Interview: 'The Predator' Director Shane Black Talks Aliens, Easter Eggs and the Future of the Franchise
For 30 years, moviegoers have equally feared and cheered an alien creature known only as the Predator. He stalks, hunts and kills humans for sport, and for the past three decades we’ve watched the Predator rise to become one of the most recognizable and beloved villains in all of popular culture. On September 14, The Predator (tickets on sale now) reunites audiences with their favorite alien menace, this time from a director very familiar to the series: Shane Black (Iron Man 3, The Nice Guys).
Black played a small part in the orginal 1987 Predator film, and now he returns to the scene of the hunt with a brand new story featuring a bunch of maniacal misfits tasked with suriviving the next Predator attack. In conjunction with advance tickets going on sale for The Predator here at Fandango, we spoke at length with Black about the latest installment in the series – how it fits into the Predator timeline, evolves the mythology and what it is about this creature that’s had us invested in him for over three decades.
“Part of it is the creation of the creature itself and the mythology of this sort of tribal stalker,” Black told Fandango. “There’s almost a Western aspect to it. But beyond that, I think that it’s the simplicity of it in that all the Predator movies, whatever form they take, all sort of end up being about some kind of a hunt. It’s a great framing device. It’s an instantly digestible, recognizable draw. Predator is out hunting again. And I think that has something to it.”
Check out our full conversation below.
Fandango: How is this unlike any of the other Predator movies that we’ve seen before?
Shane Black: I think the easy answer is that it’s been scaled up a little bit. It’s not as insular or claustrophobic as the smaller versions like Predators, where it’s just sort of an isolated group of people being hunted in a small space. We’ve tried to spread it out a little more over a number of different characters and not just the one group.
The other difference, of course, is the group. In lieu of the sort of giant muscular super soldier with the slick oiled arms and the improbable guns, we’ve tried to limit ourselves to a slightly more leaned down and perhaps more relatable group that has a lot of quirks and ticks and is a lot more vulnerable. If anything, it’s more of a Dirty Dozen approach, as opposed to the slick special ops shock troops that have done this a million times. These are guys who are good at what they do, but they’ve also forgotten themselves and sort of gone astray. That’s the basic difference I think.
Fandango: Where would you say this film takes place in terms of the other films, like on the timeline?
Shane Black: I think it takes place slightly after all of them. It’s modern day, 2018. October 2018. And in our timeline … I mean, it’s always unclear where Predators takes place, but I’m assuming even that is before us. And it’s simply an extension of the world established in all of the movies, which we don’t deny any of. We assume they’re all canon, and acknowledge some more than others, but there’s nothing in the movie to contradict that. It’s simply the latest that comes after all of them.
Fandango: So you do reference those other movies? Are there any fun little nods in there to watch out for?
Shane Black: I think so. I think you might see some, if you squint. Yeah, there were a bunch more I think at one point, and we toned it down a little and decided not to be quite so wink-y, but certainly if you look or listen, [you will see] references that relate to other Predator films.
Fandango: Having been part of that original Predator, what was something you learned working on that film that you wanted to carry over to this one?
Shane Black: Having been a part of it, what stayed with me especially was the sense of how memorable — not just the Predator was — but the individuals, the group of guys and the camaraderie that they had. So, to replicate a Predator movie, you can’t just show a really deadly mysterious creature, you also have to assemble a group that has that same kind of indelible quality, or try to, that the first movie had.
People quote lines – not from the Predator, as he doesn’t speak. They quote these lines from the various tough guys who came after him. So we had to invent a similar group of tough guys that shared that kind of intimacy and immediately establish camaraderie. They’ve been together, they know each other’s quirks. They finish each other’s sentences. That sort of thing.
Fandango: They all seem to have very unique personalities. Apart from The Dirty Dozen, what influenced you in terms of those quirks and personalities?
Shane Black: I think there’s a certain playfulness with regard to character and tiny little oddities and quirks. I did it a little bit in various films, but it’s always a little bit of Dick Donner and a little bit of Jim Brooks when it comes to character. Those were my two earliest encounters with just really playful approach to character-driven stuff. And so, if you’re doing science fiction especially, which have these fantastical elements, it becomes very important, I think, to ground it in the kind of character reality that those two influences provided for me.
Fandango: How would you say you’re expanding the mythology of the Predators in this movie?
Shane Black: I don’t want to be spoiler city, but I think one thing we can see is that, before, Predator incidents were fairly isolated and invisible in a way. They sort of flew under the radar. In our version it’s become frequent enough and prolonged enough of a phenomenon that the human race has begun to notice. And I think in that regard, we have now a sort of more interactive feel. We know the Predators are out there. We know they come to Earth. We’ve established a sort of defense force, whose job it is to simply collect data, bits of tech, monitor and watch the skies for the next incursion. And this movie is the story of that incursion, that visit.
Fandango: From what you can say, a lot of people are going wild over the Ultra-Predator. Does it have other powers or bigger weapons? How does this Predator stands out, apart from being really tall.
Shane Black: What we’ve tried to do is … I think there’s a certain potential with the rubber suited guys. Not so much in the original with Kevin [Peter Hall], but they can come off in the wrong sort of lighting situation looking a bit clunky, or not quite like the wild animal that leaps from tree to tree in the first movie. And so, I went back to get that. But to give him even more of that sort of feel of an animal that’s acquired survival traits. The way he moves, the way he vanishes and then appears. It’s not linked just to walking around with a cloaking device. This is more of, if anything, a Predator that leaps, spins, and moves like a wild animal.
Fandango: The Predator noise is so iconic, that odd cackling, if you can call it that. What did you do for it on this film? Peter Cullen was originally involved in creating the voice. How have you evolved it, or have you?
Shane Black: We’ve modulated it somewhat, but there are certain elements I think, and maybe you agree, that are so good that there’s no use making them part of your update process. For instance, the original Predator makeup, you can adjust it slightly, but who wants to change that iconic, classic insect face, you know? It’s just too good. So, similarly, the sounds they make, although we’ve hopefully done a little bit of improv work on them, we’ve left it essentially the same, as a callback.
Fandango: This is one of those rare Shane Black movies that isn’t set during Christmas. Is that correct? This is set at Halloween, right?
Shane Black: That’s right, it’s October. Christmas shows not a whiff in this particular moment.
Fandango: Was that cognizant on your part? To not set it at Christmas?
Shane Black: Here’s the thing… I used to do that as a little internal thing that to me was interesting. It helped set a tone and a backdrop for a counterpoint for the movie itself, until people started noticing and saying it. And then I thought, “Well, I thought this was kind of cool as long as it’s under the radar.” But now that people are seeing and commenting upon it, the hell with it.
Fandango: But it is cool, though. I think people love that so many of your movies weave Christmas into them. There are certain kinds of things that make a Shane Black movie a “Shane Black movie,” and Christmas is one of them!
Shane Black: Only if it’s appropriate. Yeah, my favorite book is The Cricket In Times Square, and that was my first exposure to that New York at Christmas feel. Three Days Of The Condor was another one that did it exceptionally well. And I’ll go back to it if necessary, but I think it’s more important to just do the work, especially if it’s an assignment as this one was. There’s no reason to set it at Christmas. In fact, Marvel was actually the ones who asked Iron Man 3 to be set at Christmas, so I was perfectly willing to do it anywhere.
Fandango: We haven’t seen much of Jacob Tremblay in the early previews. What can you say about his character and how he’s important to the story?
Shane Black: He factors in not so much because he’s a kid, but because the sort of motif that we were working from was that in some way each of the characters, not just the guys, but the woman, this professor, the little kid, they’re all misfits. And then the same way that the woman is sort of misanthropic, beautifully played by Olivia Munn, that she’s more at home with a microscope and the rare life form than she is talking to actual human beings. She’s a misanthrope. She’s out of sync. She doesn’t really feel like she fits in her skin, and certainly not into society. Similarly, the kid is on the autism spectrum. He’s incredibly bright, savant-like, but doesn’t get along too well in society.
And that’s the idea — that these are people who would normally be singled out as misfits, perhaps the least likely, not the most likely, crew to go up against something as threatening as a Predator.
Fandango: In the first teaser we see Jacob Tremblay playing with a spacecraft, and it’s almost cut to make it look like he’s controlling it. What can you say about that? Is that something that was happening, or were you just kind of playing around there?
Shane Black: All I can say about that is I don’t cut the trailers. It looked kind of fun to me, but it doesn’t necessarily represent the ordering of events in the film. That’s all.
Fandango: Jake Busey is also in this film. His father, Gary, was in the second Predator movie. In real life they’re related. In the film is there any kind of relation between those two characters?
Shane Black: Yeah, they share a common name, and I think the idea is that this character, played by Jake in this movie, is the son of the character in Predator 2, that his father played, and died in Predator 2.
Fandango: And so, he has a little bit of some vengeance in him…
Shane Black: Yeah, he’s probably not too fond of these creatures.
Fandango: You have a great little part in that original Predator. Do you give yourself a great little part in this one?
Shane Black: No, I found that not to be necessary, nor did it seem to me like something I’d particularly want to do. Give me something meaty! I’ll be happy to tackle it with all the tenacity of Olivier going after Lear, but not this.
Fandango: Should audiences stay for the credits? Did you include anything special at the end?
Shane Black: The post-credit sequences is really not something I’ve done. Sometimes we’ll put a little surprise at the end, but no. If the credits start and they got a late meeting to go to, or something, don’t wait for the IATSE logo, because most of it is gonna be in the movie there.
Fandango: And does this film open it up for more Predator movies? What would you say about that?
Shane Black: I think so. It would be a shame to slam the door on something so longstanding and popular as this character who, for whatever reason, continues to attract audiences over generations. For 30 years this thing has persevered, and God knows why. It’s just a cool project.
The Predator hits theaters on September 14. Tickets are now officially on sale right here at Fandango.