of actor - willing to do whatever it took to make the part work. He just started trying different things right then and there, bouncing off the walls with energy. He basically recreated that entire character of Stans from the ground up right there in the room. He created a very original character."

"Stans has spent sixteen years on death row," explains Goggins. "The first images that he sees outside of a prison cell of an alien jungle are just a little over-stimulating for him. He fancies himself the only celebrity on this new planet of terror and thinks that people should be asking him for his autograph. He's dark, but also I think rather funny and pessimistic."

A San Quentin orange jumpsuit and multiple tattoos, including a Scorpion tattoo on his neck, helped Goggins get into character. He spent on average of an hour and half in the make-up chair on a daily basis to maintain the fake body art. "The tattoos made me feel very authentic. It's been interesting walking around, both Hawaii and Austin, with them on. You get the help that you need in stores and restaurants. You don't get the help that you want, people are not helping you out of kindness. They're helping you out of fear," laughs Goggins.

Yet another kind of human predator catapulted into this alien world is drug gang enforcer Cuchillo, portrayed by Danny Trejo. "I actually didn't want Danny to be in this movie," reveals Rodriguez. "They wrote in the PREDATORS script 'a Danny Trejo type' and I said that you can't put 'a Danny Trejo type.' There is no other Danny Trejo. Anybody else we get is going to be a disappointment. I had just used Danny Trejo in [the upcoming Rodriguez-directed action film] 'Machete' and didn't want to just shove him into this movie. So we looked around for another actor. But there is no one else that iconic, that's what makes him great. You just have to get Danny."

Antal was always convinced Trejo was the one to cast. "I wanted Danny for the Cuchillo character early on. He has been in so many films that I'm a fan of, so when I actually met him, it was kind of a geek-out moment for me. I'm usually pretty cool around actors. But it is Danny Trejo, come on! Plus his character has the best line describing the set-up of the movie: 'Do we look like a team orientated group of individuals to you?'"

"Cuchillo basically don't like anybody and they basically don't like him," Trejo agrees. "He's a drug dealer and assassin, wearing cowboy boots and a pimp shirt, carrying two machine guns, a nine millimeter [gun] and a knife, because my name's Cuchillo. Everybody knows that these characters are good at what they do... and that's kill."

Oleg Taktarov, a former UFC champion, portrays Nikolai, a Russian Special Forces soldier who totes a 100-pound mini-gun through the jungle. "Oleg is like this badass Russian Charles Bronson. It turns out he's a big Charles Bronson fan," adds Rodriguez. "It's harder to find those kinds of [Bronson-like] actors today. Oleg shows up and gives you that feeling."

"We called Oleg 'The Russian Bear,'" says Antal. "Oleg had a power to his performance that was refreshing to see. A lot of the times with athletes, you have to cheat as a filmmaker to get a performance from someone who isn't trained as an actor. Oleg easily brings the 'toughness' to the character, but he also brought a depth and almost a sorrow that I think a lot of warriors have. They lose out on a lot of other aspects of their life and he mirrored that."

Adds Taktarov: "When filming this movie, I felt like I would feel after my competitions when I was fighting UFC. I feel all beat up - literally and figuratively.

"Nikolai is a very heroic character," he continues. "Nikolai represents a legendary Russian war hero. I can be really proud for many years that I played that role."

Mahershalalhashbaz Ali was cast as African soldier-warlord Mombasa. Ali was excited by the character dynamics. "You have the best fighters and baddest warriors from their respective cultures on Earth coming together, and these alien predators are trying to improve their skills and abilities by facing us on this alien planet. As an audience member, I think you automatically have to choose a side," says Ali. "You put us all together and we have a common enemy that has technology that goes beyond what we can really understand fully. It makes for an amazing clash of the titans."

Louis Ozawa Changchien as Hanzo, a Yakuza killer, completes the band of predators from earth. "Hanzo is what one might call a hit man - the muscle in the Yakuza," explains Ozawa Changchien, who is of Japanese and Taiwanese heritage. "He carries a Beretta 92-FS. Hanzo is pretty high up in one of the top three gangs in Japan. Hanzo's a man of few words. He's on the cautious side. Hanzo likes to take things in, analyze them for a while and then he acts. But when he does say something, the others pay attention to it. His words have meaning."
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