Behind The Scenes

The "Original" Predator - Jean-Claude Van Damme

FX wizard Steve Johnson tells the story behind the original, unseen Predator suit by Boss Films.

Apr 5, 2014


Makeup FX legend Steve Johnson (GHOSTBUSTERS, SPECIES, BLADE 2) recently sat down with us for our first episode of THE MONSTER SHOW. With his usual mix of candor and comedy, Steve covered the highs and lows of his award-winning career, including his nightmare stint as Boss Films' Creature FX supervisor on the first ill-fated PREDATOR suit, worn by Belgian martial artist and aspiring action star, Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Enjoy the video excerpt below and check out the full interview HERE.

Matt Winston


Matt Winston: Let's talk about Predator.

Steve Johnson: Oh my God, are we really going to do this?

Matt: Of course, it's one of the most iconic characters in the world. Let's talk about that job ...

Steve: Lead me, help me.

Matt: Let's start simple.

Steve: Let's start easy.

Matt: You're pitched this creature. We've got to pull this thing off. What are we going to do?

Steve: We have this meeting and we're sitting around a board table and it's the usual suspects. It's all of the executives. It's Joel Silver, the producer; it's John McTiernan, the director. With great pomp and ceremony, McTiernan comes in and slams down a bunch of designs that have already been done by a production designer, and they were awful.

Pictured above: (Left) Mechanical sketches for the Boss Films Predator. (Right) Predator design by Luc Mayrand for Robert Short Productions between Boss Films and Stan Winston's involvement.

Steve: It was ahead of its time, let's put it that way. But the head did suck. They said, "Here's what we want you to make." What they needed was a character with backward bent reptilian legs, extended arms and a head that was out here and they wanted to shoot on the muddy slopes of Mexico in the real jungles. It was virtually physically impossible to do. I told them it wouldn't work.

Pictured above: Design maquette for the "Original" Predator.

Steve: They wanted to just tell the guy to hop around like a frog and it was Jean-Claude Van Damme who had no idea what he was getting into. He was just off the boat from Brussels. He thought he was going to show his martial arts abilities to the world.

Pictured above: Belgian martial artist Van Damme hoped playing Predator would make him a star.

Steve: So Jean-Claude comes in for his fittings. Remember the cloaking device? Beautiful effect in its day... we made a red version [of the suit] because red is the opposite of green on the color wheel. It had been shot against green in the jungle.

Pictured above: Jean-Claude Van Damme goes through the life-casting process at Boss Films.

Steve: Jean-Claude comes in and we're fitting him in this red suit and just assuming, like the slaves that we are, that the higher ups have told him exactly what's going on. But he thought this was actually the real look of the monster in the movie and he was, "I hate this. I hate this. I hate it. I look like a superhero." He was so angry. 

Pictured above: Director John McTiernan tries on the red fabric-covered "Invisibility Suit."

Steve: I'm like, "Jean-Claude, did no one tell you? It's a cloaking device. You're invisible for half of the picture. This is not you." Which made him even angrier because he thought he could do his martial arts, he could fight Arnold Schwarzenegger. Impossible. Absolutely Impossible.

Pictured above: Jean-Claude Van Damme performs in the red "Invisibility Cloak" suit.

Steve: He didn't realize that he was just kind of a stunt man, right? We get him out there for the first shot and he's just seething.

Pictured above: Jean-Claude Van Damme as the "original" Predator on location in the Mexican jungle.

Steve: We got him in at lunch and you could see his eyes through the rubber muscles of the neck and he's like, "I hate this head. I hate it. I hate it. Hate it."

Pictured above: Jean-Claude Van Damme would never wear a monster suit after his experience as the "original" Predator.

Pictured above: Carl Weathers (with prosthetic arm stump) with Jean-Claude Van Damme (wearing the "Original" Predator arm).

Pictured above: Carl Weathers on the set with Jean-Claude Van Damme inside the original creature suit. Credit: Monster Legacy.

FULL INTERVIEW -  "The Monster Show" with Steve Johnson