Did you know that a certain terror from outer space was originally going to be played by the Muscles From Brussels?
It's been great cocktail-party fodder for years, and now we have actual video proof of Jean-Claude Van Damme's (brief) involvement with the 1987 sci-fi action classic "Predator."
Van Damme had been hired to play the title creature, a now-iconic movie monster that had a decidedly different — and rather impractical — design when the martial-arts maven came aboard.
"With great pomp and ceremony, [director] John McTiernan slams down a bunch of designs [of the Predator], and they were awful," says special effects wizard Steve Johnson in an interview posted this week by Stan Winston School, recalling an early meeting with the "Predator" crew. "It was ahead of its time, but the head did suck," he adds with a laugh.
Aesthetically pleasing or not, the early design of the Predator (then known as "Hunter") proved to be completely impractical for location shooting.
"What they needed was a character with backwards-bent reptilian legs and extended arms," explains Johnson. "And they wanted to shoot it on the muddy slopes of Mexico in the real jungle. It was virtually physically impossible to do."
A fame-hungry Van Damme, "just off the boat from Brussels," rose to the challenge, though the gig ended up being plagued with major misunderstandings and a general lack of communication.
"He had no idea what he was getting into," says Johnson. "He thought he was going to show off his martial-arts abilities to the world."
Van Damme came in for his costume fitting and was soon running around in an all-red version of the costume, a necessary color to later add the creature's "cloaking" effect in post production. As-is, the ridiculous get-up wouldn't even fly in a '50s-era sci-fi B-movie.
"We're fitting him into this costume and we're assuming like the slaves that we are that the higher-ups have told him what's going on, but he thought this was actually the real look of the monster," laughs Johnson.
"'I hate this!'" says Johnson, imitating Van Damme with a cartoonish French accent. "'I look like a superhero!'"
Explaining the cloaking effect only made Jean-Claude angrier, as "he thought he could do his martial arts, he could fight Arnold Schwarzenegger — impossible!" claims Johnson. "He didn't realize he was just kind of a stunt man."
Van Damme soon left the production and went on to play the role of Frank Dux in what would end up being one of his more popular (and better) films, "Bloodsport" (1988). Meanwhile, the title creature of "Predator" was radically re-designed and played by Kevin Peter Hall, who stood at 7 feet, 2 1/2 inches... quite the contrast to the not-quite 5-foot-10 JCVD.