Now 30 years old, Predator has come to be appreciated as a ludicrous action classic known as much for its gory thrills as star Arnold Schwarzenegger’s muscular frame (and that “Get to the chopper” line). In honor of its birthday, The Hollywood Reporter compiled an oral history of the film’s embattled production, with the key highlight being the vast quantity of differing reasons why martial-arts guru Jean-Claude Van Damme was fired from his role playing the eponymous alien. So why was he fired? Let us count the alleged reasons.
He was a big complainer.
Casting director Jackie Burch: Jean-Claude Van Damme was someone who used to constantly come into my office, jumping up in the air, showing me his moves, begging me for work. He was nobody. He didn’t have any credits. So finally I said to [producer] Joel [Silver], “He’d be great as the Predator because no one moves like him.” I mean he really is quite amazing. He even stored his furniture in my garage! And then (laughs) he wasn’t there that long. And I heard he was complaining the whole time and they fired him. And he came back and got his stuff out of my garage. And then then next time I saw him he was getting $5 million a picture.
He broke the head of the original costume.
Second unit director/stunt coordinator Craig Baxley: Joel and I were walking down the hallway of the hotel together and Jean-Claude was walking toward us with his assistant. And Jean-Claude walked up and said, “Are you Joel Silver?” And he said yeah. And Jean said, “Well look at this!” And he jumped up in the air, I swear to God, did the splits with his legs straight out and his crotch was at eye level — and I’m 6 feet tall. He was there to play the creature, and a company called Boss had designed a creature. It had the head of an ant. And they spent an absolute fortune on this. And so they brought Jean-Claude out and they put the head on Jean-Claude, and Jean-Claude stood up and freaked out, and took off this $20,000 head and threw it on the ground and it shattered. And Joel said, “What the f— are you doing!” And he told Jean-Claude, “You’ll never work in Hollywood again! Get off my set!” So that was it.
He wasn’t tall enough.
Producer John Davis: He was the original Predator until we realized the Predator couldn’t be 5-foot-6; he actually needed to be of greater stature.
The studio didn’t like the original Predator costume, so they fired him too.
Richard Chaves (Poncho): I remember getting a phone call in my room from Joel because Jean-Claude, him and I hit it off right away, and I thought that he would’ve been incredible as [the Predator] but he wanted his face to be seen. And I remember [Joel saying], “You go down there and talk to him and convince him that he’s the alien and he’s gotta get into the suit!” And so I went down and I spent a couple of hours trying to convince him that, you know, he’d be in this costume, “But everybody’s gonna know it’s you, Jean-Claude, because nobody can move like [you]!” I tried my best to convince him but it didn’t work. And then I guess something happened, and he capitulated, Jean-Claude, to get into this suit and give it a try. And when they sent some of the first dailies of Jean-Claude in this original suit, the people at Fox hated it, absolutely hated it, and thought it looked like a rat — and it did! As soon as Joel was told about that news, he let him go.
He kept passing out.
Bill Duke (Mac): They were going to, I think, superimpose all of the special effects on the body in postproduction. But in order to do that, the actor had to wear a felt suit that covered his whole body, and with 90 and 100 degree temperatures, [Jean-Claude] had passed out twice from dehydration. And Joel came over and said, “Jean, I know it’s hot, but we’re losing time, man. If you pass out one more time, we gotta fire you.” So Jean says, “I’m not doing it on purpose!” Joel says, “Man, this is production. Don’t take it personally.” So two weeks went by, and he’s flying on these wires in trees and everything and he passes out, and Joel comes and tells him, “You’re fired.”
He really wanted the Predator to kickbox.
Visual effects supervisor, Joel Hynek: I was in Joel Silver’s trailer, and he had called for Jean-Claude to come see him. And he comes in the trailer and Joel starts saying, “You gotta stop kickboxing!” — because [Jean-Claude] wanted to kickbox — and he was telling him, “Look, the Predator is not a kickboxer.” And Van Damme was like (Van Damme voice), “I must do that; that’s how I see the Predator.” And Joel said, “Well, you’re fired. Get out of here.” And Van Damme says, “Kiss my balls!” and walks out, and that was the end of that.